All the Places to Go

Alltheplaces3All the Places to Go (Tyndale, 2015)

The full title of John Ortberg’s latest book is All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?  God Has Placed before You an Open Door.  What Will You Do?  Pastor Ortberg describes an open door as the great adventure of life, because it signifies the possibility of being useful to God.  Thus, the subject of John’s book is God’s offer of an open door and our response to it.  Faith provides the greatest foundation for the open mind-set needed to cultivate divine opportunity awareness.  As the author explains, “The open door is often more about where my insides are than where my outsides are.”  We never will be ready or know exactly what we’re getting into.  The only thing that matters is that Jesus is ready.

Open doors are divine invitations to make our lives count- with God’s help- for the sake of others.  Pastor Ortberg emphasizes God’s primary will for you is the person you become and not the circumstances you inhabit.  Prayer is closely associated with seeking and discerning.  Prayer is the primary way we communicate with God.  When faced with a choice, we need to ask God for wisdom.  John clarifies that growth is the ability to handle larger and larger problems, not avoiding those problems.  While it is wise to choose our doors carefully, when we choose to go it is imperative to go wholeheartedly!  Choice means that sacrifice is involved.  Choosing one thing means not choosing another.

Pastor Ortberg underscores the importance of accepting the truth about ourselves if we are to go through an open door.  Ultimately, facing the truth about ourselves will bring us life.  Although open doors sometimes are neither fun nor safe, open doors always are about something far greater than our own benefit.  On the other hand, at times we run into closed doors.  While we may not like or understand closed doors, some of the greatest doors are those that never get opened.  As John concludes, God has plans we don’t know:

“There is a door that is open to you.  In the mystery of divine providence it may have been opened long ago, but it remains open now . . . a divinely-opened door intentionally, thoughtfully, purposefully, deliberately opened by God himself in front of us.”

 

 

The Jonah complex

“I am very brave generally, but today I have a headache.”-Tweedledum, Through the Looking Glass

“Be strong and courageous . . . for the Lord your God will be with you.”- Joshua 1:9

In Chapter 8 (“The Jonah complex”) of All the Places to Go, John Ortberg notes that we long for open doors, yet resist going through them.  Abraham Maslow called this perplexing tendency “the Jonah complex.”  While we admire people who give a wholehearted yes to God’s call on their lives, such people also make us uneasy, anxious, and confused.

Greg Levoy refers to Jonah as “the patron saint of refused callings.”  In Jonah’s story we see all our evasions of God’s calling reflected back to us.  Pastor Ortberg discusses four reasons why we’re tempted to hold back.  The first reason is presented today.

1.  Fear holds us back.  Nineveh was hated so much that the prophet Nahum referred to the city as “the city of blood.”  Nineveh was hated not just for cruelty, but for endless cruelty (Nahum 3:19).  Unlike Nahum, who made his proclamation while safely in Israel, God sent Jonah to speak to the Ninevites face-to-face.  Jonah not only didn’t go through God’s open door, he ran the other way, implicitly in fear.  John comments:

“Sometimes open doors are not fun.  Sometimes they’re not safe.  Always they’re about something greater than our own benefit.”

Avoidance never overcomes fear.  The antidote to fear is God’s presence.

Today’s question: Have you experienced “the Jonah complex” when faced with an open door?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Ships of Tarshish”

 

 

The truth about you

“The truth about you is you don’t know the truth about you.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 7 (“What Open Doors will Teach You”) of All the Places to Go, John Ortberg writes that all of us suffer from a kind of personal blind spot.  The difficulty is that when someone has a problem, the last person to know is . . . the person who has the problem.

Not only do we have no knowledge of the truth about ourselves, we don’t even know what that truth about us is, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky observes in Notes from Underground:

“”Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends.  He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret.  But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.”

The key to the offer of an open door is self-awareness.  We need to be aware not only of what is going on outside but also what is going on inside us.  Self-awareness is the polar opposite of self-preoccupation.

We have to accept the truth about ourselves in order to go through an open door, relying on God’s strength- not ours.  In the rest of Chapter 7 John explores four ways going through open doors reveals as well as requires us to face the truth about ourselves.

