Sunday, July 23, 2017

Prayer: When God Says, ‘No’

We’ve been praying about something for quite some time. And this past week, we heard from God. We got a clear answer, and the answer was ‘No’. We had been praying for Dave, asking God to heal him. We weren’t insisting on a miracle, though that would have been fine. We would have been satisfied if Dave would have gotten a clean bill of health through the very normal means of medical care. And so, we prayed. And this week, God answered our prayers. He decided not to heal Dave. Instead, God decided that it was time for Dave to die and to be with Him. God didn’t come to that decision because He was annoyed with anyone. And it wasn’t as if He had been distracted with other things until it was too late. It was none of that. It was just that He decided to answer our prayers with a ‘No’.

So, how are we to respond to this? What does this have to say about our praying? What do we do now?

Well, for one thing, let’s not get all ‘religious’, with its seemingly appropriate but actually worthless words of comfort, whether spoken to ourselves or to anyone else. This is another place where empty religious talk won’t work. We need something better than that. And let’s not get ‘theological’ with some cold and stoic statements like: ‘God controls it all. This must be what He wanted to happen. So, we should be happy that God’s plan has taken another step forward.’ That’s garbage even though some of those statements are accurate. God really is in control of it all. And, we actually can say, this is what He wanted to happen. But the conclusion is all off. Think about it. Jesus understood better than any of us that God controls everything, but that didn’t stop Him from crying at the tomb of His good friend, Lazarus. Such cold theology isn’t Christian theology. It really is garbage.

Okay, we’ll not respond in those sorts of ways. So, how are we to respond? Well, to start, simply feel what you feel. Let it out. Feel it. If you feel disappointment, be disappointed. If you feel confused, then express that confusion. And if you feel sad - and I certainly hope that you all really do feel sad - then feel that. And even if you feel angry, let that out also. Don’t bottle up what you’re feeling because you’re supposed to respond in some prescribed ‘religious’ manner. Whether you let it out or not, you’re feeling it. And if it’s wrong to feel what you’re feeling, then it’s wrong whether you let it out or not. So, in answer to the question, ‘How are we to respond to this?’, you don’t need me to tell you. You’ve already answered the question by how you’ve already responded, whether you let anyone else, or even yourself, know. It’s just a matter of whether you want to be honest about how you’re feeling.

Once you come to see your response, take advantage of the situation. Whatever it is that you are really feeling is a revelation of your heart, the real you, down deep. Take a look at that. You might find it encouraging. Or you might find it troubling. But good or bad, encouraging or troubling, you have the opportunity of seeing what’s really going on inside you. And remember that understanding yourself is a part of wisdom. It just might be that you will grow in that wisdom because God answered with a ‘No’.

This does, however, leave some rather large questions. And what I’m thinking about are questions about prayer, always a touchy topic. But let’s look at some of them.

So, it may be that someone is thinking, ‘I thought that God promises to grant our prayers as long as we do it in the right way.’ And with that query this Scripture comes to mind.

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. Matthew 18:19

There certainly were at least two of us agreeing on asking for Dave’s healing. So, what happened? Why God's No?

And that is a good question. To start, including a little more Bible is helpful. Consider what happened here.

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37

Well, here we have a request being made of Jesus. And there are two who are agreeing on this. But as you may remember, they were turned down. Jesus’ answer was ‘No’. Why?

Now, I could get into a detailed explanation of that prayer promise which might or might not satisfy you. But I think that it’s more important simply to establish this point. When it seems that we’ve fulfilled the requirements of some prayer promise but the answer is still ‘No’, the problem isn’t with God. Somehow, in some way, we’ve missed something. We may not understand at the time what it is that we’ve missed, but this we can be sure of. Our Father loves us. His goal is to do us good. And He always keeps His promises. It’s just that we have more to learn. We missed something. And in due course, as we work at things like this, we’ll be shown what we’ve missed.

Someone else might be thinking, ‘But doesn’t it say somewhere that God wants to give us good gifts?  And what better gift than healing someone you love?’

Here’s the verse this person is thinking about.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

So, does God want to give us good gifts or not? Well, the answer is a very clear ‘Yes’. It’s just that the gifts that He wants to give us are sometimes better than the gifts that we ask Him for. Paul wanted the gift of healing from that thorn in his flesh, so he asked for it. And as you know, he got a ‘No’ in response. But along with that ‘No’ he got a better gift than healing, a gift that he was so very grateful for. Listen.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

I think that I can say that Paul preferred the gift that he got instead of the gift that he prayed for. So, yes, our Father loves to give good gifts to us, His children. It’s just that His idea of a good gift and ours don’t always match up. And His is always better.

It’s a sad fact that there are those who respond poorly when they receive a ‘No’ from God. When this happens, some tell themselves, ‘Well, why should I bother praying? God’s going to do what He’s going to do, regardless. So, I’m just going to save my breath.’ They may not say those words out loud, but they pretty much give up on the idea of prayer. From then on, at best it’s just a matter of going through the motions but not really expecting anything. They’ve given up. And that really is sad.

But then, there are those who feel that temptation, but they don’t want to follow that path. They know better than to do that. But they have some doubts about this whole prayer thing that plague them. And as a result, they grow tentative in their prayers. ‘Am I they doing this wrong? Is there some secret to prayer that I’m missing? How am I supposed to pray?’ They just don’t know. So, their prayers grow timid. Let me offer this advice to any who are like this. Pray boldly. Make large requests, huge requests, of God. Don’t be timid. Just be honest. ‘Father, I really think that it would be very good if You were to …’ Just fill in the blank with something you really do think is a good idea. Don’t try to figure it all out. ‘What is God going to think? Is it really a good idea? What if I’m completely wrong about this?’ Don’t worry about all of that and get all twisted up. Just ask. The prayer of faith isn’t one where you’ve got it all figured out. Faith is simply trusting your Father’s wisdom and love. So, just ask.

If you do this, there will be times when the Father will hear your pray and say, ‘Yes! What a great idea! I’m going to do exactly that.’ And that results in your being able to say, ‘What a good God I have!’ But to be sure, there are going to be times when He’s going to say, ‘No, I really don’t think that’s the way to go. I have something better in mind.’ Don’t feel bad when that happens. He’s not mad at you for asking for that thing. It’s just that He thinks that there’s a better way. And that’s when you say, ‘What a wise God I have!’

But then, watch what happens. Watch what He does. Watch what His better way is. Learn from His wisdom so that you can understand better what His priorities for the Church and for the world are, so that you can understand better His character. Use His ‘No’ to grow a bit more in this thing called wisdom. That will make a difference in how you pray next time.

We’re all in the process of learning the different aspects of what it means to live well as a Christian. And sometimes that means making mistakes. But God is okay with that. Just learn from it all.

Nobody likes to hear God say ‘No’, especially when the request is about something dear to your heart. But that’s the time we need to tell ourselves that we can trust our Father. He knows what He’s doing. He really does, even when we don’t have a clue about what’s going on. And His love for us is more than what we can imagine. After all, He sent Jesus. Trust His wisdom. Trust His love. And keep praying.

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