By Larry Ray Hafley
Prayer is a precious privilege. Like all of God’s blessings and benefits, it is given and guided by his infinite wisdom. It has his sanction and approval, and is, in common with all Divine duties, commandments and responsibilities, governed by certain rules, restrictions and stipulations. More detailed and elaborate comments on prayer are in order, but they do not belong in the parameters of this assigned topic nor do they fit in the confines of limited space.
Items To Remember
When God says, “No,” the Christian must remember:
(1) That God will do right. “He is . . . a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4). One may not see, he may not, as Job did not, understand, but God will do right. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:24)
(2) That God’s ways are not ours. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8,9). God sees the beginning from the end. Nothing is hidden from him. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psa. 139:6). As a little child cries in protest when his mother pulls him from the road (It is such a great place to ride a tricycle!), so we may cry when God says, “no,” but he, like the child’s parent, knows danger the child may not be fully able to comprehend or appreciate.
(3) That prayer has a chief purpose. Prayer should not be an attempt to manipulate the will of God. “Not my will, but Thine be done,” the suffering Savior cried. But when God says, “no,” we often forget that fact and complain in effect, “not Thy will but mine be done. ” Perhaps the supreme purpose of prayer is to seek God’s will for our lives, our wants, our needs, our desires. It will help to remember that when God says “no.”
(4) That a “no” may be a “yes” in embryo. A present “no” may be a “yes” in development. Paul was told that he was going to Rome (Acts 19:21; 23:11). But the bars of incarceration, the shackles of servitude and the jaws of death seemed to say otherwise. Two years of confinement were not convincing evidence of a trip to Rome, nor was a hopeless sea voyage (Acts 24:27; 27:20). However, as we all know, Paul went to Rome (Acts 28:16)!
(5) That God’s laws prevail. The laws of nature are laws of God. God does not will that one fall off a cliff, but if certain physical laws are broken, he will. God has biological laws. Disease may be contracted and suffering and death may follow. One may pray, “Give us this day our daily bread, ” but if he does not use God’s laws to procure it, or if he contradicts God’s means of acquiring it, he will not receive it. As painful as it is to accept, we frequently are victims of earthly laws in the various and diverse orders of physical life. Of course, the reverse is also true. We often are blessed by material laws of God (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; 1 Tim. 5:23).
Why And When Does God Say, “No”?
God says, “no,” when:
(1) Sin is in the heart. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psa. 66:18). “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12).
(2) One’s attitude is unforgiving. “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye may receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mk. 11:24-26).
(3) “Ye ask amiss. ” Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts” (Jas. 4:3).
(4) We ask without faith. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea. . . For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord” (Jas. 1:6,7).
(5) Our family life is ungodly. “Likewise, ye husbands, . . . giving honor unto the wife, . . . that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).
Those To Whom God Said “No”
God said no to Moses. “I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land…. But the Lord … would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter” (Deut. 3:35,26).
God said no to Israel. “And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give car unto you” (Deut. 1:45).
God said no to Paul. “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
In accordance with the request of this assigned topic, let us focus our attention upon prayerful Paul’s acceptance of God’s “no.”
First, acceptance does not mean that the problem does not exist. Paul accepted God’s “no,” but stiff he had the “infirmities.”
Second, acceptance does not mean woeful resignation. Paul “besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” We may (yea, we should) be persistent, even when God’s answer is not forthcoming (cf. Lk. 18:1-8).
Third, God’s “no” may be necessary to avoid a greater evil or infirmity. Twice Paul says the thorn in the flesh was given “lest I should be exalted above measure.” Unlike Paul, however, we may not know the express purpose for God’s “no,” but we can be assured of his faithfulness and goodness. With Paul, we, too, may have to endure one thing, which means accepting God’s refusal, in order to achieve a higher purpose or benefit.
Fourth, Paul’s weakness, as a consequent result of God’s “no,” made him strong (2 Cor. 12:10). The sorrow and suffering some endure has indeed made them strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. As witness thereto, see the articles in this special series.
Fifth, Paul’s infirmity allowed the power of Christ to rest upon him. God’s strength was complete, was sufficient, was made perfect in weakness. His strength, his sustenance and support, was seen to be of God. Therefore, Christ, not Paul was glorified. Paul’s endured infirmities revealed the power, not of Paul, but of God.
Sixth, God explained his answer of dino,” saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” God’s love and acceptance of us, his strength and power to assist us in our infirmities and with our weaknesses, is sufficient and complete.
Seventh, Paul gloried in his infirmities, but only after he accepted God’s “no.” Paul ultimately saw that this allowed God’s power to rest upon him. Paul’s weakness displayed and magnified Divine power in a manner that human adequacy and personal sufficiency could never accomplish.
Eighth, unfortunately, for him, Paul was the vessel, the sufferent, who had to endure afflictions that God’s grace, power and glory might be truly reflected, but he was glad to bear it for those purposes (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-11; Gal. 4:13,14; 6:14,17). Until we are ready to do the same, we cannot accept or understand God’s “no.”
Finally, Job of old bore the lashes of unparalleled human calamity and agony and torture of mind, body and soul. His faithfulness and steadfast endurance has blessed thirty centuries of sorrowing humanity. Stephen and James met untimely, violent deaths (Acts 7,12). They died when we would have had them to live. By their suffering and death, the early disciples were shown the power of the new faith, that men could die and yet live in victory. Hence, multiplied millions have been emboldened and have accepted torture and death rather than denounce their faith and hope of eternal life.
Deliverance came. No, not to Stephen and James, nor to suffering servants of like precious faith, but it came in unquenchable hope, in the hope that maketh not ashamed. It came through him that is able to deliver us who through fear of death are subject to bondage. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 17, pp. 537-538
September 1, 1988