Straddling the rocks that dot his Appalachian foothills farm, Dad is my private tour guide, narrating landmarks as if I’d never driven his pickup truck through these fields before. He quietly points toward new gates between pastures and new patches in fences I’d helped build as a boy.
This strong, gentle man seated beside me has weathered his 80th winter, most of them on this farm. He is excited that spring is here again.
“Now, cut this way a little,” he directs, waving his arm. “Turn toward that corner. We need to open a gate over there.” We’re going out to open gates and let his small herd of cattle into new pastures.
This talk of opening the gates prompts me to think on Jesus’ words: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, NASB). On this little piece of earth entrusted to him, Dad is the tender of the gates.
I’d heard the cows bawling the day before, with volume and persistence.
What’s their problem, Dad?” I’d asked. “Are you weaning calves?”
“No,” he had explained, “they’re just wanting to get into that new grass in the upper pasture. Maybe we’ll let them in tomorrow – if the grass looks ready.” They were knocking at the door.
“Or,” he added after second thought, “some days, they want to get into Lee’s pasture.” (The farm next to Dad’s.)
Dad’s role as tender of the gates implies three good reasons for not letting cattle into a pasture. One is to allow new grass to grow to maturity; the pasture must be ready.
Another is that sometimes, young calves may not need to eat the kind of grass growing in a given pasture. That is, not only does the pasture itself have to be ready, the cattle have to be ready for what’s in the pasture.
And third, cattle might be eyeing a neighbor’s grass – the pasture belongs to someone else. For whatever reason, it is imperative that the tender of the gates knows when to allow his herd to pass through any gate.
Through this ritual, I am struck by how Dad the gatekeeper closely mirrors the heavenly Father’s relationship to me. For years, I have read that promise: “… knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Yet, so often I’ve knocked at doors that would not open.
Granted, on occasion, I tap very lightly because, while my spirit insists I must knock, my flesh doesn’t really want the door to open. An open door might mean sailing into uncharted waters, making new commitments, or facing unwanted change. Many times, I’ve thanked God for keeping a door locked tight.
Other times I knock loud and long, convinced that through this door – and this door only – await opportunity, recognition, excitement, or adventure.
All too rarely I remember that my heavenly Father’s perspective just might be in stark contrast to my own. Now, on a splendid spring morning, it is quite clear: as the Tender of Gates, the Opener of Doors, He knows when and if a door should be opened to me.
He may, of course, have any number of good reasons for leaving a door closed when I knock. First, the green pastures I so desperately desire may not be ready, or the situation may not merit my presence no matter what I think I know. The Opener of Doors is wiser.
Second, I may be unready. Many times, I’m eager to burst through a new door in search of new horizons. Yet the Father knows that I am not prepared, not mature enough, or do not have the abilities and talents required for the task on the other side. The Opener of Doors knows best.
In both of these circumstances, it may be only the timing that is wrong; it may be a door I need to come back to next month, next year, or ten years from now. The situation may change and need me in time. Or I may grow in my maturity and be ready for those new horizons.
Third, a door may stay closed because I’m knocking at the wrong door. I may fabricate a scene that whets my appetite for the “greener grass” on the other side. But simply put, it may not be for me – ever!
The omniscient Opener of Doors is so much wiser than I. Only the Heavenly Father can know when to open a door and when to leave it closed. I must knock with discernment and wisdom and with patience as I submit to my heavenly Father’s will in His time.
On this spring morning, I’m thankful for the lessons I learn about my heavenly Father from my earthly father.
Author’s Note: Every year when Father’s Day comes around, I enjoy recalling truths I learned from Dad. From childhood until his death 22 years ago, I learned more than I ever knew I was learning. This article (posted by permission) first appeared in the Salvation Army’s national magazine, The War Cry (thewarcry.org) almost 25 years ago.