By Dr. David Watson
Have you ever prayed for something you really believed you needed to have happen and gotten silence from Heaven? I know I have. Have you prayed about something over and over and over again, agonizing on your knees and wanting the Lord to answer in the affirmative but God seemed to say “no”? I know I have.
One of the toughest things to deal with in the Christian experience is knowing that if God doesn’t answer “yes” to our prayer it is going to be a huge problem. Yet the Lord says “no”. God often says “no” by His silence. Why would our Lord do that to us?
Perhaps that prayer was for healing for a loved one who would die without divine intervention. Yet God said “no”. Perhaps it was for relief from physical pain or mental anguish, but God said “no”. Perhaps it was for a financial crisis you were facing or an opportunity to leave a place or a job you needed out of. We had a deadline, we prayed, in faith, for the kingdom, for the glory of God, in Jesus’ name and God said “no”.
Please don’t think you are unique in having this happen to you. I dare say it has happened to every follower of Jesus Christ at one time or another. But what are we to make of it? Is there any encouragement we can take from a “no” from heaven?
The apostle Paul was arguably one of the greatest Christians of all time. He was a man who undoubtedly was in touch with the ways and will of God. Yet he got a big “no” from heaven on at least one major request he made. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 where we find the story:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, that harassed him (Greek “kolaphizo” – to beat with the fist). Though this thorn kept him humble it apparently hindered his ministry greatly as well. I think the term “thorn’ is used because it was painful and it was nagging the apostle.
We don’t know what this thorn in the flesh was for sure. At the end of the book of Galatians we read that he writes with very large letters with his own hand (Galatians 6:11). This has caused many to say that the thorn in the flesh was an eyesight problem that required Paul to dictate his letters and thus that slowed his productivity for the gospel and frustrated him. The experience on the road to Damascus that temporarily blinded him may also give credence to this view.
While we can’t be sure what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was we can be sure of is: Paul made it a serious matter of prayer. Paul prayed, actually pleaded, 3 times for it to be removed and the Lord didn’t grant His request. Rather, somewhere in this conversation with the Lord, Paul heard very distinctly the Lord’s reason for the “no” answer. The Lord said “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. God owes us no explanations, but He gave one to Paul that I am sure applies to all of us.
In reality, we don’t need our prayer to be answered the way we want it to be answered. Why? Because when God says “no” He will be sure to supply the we grace to go forward. Though we are weak, His power is perfected in such weakness. We are actually stronger and more effective when we are weak often times because of heaven’s “no”. Paul says he will boast in his weakness because in that weakness the power of Christ rests on him.
For the last 12 months starting on March 15, 2020 we prayed not once, not twice, not thrice but almost countless times for Almighty God to stomp out Covid19. We’ve prayed for the death toll to albeit. We’ve prayed for the transmission rate to lower. We’ve prayed for things to get back to normal. We’ve prayed on our knees, in our Churches, in the streets, in front of the hospital, in faith, for God’s Glory and in Jesus’ name. And yet…..many prayers got a “no”.
Our Lord did not leave our prayers unanswered. He has answered many of them the same way He answered the apostle Paul. I’m not sure I was fully listening this past year because I wanted a different answer. I am doing my best to listen now. Yes, Lord Your grace is sufficient. Today His people and His church are not weak but strong because the power of Christ is more evident in us when we are weak than at our strongest moments.
A few days ago I said to someone “I wonder what Calvary (the church I’m privileged to Pastor) would be like if Covid19 hadn’t hit”. At that moment something amazing occurred to me. I am a better Christian and the Church I Pastor is a better Church, dare I say it, in the midst of this global pandemic because God said “no” to many of my and our churches requests. How can that be? Because “His grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in our weakness.” Amen!
Dr. David Watson is the senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Staten Island. This article was reprinted from his blog, https://nycshepherd.com/.