Just reading the title probably brings negative thoughts to your mind. We as humans don’t typically like to be told, “No,” because it goes against our nature. Sometimes we bring the “no” upon ourselves because of disobedience, such as when 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” (Deu 3:25,26).
God said, “No,” to Israel (Deuteronomy 1:42, “And the Lord said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies”), but they rebelled at His “no.” “And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you” (Deu 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” (2Co 12:7-9).
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 still 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. Luke 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 result of God’s “no,” made him strong (2Co 12:10, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong”). The sorrow and suffering some endure has indeed made them strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
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. Paul’s 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 “no,” 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 sufferer, 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 Co 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.”
A “no” may come in our life for many various reasons. 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” (Deu 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 18:25).
(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 end from the beginning.
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 able to comprehend or appreciate fully.
(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 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; 1Tim 5:23).
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 were subject to bondage. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”
~ Millerstown, PA