When God Says No

sunset-229335_640I want to start by taking us back to March 4, 2000. It was 4:30 in the morning when we were awakened to an insistent knock on the door and flashing police lights in front of our house. Our 22 year old son, driving through Montana on his way home from college with his fiancé, had been hit head on by a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the freeway. Amy was dead at the scene; Paul was airlifted to Missoula with massive head and chest injuries. The family gathered at his bedside and, along with our pastor, spent the next 3 days and nights in continuous prayer. The evening of March 6th Paul was declared brain dead. We contacted friends back home, Paul’s classmates at Trinity Bible College and others across the country and around the world. At 10:00 AM on March 7th, we began corporate prayer to raise Paul to life. United we sought God and at the end of 30 minutes, God said…no.

I am not negating the reality of miracles, those divine interventions into the progress of life. I have personally experienced a miraculous healing of migraine headaches. There were too many “coincidences” in starting Your Personalized Bible to not see the hand of God in its creation.  I have been in driving situations where I look back and say, “There is no way I could have made it through that.” Yet here I am. I remember stopping at a rest area one winter, getting out of the car and landed on my butt. Without realizing it I had driven the last 50 miles on black ice. Why wasn’t I in a ditch or wrapped around a tree?

But there will be times when, no matter how hard we pray or how strongly we believe, loved ones die, friends go to prison, marriages end. What do we do when God says no? Do people 20 years in a wheel chair get up and walk? Are dead raised to life? Are prison sentences suddenly commuted? Yes! But there are times too when God says no. When that happens, will my faith be destroyed? Will I walk away in a temper tantrum and say, “I’m through with You, God.”? What do I do when God says no?

Some would say if I live righteously, I will never be attacked by Satan. Some would say if I don’t see an answer, I must be praying wrong, I’ve opened the door to the devil or there is unrepented sin in my life. The fact is there will be times when there is an unexplainable no. God fully see, fully knows and fully understands. Will I trust Him through the good and the bad? Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NLT) says “I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.” And sometimes the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples of when God said no:

  • In one day, Job lost all of his property, his family and his health. For the next 30 some chapters we listen to his friends accuse him of lack of faith and unrepented sin. Finally God speaks and asks, “Who are you to question what I do?”
  • Abraham, at 70, was promised he would be the “Father of Many Nations” (the meaning of his name). That was followed by 25 years of no. Can you image for 25 years introducing himself as “Father of Many Nations”. “Oh, how many children do you have?” “Well, we are childless.”
  • Moses asked God to heal his sister, Miriam, of leprosy. God said no, she had to live outside the camp for a week before she was healed.
  • David prayed and fasted for seven days for the life of his son by Bathsheba, but still the baby died.
  • In 2Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV), Paul “was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Three times Paul prayed for deliverance, yet God said no. His conclusion was, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
  • Do you think Jesus was exempt? In Mark 26:36-44 (NIV) Jesus faced the agony of the cross, taking on the sin of mankind and abandonment by His Father. Three times He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” And God said no.

In each case, God heard the petition but they were overruled. We have the right to object but He has the right to overrule. When God says no, what do I do? I say yes to His grace, His empowerment and I choose to surrender. Surrender easy to sing about but will I live it when His answer is no? This isn’t for a good day. This is for when all hell is breaking loose.

The prophet Habakkuk encountered a time like that. In Habakkuk 3:17&18, he said, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” When life sucks, what ya gonna do?

What overwhelms me? You see, obstacles define who I am. They separate the men from the boys. When I hit a wall, it is time to exercise faith. It is not the time to quit. Going back can’t be an option. This is part of God’s training. God bought a fixer upper when He got me. He is working on me. A promise is for when something is in doubt. We don’t need a promise for the obvious. Know this: God is with you as He is with me. Have you had storms in your life? Did you die from them? I rest my case.

Don’t take the presence of the storm to indicate the absence of God. We will face storms: financial, emotional, health, relationships. Isaiah 43:2 (NLT) promises, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” You are not alone. Let the light of God shine into the darkness of that pain, shine into the fear, the despair, the hopelessness, the loneliness, the emptiness.

I can get self-help books from the bookstore but there are times when self can’t help. I need God. I need His grace. Psalm 46:1 (NKJV) says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) tells us, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” God is doing a divine exchange: beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). That’s a good deal.

In making a sword, the steel is heated, hammered, folded, heated, hammered, folded again and again until it’s very microscopic structure is transformed. What fire, what hammering do I need to go through to become the weapon in the hand of God He desires? Ephesians 6:13 encourages us that having done all to stand then stand. Growing in faith and trust will help us to stand.

