Does God always answer our prayers? Absolutely! Does He always do what we ask in prayer? Absolutely not. He does say “no”, at time, or at other times He appears not to answer at all. God does not always immediately answer us, nor is He obligated to do what we ask, no matter how noble our theme; He answers when it suits Him, and He may deny our petitions. This message today might not immediately make you ‘feel good’, but then, that’s not the point of preaching.
Just because you’re devout, does not mean that God will do what you want; He is able, but He simply doe not always deliver you from pain, suffering or loss.
George Mueller is one of my heroes. He planted and funded orphanages all over England and helped over 120,000 children at a time when most folks just did not care about orphans. He was a man of enormous faith—when he prayed things happened. He was in love with God.
Once, while crossing the Atlantic on the SS Sardinian in August 1877, his ship ran into thick fog. He explained to the captain that he needed to be in Quebec by the following afternoon, but the captain aid that he was slowing the ship down for safety and Müller's appointment would have to be missed. Müller asked to use the chart-room to pray for the lifting of the fog. The captain followed him down, claiming it would be a waste of time. After Müller prayed a very simple prayer, the captain started to pray, but Müller stopped him; partly because of the captain's unbelief, but mainly because he believed the prayer had already been answered. Müller said, "Captain, I have known my Lord for more than fifty years and there is not one instance that I have failed to have an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, for you will find that the fog has gone." When the two men went back to the bridge, they found the fog had lifted, and Müller was able to keep his appointment. The captain became a Christian directly afterwards.
Müller's faith in God strengthened day by day and he spent hours in daily prayer and Bible reading. It was his practice, in later years, to read through the entire Bible four times a year. And yet, when his only son, one he had prayed for, Elijah, got pneumonia, he died—he was just one year old. Müller prayed for his son to be restored to health—and God said, “no”. Why???
I have talked many times about a giant theologian in Germany who gave his life to protect others. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer . He was a Protestant pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident who was a key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential; his 1937 book The Cost of Discipleship is as a modern classic. It is a “must read” for any pastor. Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Adolf Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel Prison for one-and-a-half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer was accused of being associated with the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler and was tried and found guilty. He was hanged on April 9, 1945 during the collapse of the Nazi regime. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed at 39.
Friends, people all over the world were praying earnestly, for his protection and release. But just a few days before the American soldiers arrived at the prison to free everyone, he was hanged with piano wire. As in love with God as he was, as devout and sincere as he was, as selfless, kind and brave as he was, God did not grant his prayers and allow him to be freed—even though he was merely 39 years old and engaged to be married. God said “no”.
Perhaps the most beloved daily devotion book of all time is My Utmost for His Highest. I have read his book, daily, for the past 47 years. The author, Oswald Chambers, was profoundly gifted, humble, focused upon Jesus Christ and Spirit-filled. But he was stricken with appendicitis on October 17, 1917, while teaching at a bible college in Egypt. Although he was in incredible pain, he resisted going to a hospital on the grounds that the beds would be needed by men wounded that were fighting nearby—this WWI, of course.. On October 29, a surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy; however, Chambers died 15 November 1917 from a pulmonary hemorrhage--he bled to death from his lungs, He was buried in Cairo with full military honors.
Chambers' widow transcribed and published books and articles edited from the notes she had taken in shorthand during the Bible College years. My Utmost for His Highest (1924), has never been out of print and has been translated into 39 languages. Over 13,000,000 copies have been sold.
Oswald Chambers, died of appendicitis at 43 despite the earnest and humble prayers and tears of his wife, students, colleagues and friends.
And was there a great evangelist than Paul? He wrote more books of the Bible than anyone. He was “sold out to Jesus Christ” and led thousands to Christ! He traveled as far as he could to share the gospel and bring salvation to the ends of earth. But he suffered….something, we’re not sure what, caused him much pain. He begged for God to heal him, three times. But God did not, and said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
The only perfect man to ever live, the perfect Son of God, the one Being that has perfect access to God, and one in whom God was totally pleased, only prayed for Himself one time. In the garden He pleaded with God to “let this cup pass….” He was troubled about what was coming His way and He begged for God to find another means of accomplishing His will. There’s nothing and no one in the universe that God loves more than His one and only Son, but He told His son, “no, Son, this is the way it has to be.”
