CLERGY CORNER: Sometimes, God says “no”

Posted on 19 July 2018 by LeslieM

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9) NRSV

The author of the above text, the apostle Paul, reminds us that prayers are answered, but not always the way that we want them to be answered. Sometimes, God says “yes.” Sometimes, God says “no.” Persistently Paul asked God to remove the “thorn in his flesh.” And God said, “No.”

When 2 Corinthians appeared in our lectionary a few weeks ago I felt that this is a good time for a reminder. Christians need to be reminded, now and then, that God says no on occasion.

I certainly am not the first pastor to address this and I know that I won’t be the last. It occurred to me that the greater problem is not the fact that God’s answers are unpredictable. I think the greater problem is that our response to God is predictable. When God says yes, we are predictably pleased. When God says no, we are predictably disappointed. What is rare, but not impossible, is the person who hears God’s no and responds with contentment. It is not to say that doesn’t happen, it is just to say that it is rare. For the most part, we feel entitled to a yes from God. That is the imperfect part of our human nature.

I remember hearing this story when I was younger and one could tell it in a number of different ways, but it is pretty much the same story.

A little boy asked his mom: “Mom, can we have hamburgers for supper?” His mom answered “no.” The little boy was disappointed. Then, when supper time came around, mom loaded up the car and took her family for pizza, the little boy’s favorite pizza place.

The same little boy, a few weeks later, realized that his favorite program was on TV. The little boy asked: “Mom, can we watch my favorite program on TV?” His mom answered, “no.” The little boy was disappointed. Then prime time came along and mom loaded up her car and took him to see a movie, a movie he was excited to see.

The little boy, once again, asked his mom: “Mom, can I go with my friend to the park?” His mom answered, “no.” The little boy was disappointed until his mom started loading up towels, blankets, chairs and his pale and shovel. It looked like he was going to the beach and his mom said he could bring a friend.

Then the little boy thought for a while and said, “When mom says ‘no’ to something good, she says ‘yes’ to something better.”

I thought about this simple story and reflected upon my life. I thought about all of the people in my life who bring me joy. I thought about where I live, where I serve and the joy that comes with being at Zion Lutheran in Deerfield Beach. If God would have said “yes” to every prayer I prayed, none of these blessings would have come to fruition. I am grateful that God said “no.” That is not to say I haven’t been disappointed. It is to say that disappointment is only temporary while God’s Grace is eternal and, as the Lord revealed to Paul, sufficient.

Every person should take inventory of her or his life and consider the disappointments and blessings. I think we would all be blessed to discover the many times when God said “no” to something good only to make it possible to say yes to something better.

Maybe that is why the Lord’s Prayer has the petition “Thy will be done” as opposed to “My will be done.” God seems to know better.

Thank God for all the times God said “no.” Thank God for all the times God said yes to something even better.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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