What is the will of God for my life? 1Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The will of God for my life is to give thanks in everything. Not for everything, but in everything. Anyone can be thankful for good things. We all have an excuse to be bitter. The devil will try to push my buttons so that I lose my joy, but a wall of thanksgiving will frustrate him. Trust says, “God, You know what is best for me.” There is the key word: Trust.

Faith must go beyond belief in facts and step into trust. James 2:19 (NLT) says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” I read of a daredevil who was about to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He turned to the crowd and said, “Do you believe I can do this?” “YES” they screamed back. “To make it more difficult, I am going to push a wheelbarrow across with me. Do you still believe I can do it?” “YES” “OK, who wants to ride in the wheelbarrow? Silence.

Faith is not a feeling, it is not goose bumps: “Oh, I feel the presence of God today!” Faith takes hope, mixes in past experience and the product is trust when I don’t feel His presence. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In court if my defense is based on evidence that can’t be seen, I’m in trouble. In life it is called faith.

Hebrews 13:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. How do I build my faith? Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. We read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The seed on rocky soil died off because it did not have roots that went down deep. We must sink our roots deep. Jesus didn’t say, “I’ve come so that you might have religion.” Or rules, or regulations, or rituals. He said, “I’ve come that you might have life.” (John 10:10) Life comes through the Word. John 1:4 says, “In Him (the Word, Jesus) was life.”

As we sat together in a restaurant after leaving the hospital for the last time, our pastor warned us, “Don’t ever ask why.” That is the essence of trust. A few days later we tucked our little boy in for the last time. Closing that casket is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But my trust in God is not shaken. Paul’s tombstone quotes 2 Corinthians 15:54: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

If I Change

racoonIf someone gave me $100, would that change my life? One night out to dinner and a movie and that is gone. What if I had a new job? Give it a month and I’ll probably find something to grumble about. On the other hand, one thought can change my life. For me one of those thoughts was Romans 8:1: “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Those words began my journey to understand who I am in Christ.

My confession can say “I’m in trouble” or “I’m in Christ.” If it’s “I’m in trouble”, who am I blaming? My wife, my boss, my parents? Colossians 3:10 (NIV) tells us, “(We) have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” It’s time to put on the new man. That means to put on new thinking. Here is the Key: If I change, everything changes.

We have all heard of the witness protection program on police dramas: a witness whose life is threatened is given a new identity. They have a new name, a new home, new ID, but are they a different person? Without a change on the inside, they will go back to the same habits resulting in the same outcome wherever they go: stealing cars, doing dope, whatever. We recently traveled to Florida. I got off the plane, proceeded to baggage claim and guess who was there? Me! Wherever I go, there I am. I can’t get away from me.

What words define my life? Stress, financial pressure, anger, frustration, rejection. We need a new vocabulary. Ephesians 1:4-5 describes the new man, “Even as He chose _____ in Him before the foundation of the world, that _____ would be holy and without blemish before Him in love; having predestined _____ for adoption as a son/daughter through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His desire.” Here we are described as chosen, holy and adopted. Verse 7 tells us we are redeemed and forgiven. Often our attitude is, “I’ve always been this way.” “I’ve always thought this way.” “It’s so hard to change.” Who ever said it would be easy? But the reward is worth it. If I change, everything changes.

Have you ever see fun house mirrors? One makes your stomach balloon out, the next gives you a watermelon sized head. We grow up never seeing a true image of who we are. Words from friends or teachers, abusive or neglectful parents, a home broken by divorce, a dysfunctional family have left an imprint on our soul. I remember my parents saying, “You never follow through on anything.” That has always made it hard for me to push through to the end of a task. “I can’t…” “I’ll never…” It is time to get a new image of who you are. The Word of God is the only accurate mirror that can tell you who you are.

What is our excuse for not trying? ADHD, I can’t read, I failed in school. A tattoo artist had just completed a tattoo on a man’s arm saying, “Loser.” He was asked why anyone would want that tattoo. His response was, “It first must be on their heart.”

Let’s get our focus on a new self-image.  The world is trying to pull us off course, distract us from God’s purpose for our lives. James 1:8 warns that the double minded man is “unstable in all they do.” Here is a key to recognizing double minded: “but”. If I say, “I am in Christ BUT…” I am double minded. “But” is a U-turn. I am headed toward the in Christ reality, then the “but” jumps in and turns me the other way. The “but” cancels out everything before it.

Acts 17:28 (NIV) tells us, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” In Christ is our connection to life. I have rights as a citizen of the United States. When I travel overseas, I can expect help and protection from the local authorities as a US citizen. As a citizen of heaven my rights are exponentially higher: child of God, destined for heaven, protection from the evil one. In the natural, our identity may be from family history: divorce, addiction, abuse. 2Corinthians 5:16 says we are no longer identified according to the flesh. Paul goes on to say in verse 17 we are a new creation. We have a new identity, a new passport.

