We don’t like hearing ‘no’, do we? I certainly didn’t like to hear my parents tell me no when I wanted something and I imagine many of you are the same way. I’ve been preaching about prayer in recent weeks and I’m going to continue in that thought today. As my dad used to say, God will certainly answer our prayers. Sometimes He will answer yes, other times He will say wait, and then, from what I have realized, He’s going to say no and do so often. Let’s consider for a moment, what does it mean when God says no to us? How do you take hearing no from the Lord?
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What Does ‘No’ Mean?
We learned as toddlers that no was a denial or refusal typically to something we wanted from our parents. I don’t know about you, but when I heard the answer no, I would mope, pout, and maybe even shed a tear or two. I imagine that many of you probably reacted in similar fashion. So, why did we react that way?
I guess we figured that if we wanted something, then it should be given to us, especially when we wanted that something badly enough. As children, we begin to learn that if we acted a certain way or did something, then our parents would be more lenient in their giving (now and then). We would start doing chores and for those chores, our parents started rewarding us for that work. This, I want to note, is a transaction.
We try to approach the Lord with the same sort of mindset that we had when we were little. In our heads, many of us believe that God should never say no to anyone who faithfully believes in Him. We’ll think to ourselves that we have done everything required for the Lord – went to church, bible study, song in the choir, preached, prayed, and that we have been good. For this, in our mind, God should always say yes to us especially when we have done all of those things! So, God should be transactional in that because we have done something, He should always reward us.
When God says no, how do you feel?
So, when God says no to us, we often find ourselves confused, frustrated, and even upset, right? Sometimes we may be mature about it and accept His no, but other times, we turn back into that child. We will fuss and complain about God saying no to us. We will say, “I thought you (God) was supposed to give me the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4; Matt. 7:7).” The thought being that God won’t give us what we want even when we do the things we perceive to be required of us. So, why would God say no to we who are of genuine faith?
Paul’s Prayer to God
I want to take a moment to look at Paul speaking to the Corinthians about a time where he prayed to God about a thorn in his flesh. Paul, we know, was an apostle and mighty servant of God. In the very first verse of 2 Corinthians 12, we’ll see Paul speak of visions and revelations that he had received. He tells us that 14 years ago, something had happened to him and he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). (Third heaven is where the Lord reigns; not the earth/sky and not space.)
While there, Paul writes that he had heard “inexpressible words” which he also says “is not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor. 12:4).” Yet, 14 years ago, these revelations and visions were so great that Paul wanted to share them with others badly. However, Paul tells us that he was prevented from sharing much about the visions and revelations.
Thorn of the messenger of Satan
Paul tells us about a thorn in the flesh that was given to him by a messenger of Satan (2 Cor. 12:7). Do not think that Paul was literally talking about a thorn being stuck in his flesh; he was speaking metaphorically. Some suggest that Paul’s thorn was probably a vision problem, but we cannot say for certain what it was because he does not tell us.
Paul does tell us, however, that thorn was given to him for the purpose of buffeting him (stopping, pushing back, holding back) (2 Cor. 12:7). Have you ever felt hindered in such a way? If you feel that there is something hindering you, as a child of God, what is the first thing you do? I certainly hope it will be praying to the Lord! Well, that’s what Paul does. Paul prays to God for God to remove the hindrance from his life.
Third time’s the charm?
I expect that Paul figured what we all figure when we pray our prayer of faith – God is going to answer yes in our favor. However, let’s notice that Paul says he prayed not one time but three times (2 Cor. 12:8). I also want to point out that Paul says he pleaded with God. So, this indicates to us how desperate he was to get that thorn removed out of his life! Have you ever been so desperate?
So, why do you suppose Paul was driven to the point of pleading in his prayer? Why do we end up having times where we end up pleading with the Lord repeatedly? We figure in these times that God didn’t hear us. Yet, as I have already preached, we know that God hears our prayers and that He certainly answers.
