Monday, March 30, 2020

What To Do When God Says No

That Word Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

It's a pet peeve of mine to hear someone say that God hasn't answered his prayers.

Does the God of the Bible refuse to answer prayer? He does; however, He has revealed to us the instances in which He does so. He's not willy-nilly about it (or anything else, actually).

In some of these cases, He actually refuses to even hear the prayer. Here's the close-to-comprehensive list of situations where God does not answer or hear a prayer.

  1. Not having righteousness (Proverbs 10:24; find out how to get righteous)
  2. Turning away from hearing Scripture (Proverbs 28:9)
  3. Denying repentance (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:2, Hosea 5)
  4. Lacking forgiveness toward others (Mark 11:25)
  5. Doubting God (James 1:6-7)
  6. Seeking selfish gain (James 4:3)
  7. Refusing to live with a wife in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)
  8. Ignoring God's will (1 John 5:14)

As noted above, these are the reasons God has told us that He will not answer or hear a prayer. Yet, in the vast majority of instances when I hear someone say, "God hasn't answered my prayer," the person is not in one of the eight situations above. I could go through the list with that person and we could conclude together that those elements are not at play. So what gives?

What people often miss is this simple fact: God has not left certain prayers unanswered, but He has rather chosen to say No.

Right now, all of us are experiencing this. We had ideas and plans for the coming weeks and months, but now, all of a sudden, God took them away. He saw our schedules, chuckled a bit, and kindly took the calendars out of our hands. 

One of my favorite proverbs is found in the inspired book by the same name. "Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand," (19:21). It's a part of my email signature, as nearly every one of my emails is about making plans. I have it there as a reminder that the future is not shaped by what I type, but rather by the God who is already there. Boy, do I need that reminder frequently these days. There are many other great applicable truths from Proverbs that we do well to lean on during these troubled times.

If we can come to grips with the fact that God has said No to our prayer, we need to consider what a wise and godly response looks like. What questions should we ask? How do we press forward in faith?

As I see it, there are two main things we are to do. These aren't one-off tasks; instead, these items are to be implemented continually as we march on in response to God's sovereignty.

Embrace Reality

The K├╝bler-Ross model of the five stages of grief ends with acceptance of reality. However, God doesn't speak to us through this five-part paradigm. God speaks to us like this: "I am the Lord and there is no other," (Isaiah 45). And like this: "Before Abraham was, I am," (John 8). He has the authority to tell us what to say and where to go. Our role, as His creatures, is to embrace His will immediately.

Now this is not to say that humans can't or shouldn't grieve. Grieving is part and parcel to the human experience. But I have a hard time imagining God encouraging Job to experience seasons of denial, anger, depression, and bargaining before accepting His will. In our fallen state, we certainly experience each of these, yet we are not to seek them. We're not to be satisfied with them. We're not to seek out our own good; rather, we are to imitate Job who said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord," (Job 1:21). In a very personal and direct exchange with God, Job put his hand over his mouth and readily embraced God's words. That's a smart move.

So we, too, when faced with God's sovereign intervention in our lives, should immediately accept what God has decided is good for us. We must embrace reality.

In many ways, the month of April has just been canceled. You can't go to that place with those people anymore. And that hurts. You had your heart set on x-y-z and God just took it all off the table. He's put you (and all of us) in timeout for a bit and that's the way it is.

Yet the carnal instinct is to pout and ask "Why, Lord?" After all, we deserve answers, do we not?

We don't, actually. If God had chosen to not give us any special revelation in Scripture, He would still be eternally good. There is nothing in and of ourselves that is set before God so as to make Him owe us something. He is Creator and we are worms. "The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (Romans 9:20)

Thus, we're much better off if we put away the wallowing and embrace the reality God has created for us. He has brought about that which is and your life is in His hands. Accept it for what it is: His good and perfect will.

Huddle Up

The Christian life was not designed to be lived in isolation. God has placed every Christian in a body of many members. Each believer is a part of a family. Togetherness is fundamental to gospel living.

Correspondingly, when we embrace the circumstances in which God has us, it is entirely right and good for us to gather counsel from other Christians concerning what we are to do next. For instance, in this very moment, there are thousands of church leaders having conversations with other church leaders about how ministry is to move forward in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. The governmental orders are what they are and there's no changing it. That's the reality. Now, to move forward, we must work together and help each other.

Check out all of the things God says about counsel in the book of Proverbs. It is crucial that we turn to brothers and sisters in the faith when we are confused about what we should do. The means God uses to accomplish the ends of our living wisely are His word and His people. He uses those He saves to impart wisdom and help when we need it. What a gift.

There will be times when we're challenged by our fellow Christians. We'll be rebuked and admonished. We will have our feelings hurt. But all of these painful moments are just rough pieces of clay being broken off as God conforms us to the image of His Son. He's directing our steps and leading us into green pastures.

There will also be times when we're shown tremendous grace and mercy by our fellow Christians. When they weep and rejoice with us, we're able to experience deep and thorough encouragement. We're spiritually uplifted in remarkable ways. And in it all, God is working all things together for our good.

Parting Thoughts

Remember that the idea is for us to continuously implement these ideas as we walk through life. We shouldn't wait until the moment of desperation before we think about embracing God's good will for us and getting counsel from the church. These are the marching drums of our life. We step to this beat. It's how we are to live every moment.

I truly believe that if we're doing this as Christians, we will experience a revolution of humble love and peace. We'll find rest in the almighty arms of God and discover that godliness with contentment truly is great gain. Paul David Tripp has summed it up well saying, "Peace is found in resting in the wisdom and grace of the One who has it all figured out and rules it all for his glory and our good."

Take hold of the peace that is yours in Christ today. When God says No, you can say Amen.

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