“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
Not long ago, the family was gathered around the table for supper – my favorite – Tator-Tot Casserole. We took a moment to pray, thanking God for our family and the food He provided. When everyone said, “Amen,” my son looked up and said, “We need to pray again?” “Why,” my wife asked. To which his response was, “Cause I want jelly-butter instead.”
It took a while to explain that that’s not exactly how prayer worked (actually, it took longer to convince him to eat his supper). We didn’t want to discourage his young spirit from taking everything to God in prayer. He needed to know that even though God didn’t change his dinner options, God still listened to his prayer and loved to hear him pray. Still, he also needed to know that sometimes God answers our prayers with a “No.”
My son doesn’t like to hear “No,” but if we’re honest, neither do any of us. How many times do we come up with what we think is a great idea, only to be told “no” by those who have greater insight and understanding. “No, you can’t buy that,” “no, you can’t have this promotion,” “no, you have to stay right here.” It can be frustrating, disappointing, and discouraging to hear “no.”
Sometimes, we hear “no” and think “not yet,” or “maybe.” We continue to push forward in the things we want, the plans we’ve made, only to set ourselves up for even greater disappointment. “I know this is the right thing for me, even though everyone else says it’s not. Even though they say ‘no,’ I say ‘yes.’”
We do this with God. We pray that God will guide us as we make our choices. Then, when the doors seem to shut in our face, when friends and counselors tell us to look elsewhere, we ignore God’s “no” and press forward anyway.
Here’s the simple truth: If God says “no” to your prayers, it’s because He has something better in store for you. So many times we go to God, asking Him to approve of our choices even though they may not be honoring to God or beneficial to ourselves and others. We think we’ve thought through all the possibilities, and that God should see our wisdom and say, “I wish I had thought of that.” Instead, God, who is infinitely wise, powerful, and sovereign, knows what is right and best for His people. If we go to God in prayer, and the answer to our prayers is a resounding “no,” shouldn’t we listen and obey?
Paul had this experience. He had been given “a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan,” he calls it, to keep him from being too proud of his ecstatic vision of heaven (2 Cor. 12). Whether this “messenger of Satan” was a physical injury, hardship and oppression, or just a really cranky and obnoxious dissenter in his church, we will never know. We do know that Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to have this thorn removed, and every time the Lord’s answer was clearly, “NO!”
Why? Why wouldn’t the Lord remove this obstacle from Paul so that he could continue in to thrive in his ministry? Is God the ultimate kill-joy, withholding His power so that His people would suffer? Surely God could remove this burden from Paul if He desired. Couldn’t God see how much better life would be for Paul if He would only answer this prayer?
It was precisely for Paul’s ministry, and for his joy in life, that God said “no.” God’s answer to Paul was this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God could have removed whatever had been causing Paul such pain, but then Paul would never have learned to rely so completely on the all-sufficient grace of God. Paul would have trusted in his strength, rather than in the power of Christ that rested upon him. Paul would never have learned to be content in God through “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” He never would have come to the point of saying, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Friends, if God is telling you “no” when you pray, learn to trust that His “no” is gracious and kind, that God has something greater in store for you. His plans for you are good, not evil, plans for a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). Faithfully wait in His “no,” and see how His grace is made sufficient for you, how His power is made perfect in your weakness.
Grace and peace,