Ephesians 4:22-24 commands, “that _____ put away, as concerning his/her former way of life, the old man/woman, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that _____ be renewed in the spirit of his/her mind, and put on the new man/woman, that like God has been created in true righteousness and holiness.” Success depends on change. Bottom line, I can’t change anything but me.  My past is my fault, but so is my future. I may want to blame others or blame the past, but the truth is it is up to me to change my future. Philippians 3:13-14 encourages us to step forward and don’t look back. If I change, everything changes.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” If I am expecting my life to be the same (or go down hill) it probably will. Why not expect a miracle. In Psalm 23:6 David said, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Have you ever lived looking over your shoulder for a bully or a bill collector or maybe the police? Why not look over your shoulder expecting goodness and mercy? In Mark 2:3-5 four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They came expecting, so much so that when they couldn’t get in because of the crowd they tore a hole in the roof to get their friend to Jesus. Expectation is a magnet for the blessings and miracles of God.

Proverbs 4:23 warns us to guard our heart. Good News Bible puts it this way, “Be careful how you think, your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Are those thoughts in line with new creation reality? If I don’t believe it, I will never live it. Winning the battle in my mind will lead to winning in life. If I change, everything changes.

Surfers watch for waves. We have seen them in Hawaii, sitting on their boards for hours waiting for “the” wave. Demons watch for words and they will ride those words right into my soul. I can’t afford to say what my feelings tell me, what my family says, what friends think of me. Philippians 4:8 tells us to keep our thoughts on “whatsoever is true, noble, just…” We are to think on these things, speak these things. Next time you find yourself in a lousy mood ask, “What have I been thinking about?” There will be thoughts that led to that mood.

“My Mama taught me…” “Uncle Joe always said…” “My friend James told me…” What does God’s Word say? Deuteronomy 30:19-20 points out the choice: “I call heaven and earth to witness against _____ this day, that I have set before him/her life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore _____ should choose life, that he/she may live, he/she and his/her seed.” Choose life! Right thinking attracts the blessings of God. It doesn’t matter how many sermons I hear if I don’t change my mind. My life may change because of a miraculous touch of God but that isn’t the norm. However, if I have changed my mind, I’m ready for a miracle. If I change, everything changes.

What is the most important thing we can do as Christians? Pray? Witness? Serve the poor? Those are all good but I submit the most important thing is to change. All those other things are good but they will follow naturally as we change to be more like Him. We want life to be easy; God wants to grow us up. We want God to do something for us; God wants to do something in us and through us. If I change, everything changes.

One of my favorite things about the Bible is how honest it is about the shortcomings of the men therein. I think that is so we can realize that we can overcome our shortcomings too.

  • Jacob – In Genesis 27, he used deceit to get Esau’s      birthright as firstborn. Blessing will not override a lack of integrity. Jacob      continued to pay for that character flaw because character is the steering      mechanism for our lives.
  • Moses – He suffered from low self-esteem. He spent 40      years in the desert as a murderer, rejected and isolated. In Exodus 3:11,      Moses whines, “Who      am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”      Yet he went on to be a great leader.
  • Gideon      – Judges 6 describes how Gideon is hiding in the wine press when an angel      shows up and calls him “a mighty man of valor.” When Gideon gets the      understanding that he is God’s mighty man, he becomes the leader God needs.
  • Peter      – When Jesus first met him, Peter’s reaction was “Depart from me for I am      a sinful man.” Later he denies even knowing Jesus. Yet he is the one who walks      on water in Luke 5. At Pentecost he speaks as the leader of the church and      thousands were brought in.
  • Paul,      David, Elijah, Noah, Samson, Jonah… They all had their faults but they      didn’t stay there. Can you live as an overcomer? Luke 1:37 promises, “With      God, nothing is impossible.”

What is required for mind renewal? Joshua 1:8 commands, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Meditate on the Word. Like a cow chewing her cud, get everything out of the Word that you can. Part of Biblical meditation is speaking the Word. As our pastor calls it, “Mutter-tate.” As we declare the Word with our mouths, it takes stronger root in our heart.

I want to conclude this study with Psalm 1:1-3:

“_____ is blessed because he/she doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor does he/she stand in the way of sinners,

Nor does he/she sit in the seat of scoffers;

But _____’s delight is in the LORD’s law;

On His law _____ meditates day and night.

_____ will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,

That brings forth fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also does not wither.

Whatever _____ does shall prosper.”

What was the key? If I change, everything changes.