When God’s “no” is a bitter pill

Perhaps today’s title hits a little too close to home for you. Maybe you have prayed desperately for something you desire – healing for yourself or a loved one, getting the job offer for your dream job, becoming a parent, seeing a wayward child turn her life around, saving a broken relationship. But instead of the “yes” you had hoped to hear from God, you have heard “no” … again and again.

God answered one of my prayers with a “no” this past weekend, and while it’s not the bitterest pill I’ll ever have to swallow, it was a tough one. I was supposed to spend the weekend in the woods: volunteering for an ultramarathon and crewing for my husband while he ran the race. He had trained hard for the race, and all his running over the last six months was preparing for this one big race.

But it was not to be. Four weeks ago, he realized he injured his left foot during a wet, muddy race. Not a severe issue, not a break or a fracture, but a tendon or muscle strain. While we had both surrounded the race with prayer for months leading up to it, the prayers changed after the injury. I asked God to heal my husband’s injury so he could run the race. I begged and pleaded and prayed and prayed and prayed some more.

After doctors’ visits and a couple of rest weeks, a few bad, short runs, and prayers that asked not just for healing but also wisdom about running the race, my husband knew that God’s answer was “no” – no running this weekend.

My husband handled the decision well, but it was a tough weekend emotionally, even with distractions of a trip out of town, dinner with friends and a big gardening project. So while it turned out to be a fun weekend in its own way, it wasn’t the one either one of us would have chosen.

Accepting God’s will and answers of “no” to our prayers can be extremely difficult. We bargain, cajole, promise and plead. God loves us enough to listen to these prayers, but He also knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and sometimes those plans mean He will say “no” to our prayers along the way.

Whether He’s teaching a lesson in patience or shaping us for something in our future or allowing a loved one to die to end earthly suffering or keeping a door closed so we’ll get closer to His will, God alone knows why some answers have to be “no” or “not yet.”

Jesus’ own “no” from God
As we walk together through this Holy Week, I thought it might help to remember that even Jesus experienced an answer of “no” from God in His own time here on earth, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before the soldiers came to arrest Him:

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the
Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When
He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may
not enter into temptation.” And He withdrew from them about
a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,
saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me;
yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven
appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He
was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops
of blood, falling down upon the ground. When he rose from
prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping
from sorrow, and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get
up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
– Luke 22:39-46

Look at how Jesus prayed in this time before His arrest and crucifixion: He prayed fervently, pouring sweat because of the anguish He felt over what was coming for Him. In His pleading, though, he never forgot the one key thing: “Father, if You are willing …” Jesus knew God’s plan and knew the suffering that would come, and He knew that God would not let Jesus suffer unless it served God’s purposes.

Accepting God’s “no” was Jesus’ response of obedience and submission to God’s will. It was difficult for Jesus to accept the torture and death He would face, but He understood God’s will would prevail, and He knew whose lives He would be saving by His own dying.

Do you think any of the disciples prayed fervently for Jesus’ life to be spared that night? Perhaps they were too frightened for their own safety to pray for Jesus then, but Jesus wanted them to keep praying. His last words to them before his arrest exhorted them to “pray that you may not enter temptation,” to pray that they would not be tempted to lose faith in all they had seen and believed about Christ.

Can you picture Jesus saying the same words to you in the face of a “no” from God. Some of the “no” answers we get may tempt us to turn from faith, to turn away from God’s will, but Jesus wants us to stand our ground and fight for our faith, and He knew that the best way to do that was to pray – even if the answers aren’t always what we want.

As Easter approaches, I hope you’ll remember Jesus’ prayer and His response to the answer. Maybe God’s “no” to Jesus, His beloved son, will remind you of His own love for you and His desire for you to fulfill His plans for you, even if it means saying “no” to some of your own plans.

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