Luke 22:39-53 (especially v.43-44) – (spring AD 30, Thursday night of Passion Week)
What does a ‘No’ from God really look like, anyway?
For the purposes of this piece, a ‘No’ from God is any time you asked or expected something from him, and you didn’t get it. Famous examples in the Bible are the above passage, and when Paul three times asked God for relief from his ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor 12:7-9). In Jesus’ case, ‘No’ came in the form of an angel to comfort him. In Paul’s case, God said he would give Paul all the grace and divine power he needed to get through.
Those were definitive, final ‘No’s.
More commonly, the kind of ‘No’ we receive from God is less definitive. Indeed, for the most part we don’t know whether we’re getting a ‘No’ or a ‘Not yet’. When we ask for healing, mostly the answer turns out to have been a ‘not yet’, or a ‘yes, but not immediately’. When we pray for the salvation of a friend or family member, the answer is almost always a ‘not yet’, which in many cases becomes a ‘yes’ later. Sometimes, the answer to both such noble requests is ‘No’.
You may pray for a specific job, promotion, good grades at school or university, relationship success, a spouse, a debt-free life…or even a parking space…and a whole host of other things that are good.
But asking for a good thing, as Paul and Jesus’ examples show us, doesn’t guarantee that God will say ‘yes’. All we know for sure is that he has heard us, that he loves to hear and answer our prayers, that if our prayers fall within his will, then the answer will be yes, and that he loves us more than we can possible imagine.
So what do you do when you make a REALLY good request, like salvation for a friend’, and God doesn’t seem to answer?
That’s when our faith is tested, and either shrivels up or grows. Do you trust God to make the loving AND the just and holy decision, at just the right time and in just the right way? Or do you trust him only so far as you can understand and agree with the answer? Because that’s not love at all, that’s a relationship based on a contract that you’ve written, which is not how we get to be with God.
When a loved one dies and you don’t know whether they are in heaven or not because they didn’t obviously repent before they died, do you trust God? Not to have necessarily saved them, but to have done what is right and loving, just and gracious, holy and merciful? Can you ‘leave it with him’?
It’s a whole lot easier said than done, to love and trust God in the midst of his saying ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’ to our righteous requests. That’s when we must lean harder on his track record of loving faithfulness, and in so doing walk closer and more joyfully dependent on our Saviour.
And that’s why we’re called to live in close community with our brothers and sisters. Know when people are struggling, pray for them, remind them of God’s great love for them, encourage them to hold on, and just be there.
Because when God says ‘No’, it often hurts, but it’s never the end.