Life is difficult! Those words appear at the beginning of the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. By nature, I am an optimist. It’s easy for me to see the good, even in tough circumstances. But I’ve come through a few situations lately that caused even me to say, “Life is difficult!”
A few months ago I received the joyful news that our worship leader was expecting a baby. This young couple had tried in vain for a couple of years to get pregnant. There were numerous times of counseling and encouragement with this precious couple. There were lots of tears and lots of prayers. But now, all those tears were forgotten.
This couple then entered into that euphoric time when they were considering baby names and preparing a nursery. They were planning a baby shower and the wife was relaying to her friends and family every tiny movement by the little man in her womb.
Then at 21 weeks, they lost the baby. Instead of rejoicing over a newborn son, they were holding a tiny stillborn child in their hands.
Life is difficult!
More recently, we lost two really great men in our church. Both were in their early 60s, far from the biblical promise of 70 years. They had loving wives and adoring grandchildren.
These men were strong believers, full of faith and pillars in our church. I admired them both and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that they are now in heaven. Their homegoing leaves us with a lot of questions.
As a corporate body, we prayed, fasted and believed for their recovery. But in the end, it seemed like death won. I know that death is not the end. But it sure feels like a kick in the gut when death comes.
Life is difficult!
So, let’s get real for just a moment. How do we respond when God says “no” to our prayers? Do we throw a temper tantrum and demand our way? Do we whine or complain? Do we accuse God of being unjust, or worse yet, unloving?
We’ve probably done all the above, and more. But let me share a little secret. A “no” from God reveals far more about our heart than a “yes.” It’s easy to get happy about a “yes” because we get the desire of our hearts. But an unanswered prayer is always questioned.
We hate “nos.” Not because we simply didn’t get what we wanted, but because the “no” exposes what’s really in our heart. A “no” uncovers those dark, hidden areas of our soul where things like pride, selfishness or mistrust try to hide.
When we get a “no!” from a boss, a spouse, a co-worker or a friend, what is the first thought that races through your mind? You might try to justify your request, or you may try to swallow a few choice words.
One of the first things we all do is wonder why our request was denied. Or, we look at ourselves and ask, “What did I do to deserve this refusal?” As humans, we say “no” for a lot of wrong reasons. Our “nos” might stem from selfishness, pettiness, greed or simply not understanding.
But God’s “nos” always have a reason. He is not selfish, petty, vindictive, cruel, uncaring or unknowing. God says “no” because “yes” would have been the wrong answer. And God cannot be wrong!
How many times do you think David prayed to stop being pursued by Saul and his army? How many times did Joseph ask God to release him from prison? How often did Sarah petition God for a child?
How often did Paul ask God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”? All these great heroes of the faith received a “no” from God. Some got a “no” with the promise of a “yes” in the future. They had to be patient during a long waiting period. But others got a flat out, absolute, resounding “no!”
We have to look at things from God’s perspective. He is far above our circumstances. He sees the big picture. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Our puny, limited brains will never understand the lofty ways of God. The reason we struggle so much with a “no” is that we are trying to figure out the reason for the “no.” If we could understand the “no,” it would make it easier to accept.
Remember when you were a teenager (or if you are a teenager now), and you asked your parents if you could borrow the car or go on a trip with friends? When you heard the word “no,” the very next thing out of your mouth was, “Why?” And what was the answer you got that drove you crazy?
Sometimes our parents would say: “Because I said so!”
When we get a “no” from God it is because He said so. He does not ask us to understand—because we can’t. He does not expect us to necessarily like it (because we really can’t). But, He does expect us to trust Him!
And that is where life on earth gets real. When we buck against a “no,” our attitude reveals a tiny (or not so tiny) level of mistrust in God. If we really believed God is good all the time if we really knew that God has our best interest at heart, and if we really understood the depth of His love for us, we would simply accept His response.
I will probably never comprehend a stillborn child or a premature death. I will remain forever perplexed when the Bible says, “The prayer of faith will heal the sick,” yet the sick person I pray for is not healed. I may never understand the “no” of God, but I can trust His heart. I can learn to walk in the truth that “all things work together for good.”
I can hold on to His promise: “He knows the plans He has for me … plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future.” And I can strive to put all my trust in His undying love for me, in His overwhelming omniscience, and in His ever-watchful eye over my life.
As we learn to trust Him more, His “no” will give evidence of His great love for us, even when we don’t understand.
This article was first published in Encourage magazine.