Today’s question: What Bible verses have enabled you to face the truth about you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Face the truth”

Jesus’ instructions

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”- John 17:18

John Ortberg continues Chapter 6 of All the Places to Go by presenting another statement that many people think Jesus actually said: “Be in the world but not of the world.”  Pastor Ortberg states that his misconception has led Christians into a halfhearted being in the world.

John notes that as Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He was more concerned with how they would go through the door than which door they would go through.  John writes:

“When somebody is deeply committed with their whole heart- not out of guilt, not out of obligation, not out of pressure but because they are convinced this is the cause that is supremely worthy of the devotion of their one and only life- they love to be challenged about that commitment.  They love to be called to it, to be renewed in it, to be rechallenged for it . . .”

On the other hand, when people are divided, conflicted, or have compromised their commitments, they are reticent to discuss those commitments.  Again, Jesus’ instructions emphasize how we will go over where we should go, providing three animal illustrations describing how we are to go through the open doors God places before us.  The first illustration, sheep among wolves, will be presented in the next blog.

Today’s question: To what new calling do you feel deep commitment?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Sheep among wolves”

 

Buyer’s remorse

“[Teddy Roosevelt] danced, just as you’d expect him to dance if you knew him.  He hopped.”- Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit 

As John Ortberg continues Chapter 6 of All the Places to Go, he writes that hopping is something we do with our whole selves.  Even adults hop in moments of great joy.  Pastor Ortberg exhorts us:

“If you’re going through an open door, don’t limp across the threshold.  Hop.”

However, a major reason for our failure to go through open doors in a wholehearted manner is buyer’s remorse- because making key spiritual decisions requires high effort, high responsibility, and high commitment.  While having second thoughts is an inescapable part of walking through open doors, it s neither fatal nor final.  It is important that we recognize that apprehension is part of making difficult decisions and that “having peace about it” is not the ultimate criterion for going through open doors.

Often we excuse our capitulation to fear or laziness with what John describes as one of the worst, over-spiritualized traps: “I just don’t feel peace about it.”  Pastor Ortberg notes that the sequence we see in the Bible is quite different: calling, abject terror, decision to obey, big problems, more terror, second thoughts, repeat several times, deeper faith.

We need to go through open doors with all our heart.  We need to hop.

Today’s question: How often have you demonstrated buyer’s remorse by second-guessing your decisions?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Discerning wholeheartedness”

 

 

Failure tolerance

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  The jailer work up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself!  We are all here!”- Acts 16:26-28

In today’s blog, John Ortberg discusses the seventh way God’s wisdom can lead us to/through open doors.

7.  Test, experiment, and learn failure tolerance.  Pastor Ortberg states that while God does have guidance for a particular decision, He doesn’t have guidance for every decision.  And sometimes God’s guidance is not so much about what He wants to do through us as what He wants to do in us.

John observes that discerning open doors does not equate with guaranteed success.  When God called Jeremiah (the weeping prophet) and John the Baptist to walk through open doors, those open doors led to enormous difficulty, not external reward.

We learn through failure.  Courage and risk-taking are not developed through failure avoidance.  In Acts 16, Paul’s clarity on his life’s purpose enabled him to open spiritual doors for others, as John states:

“Paul chooses the greater door, even when it looks like failure.”

Today’s question: Has failure avoidance been an issue for you following your vocation loss?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The ultimate door”

The place where you are

Today John Ortberg begins his discussion of eight ways God’s wisdom can lead us to, as well as help us through, open doors we encounter- as found in Chapter 5 of All the Places to Go.

1.  Stop waiting for a spontaneous outburst of passion.  Andy Chan, who heads up the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, says that one of the greatest stumbling blocks for young adults is the illusion that if they just could discover their passion, every day of their working life would be saturated with effortless, nonstop motivation.

No one’s life lives up to this illusion.  To believe this illusion leaves us mad at God and frustrated with ourselves.  David Hubbard, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, once said students had the misconception that his life was filled with glamorous, inspiring moments.  In reality, most of what Dr. Hubbard did “involved the consistent, plodding progress of one task following another.”  All together these tasks added up to wonderful work.

