When Heaven Says “No”.
Have you ever prayed for something you really believed you needed to have happen and gotten silence from Heaven? I know I have. Have you prayed about something over and over and over again, agonizing on your knees and wanting the Lord to answer in the affirmative but God seemed to say “no”? I know I have.
One of the toughest things to deal with in the Christian experience is knowing that if God doesn’t answer “yes” to our prayer it is going to be a huge problem. Yet the Lord says “no”. God often says “no” by His silence. Why would our Lord do that to us?
Perhaps that prayer was for healing for a loved one who would die without divine intervention. Yet God said “no”. Perhaps it was for relief from physical pain or mental anguish, but God said “no”. Perhaps it was for a financial crisis you were facing or an opportunity to leave a place or a job you needed out of. We had a deadline, we prayed, in faith, for the kingdom, for the glory of God, in Jesus’ name and God said “no”.
Please don’t think you are unique in having this happen to you. I dare say it has happened to every follower of Jesus Christ at one time or another. But what are we to make of it? Is there any encouragement we can take from a “no” from heaven?
The apostle Paul was arguably one of the greatest Christians of all time. He was a man who undoubtedly was in touch with the ways and will of God. Yet he got a big “no” from heaven on at least one major request he made. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where we find the story:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, that harassed him (Greek “kolaphizo” – to beat with the fist). Though this thorn kept him humble it apparently hindered his ministry greatly as well. I think the term “thorn’ is used because it was painful and it was nagging the apostle.
We don’t know what this thorn in the flesh was for sure. At the end of the book of Galatians we read that he writes with very large letters with his own hand (Galatians 6:11). This has caused many to say that the thorn in the flesh was an eyesight problem that required Paul to dictate his letters and thus that slowed his productivity for the gospel and frustrated him. The experience on the road to Damascus that temporarily blinded him may also give credence to this view.
While we can’t be sure what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was we can be sure of is: Paul made it a serious matter of prayer. Paul prayed, actually pleaded, 3 times for it to be removed and the Lord didn’t grant His request. Rather, somewhere in this conversation with the Lord, Paul heard very distinctly the Lord’s reason for the “no” answer. The Lord said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. God owes us no explanations, but He gave one to Paul that I am sure applies to all of us.
In reality, we don’t need our prayer to be answered the way we want it to be answered. Why? Because when God says “no” He will be sure to supply the we grace to go forward. Though we are weak, His power is perfected in such weakness. We are actually stronger and more effective when we are weak often times because of heaven’s “no”. Paul says he will boast in his weakness because in that weakness the power of Christ rests on him.
For the last 12 months starting on March 15, 2020 we prayed not once, not twice, not thrice but almost countless times for Almighty God to stomp out Covid19. We’ve prayed for the death toll to albeit. We’ve prayed for the transmission rate to lower. We’ve prayed for things to get back to normal. We’ve prayed on our knees, in our Churches, in the streets, in front of the hospital, in faith, for God’s Glory and in Jesus’ name. And yet…..many prayers got a “no”.
Our Lord did not leave our prayers unanswered. He has answered many of them the same way He answered the apostle Paul. I’m not sure I was fully listening this past year because I wanted a different answer. I am doing my best to listen now. Yes, Lord Your grace is sufficient. Today His people and His church are not weak but strong because the power of Christ is more evident in us when we are weak than at our strongest moments.
A few days ago I said to someone “I wonder what Calvary (the church I’m privileged to Pastor) would be like if Covid19 hadn’t hit”. At that moment something amazing occurred to me. I am a better Christian and the Church I Pastor is a better Church, dare I say it, in the midst of this global pandemic because God said “no” to many of my and our churches requests. How can that be? Because “His grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in our weakness.” Amen!
Pastor Dave Watson
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” – Proverbs 24:10
“The Wall” is the name runners give the 18 mile mark of the 26.3 mile run we call a marathon. It is called “The Wall” because it is at that point in the race everything a runner has stored up has been used up. Therefore “the wall” is that point of exhaustion where they want to give up. They must however go on. The body screams for the runner to quit and to somehow stop the pain and exhaustion. At this point the athlete is operating not so much on resources and reserves but on sheer guts and will. How he/she handles “The Wall” will determine whether or not they finish the race well or even if they will finish the race at all.
During the last 11 months we have been going through a spiritual marathon. This pandemic and the isolation and stress associated with it have been a grueling period in our lives. The hills have been steep and the ground treacherous at times. The race is still not over. We still have a way to go. Our souls scream “enough!!!” We want to just quit. We have now hit “the wall”. Anything we had in reserve is gone. Yet, we must go on. We have to finish, and we have to finish well.
There are many parallels between a physical marathon and a spiritual marathon. There is also a great parallel between “the wall” a runner faces and “the wall” we have now hit in our 11th month of living in a pandemic. Let me use this parallel to give us five simple things taken from the marathon race world and Scripture that will help us to get over “the wall”.
First, it would be good for us to remember our fundamentals. A marathon runner has a certain muscle memory regarding their form and their movements. When they get tired, they tend to forget those fundamentals. It is those same fundamentals that will go a long way in getting that runner through.
For Christians there are spiritual truths that have made us strong and that will keep us strong. We can forget those fundamentals when we get fatigued. Colossians 2:6-7 reminds us “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Our relationship with Christ began with us welcoming Christ Jesus the Lord into our lives. He is our Messiah (Our Christ). We should give Him our trust. He is our Savior (Our Jesus). We look to Him for deliverance. He is our King (Our Lord). We give to Him our full allegiance. We should seek to live in these truths, these fundamentals, every day. That what it means to “so walk in Him”
Secondly, we need to check our breathing habits. Proper breathing is critical for the marathoner especially at “the wall”. For the Christian, our breathing is our prayer life. At “the wall” our prayer life is crucial. To suffering at “the wall” Christians in the first century Peter writes “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter is echoing the words of David who reminded us to “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22). I should ask myself regularly “Can my breathing be improved?”.
Thirdly, we need to maintain good hydration levels. A dehydrated runner does not stand a chance when they hit “the wall”. A spiritually dehydrated Christian faces a similar problem. As Christians our water source is the Scriptures. Paul speaks of “the washing of the water of the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). The Psalmist asks and answers a simple question. “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9 NKJV). When I put myself in front of the Scriptures it refreshes and cleanses us. That is something we need every day and several times a day at that. Are we hydrated today?
Fourthly, we need to run with our herd. A wise runner as he comes upon “the wall” is surrounded by others on his/her team so they can take turns “drafting” off of each other and thus make the race a little bit easier at that point. At “the wall” we are facing right now we need each other more than ever. Running alone right now is not smart. We need each other to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Do not try and gut this pandemic out alone. Run the race surrounded by other Christians. Call them, zoom them, meet them, be with them.
Fifthly and finally, we need to keep our eyes on the prize. The marathoner envisions themselves standing on that podium and receiving a medal or finishing well and being embraced by his/her teammates. This vision helps them over “the wall”. We need to keep ever before us Jesus and the rewards He will bestow upon us. The author of Hebrews put it this way concerning our race “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). When we have hit “the wall” we need to regroup and remember who we are running for. We need to keep our eyes on Him.
So my brothers and sisters we have hit “the wall”. We are eleven months into a pandemic, and we are tired. Let us 1) Remember our fundaments (Christ Jesus the Lord) 2) Check our breathing (prayer) 3) Stay hydrated (the Word) 4) Run with our herd (God’s people) 5) Keep our eye on the prize (Jesus at the finish line).
If we endeavor to do these five simple things we will both please the Lord and finish well. Run the race.
Pastor Dave Watson