So, why else would we plead with God repeatedly? Well, there are times when we figure that God didn’t understand our prayer or our situation. If not that, we figure that God hasn’t answered our prayer yet so we’ll just keep praying until He does. We become like children again and ask over and over again with the hope that we can finally make God understand like how we tried to do with our parents.
God heard Paul’s prayer but was not hearing the answer he desired to hear. Paul wanted that thorn removed but clearly the hindrance was not being removed. So, it would seem that the answer was clear – God was saying no! Again, this is Paul that we’re speaking about – the man responsible for most of the New Testament books – and God was saying no to his pleading! I tell you, God says no to us more often than not, but I want you to understand that His no comes with reason.
Why does God say no?
You may ask, “why was God saying no to Paul about his thorn? Did He (God) not care about what Paul was going through?” Let’s take a moment to understand what was happening here. Paul, again, had gone to heaven, heard, and likely saw things, that he certainly desired to share with others. However, this revelation was not meant for Paul to share! Jesus revealed heaven to us, and John’s revelation was given to him through Jesus.
Paul, in his own words, tells us that the thorn was there to keep him from being exalted (elevated and glorified) above measure from those revelations (2 Cor. 12:7). Yes, Satan was hard at work, but truth be told, God did not intend for Paul to utter that revelation. Most times, when God says no to us, it is because what we ask He is not going to permit because He already has something planned. This, again, brings up thoughts about God’s divine will and God’s permissible will.
When God Say No to Us
So, someone may say again, “well, preacher, God was letting Satan’s messenger have fun with Paul while His servant was suffering; it doesn’t sound like God cared about Paul!” We know that God cared about Paul just as He cares for all of His children. We know this because we have seen that we have a High Priest in Christ that sympathizes with what we go through (Heb. 4:15)!
Thoughts of peace, hope, and a future
Nobody likes to suffer with an ailment, a sickness, disease, disability, or trouble and certainly we don’t enjoy when things don’t seem to work out well for us. So we’ll pray hard about our infirmities (hindrances) and the suffering we may be going through. Yet, we know that God told Jeremiah that His thoughts towards him, and therefore we who believe, is of peace, not evil, to give us a future and hope (Jer. 29:11). God certainly cares about us and His plans towards are always geared towards what is best for us.
After his third prayer about his hindrance and suffering, the Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).” Without his infirmity, Paul felt he could’ve done even greater works for the Lord. We feel like if God would answer yes to all of our prayers, that we can also do great things and that everything will be alright.
Even though God was saying no to Paul in his prayer, God still tells Him, don’t worry; you will be able to bear that hindrance and still do great work. Why? Because what God has planned for all of His children is nothing but great. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).”
After that third prayer, Paul said that he would now boast and take pleasure in his infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses (2 Cor. 12:10). Paul understood well that even though it was a no from God, that the Lord’s thoughts towards him were of peace and God’s no was for a reason. We even see that he rejoiced in hearing that ‘no’ from God.
When God says no, what we should understand
We often look at the answer of ‘no’ as a bad thing. When it comes to the Lord and hearing ‘no’ from Him often makes us wonder if we have done something wrong. I tell you that this is not always the case. In fact, you can be doing everything right and still hear a no from God.
This, in a way, reminds me of Job’s suffering. Job began to wonder about his suffering and why the Lord was not answering his prayers, only to be blessed two-fold by the Lord (Job 42:12). Why? Because, again, even though we may think that things are working out poorly, God’s thoughts towards us is to bless us.
What I have learned while on this journey is that God is always going to give His best. When God does say yes, what I receive is more than I expected or even prayed for! I have also learned that when God says no to something we ask for, it’s often because He has planned and is preparing something far better.
So, when God says no to us, let us stop acting like an immature child – moping, pouting, storming around and throwing a temper tantrum. Let us stop trying to get what we wanted without God because the only thing we do is end up getting ourselves into trouble. When God says no to us, let’s start trusting in His no! God’s answer of no is always the best thing for us!