John states that it is an essential need of our soul that we believe in the significance of our contributions.  As he explains, however, we need to put passion in its proper perspective:

“Don’t wait for passion to lead you somewhere you’re not.  Start by bringing passion to the place where you are.”

Today’s question: How can you bring passion to the place where you are?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The right course of action”

Seeking Lady Wisdom

Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding.”- Proverbs 2:2

John Ortberg continues Chapter 5 of All the Places to Go by noting that as we go through doors, we find the person we’ve become on the other side of those doors.  Pastor Ortberg adds that the Bible has a word for those who choose doors well- wise.  This type of wisdom isn’t equivalent to having a high IQ or advanced education degrees.  In the Bible, wisdom is the art of living well and the ability to make great decisions.

John states that wisdom is the greatest determining factor between people who flourish in life and those who don’t.  The Israelites loved wisdom so much they personified it, speaking of wisdom as the most wonderful person in the world- Lady Wisdom.  The Israelites also understood wisdom was more than successfully navigating life in human terms.  The author summarizes:

“In other words, Lady Wisdom is a poetic expression of the wisdom of God.  Where wisdom is, somehow, God is.”

The rest of Chapter 5 will involve looking at eight ways God’s wisdom can lead us to, as well as help us through,the open doors we encounter.

In the next blog, Pastor Ortberg will discuss the illusion that if we could just discover our passion, every day of our working life will be filled with effortless, nonstop motivation.

Today’s question: How has the Holy Spirit helped you grow in wisdom during your desert, land between time?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The place where you are”

Decidophobia

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”- James 1:5 (NRSV)

In Chapter 5 (Door #1 or Door #2) of All the Places to Go, John Ortberg tackles the question of choosing the right door.  For example, when facing prolonged adversity, we may wonder whether God wants us to grow by persevering in our difficult situation or whether God wants us to leave because He’s concerned about our happiness.

Pastor Ortberg states that what often drives us is our state of great distress.  When we’re filled with anxiety, it’s tempting to look for a guarantee of future outcomes that removes the responsibility of decision-making from our shoulders, as opposed to seeking God’s will.  As John phrases our temptation: “God has to tell me what to do for I am in great distress.”

Princeton philosopher Walter Kaufmann coined the word decidophobia to describe our fear of making decisions.  We don’t want to be wrong and decisions wear us out.  Because King Saul really didn’t want God’s will, his prayers went unanswered and he consulted the medium at Endor.  While superstition seeks to use the supernatural for our purposes, faith surrenders to God’s purposes.

John emphasizes that prayer is closely associated with seeking and discerning open doors because it’s our primary means of communication with God.  The author concludes:

“If I’m facing a choice and I want to find God’s will for my life, I don’t begin by asking which choice is God’s will for my life.  I need to begin by asking for wisdom.”

Today’s question: Are you seeking to use the supernatural for your purposes or are you surrendered to God’s purposes?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Seeking Lady Wisdom”

 

Standing at the door

“Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”- Revelation 3:20 (NRSV)

Today John Ortberg concludes his presentation of ten common myths about doors in Chapter 4 of All the Places to Go.

9.  God is so powerful and omniscient that he could never empathize with my angst over closed doors.  Over a century ago William Holman Hunt created a painting showing the figure of a single man standing outside a small home he wants to enter, knocking at the door.  It’s unclear if there’s anyone inside to open the door.

Every human being has been given the door to their own heart by God, but God won’t force Himself in.  God doesn’t just open doors, He stands knocking at closed doors.  If the most rejected person in history is patiently standing at the door and knocking, how can we give up?

10.  Some doors are so closed, not even God can do anything about them.  Pastor Ortberg notes that locked doors are God’s specialty.  If God can open the heavy door of Jesus’ sealed tomb, no circumstantial door is closed to him.  John encourages:

“The doors of our lives are not closed to God.  He has the power to enter into our circumstances and grace us with his presence.”

Today’s question: Which of the ten myths have been most problematic for you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Decidophobia”