Finally, consider Moses. He was faithful to God and completed tasks for God when others would have gone into hiding. He was the most humble man man in the Old Testament and put up with some very, very arrogant and unkind people. And yet, when he asked for permission to enter into promised land, and God said “no”.
Moses proceeded to beg God for the chance just to see the promised land. As I read that I thought to myself, “After forty years in the desert and all the rebellion and bellyaching Moses put up with, why not let him go in and at least spend a few days there before he died?” But God said, “No more of this.” (Duet. 3:26, NIV). Ouch!
This is one of passages I don’t totally “get,” because when you first read it, God seems too rigid. Why couldn’t He give the same grace to Moses that Moses begged God to give to the Hebrews when they rebelled against God? God was merciful and patient with them but seems unwilling to give Moses a second chance.
I never have fully grasped what Moses and Aaron did that got God so upset when they struck the rock and water came out, but what they did was wrong, somehow, and they knew it. But I have to remember that God is the perfect Father—I am far from it. So when Moses is recorded to be begging for what he wanted (after God already told him “no”) it is not the posture of a humble man, but rather of a stubborn man. Moses was a great man of faith but he did not always do the right thing. As we look at the great heroes of the Bible and Christian history, we should never put our total confidence in a man or woman—only One is truly “good” and totally worthy of trust.
With God, “no” means “no.” I fail as father when I tell my sons now, and then allow them to beg and beg for me to change my mind. A good parent does not waver in regard to his/her standards or what’s best for the child and family. Good parents place their love of their child above begging and temper tantrums. Why do my kids beg and beg when I say “no”? Because sometimes because I don’t love them enough, I think. I am weak—and they know it. Do I want my children to trust me? Teaching them to accept “no” and to trust me is preparing them to one day trust Him and to accept His no’s as well.
There’s a point when God tells us, “That’s enough”. I don’t say that we should ever stop praying for the salvation of others, or protection of those we love, etc But there is a point to stop asking for when He is clearly saying “no”. And my observation is that I do not know what is best for me; I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow that might totally upend all my detailed life plans; my heart does not always “pine” for the best things; I sometimes change my mind!
So let me share with you some things that have helped me. Don’t whine, when God says “no”. And when heartache comes, if you are walking close to Him, you won’t say, “why me?”, you will find yourself reckoning, “well, why NOT me?!” God is under no obligation to do things our way or in our time frame, but I have found that He tends to say “no” more to those He esteems the highest, than those who are the most immature and infantile in their faith. The more mature, like Saint Paul, David and Job, trust God.
God took David’s baby boy, and yet David trusted God completely and never failed to express his love and faith in God. Why? He had an intimate knowledge of the Holy One and trusted that God would one day allow him to be with that son in heaven, and he knew that God would give him the desires of his heart if he waited upon the Lord.
There’s a Maranatha Music song called, “In His Time”. The chorus goes,
In his time, in his time
He makes all things beautiful
In his time
We have to trust that He will do immeasurably more than we hope or imagine, if we surrender our lives, plans, dreams to “His time”. If He loves you, He will say “no”, at times. If He has very special plans for you, He may say “no” to you more often than He does to others!
You’re not aline when you sense that God is not answering quickly enough. C.S. Lewis once said, “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'No answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, but not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.” CSL
At the end of the book of Job, after God has confronted Job about all his whining, Job makes this confession of truth:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42, 2, NIV)
Now, that’s what stirs my soul. God can do anything. But do I trust Him to do it when He wants, how He wants and in manner He wants?
Friends, this past week, or perhaps even today, have you had an audience with the King? Muller, Bonhoeffer, Lewis, Saint Paul, David and other heroes to the faith did—and it made them spiritual giants, despite broken hearts and crushed bodies.…