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February 2015

SCHOOL OF PRAYER (Lesson # 5):

When God Says, “No”

By Beverley Carter

The great apostle Paul tells us that he was given a thorn in the flesh, which most think was poor eyesight.  (There is evidence for this in some of Paul’s writings.)  Paul prayed three times to have this thorn removed, but God said “no” all three times.  Interestingly, God gave Paul insight as to why He said “no.”
First insight: Paul writes, “The thorn was given me to keep me humble because of the great revelations that God has given me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7
Second insight: God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
In this verse lies one of the most profound truths that every Christian needs to learn.  God’s grace is sufficient to sustain and hold us steady in our affliction.  According to the Living Bible translation: ”God’s power shows up best in weak people.  Now I, Paul, am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Our trials and tribulations give God the opportunity to demonstrate His grace and power while “building” our faith and trust in Him.  This is not an easy lesson to learn, but when we couple it with the following words from Paul, it becomes more palatable:
“For our light affliction or momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17
While we are here on Earth, we have to live by faith and not by sight.  Once we grasp this great truth, we will discover that although the road is often hard, with God’s presence, it becomes a blessed journey.
Let’s now examine one of the most unexplainable examples from scripture of when God said “no”—the death of John the Baptist.  John had been given two great privileges: the work of preparing the way for the Messiah and the privilege of baptizing Him.
Shortly after Christ’s baptism, John was put in prison for preaching against the sin of Herod, who was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with his brother’s wife.  For a moment, John’s faith faltered. (He was human, just like we are).  According to Matthew, “When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” – Matthew 11:2-3 
In response, Jesus simply told John’s disciples to tell him what they had seen.  John received this message, and it was enough to bolster his faith.  As John recalled the Messianic prophecies he had preached and the hearing of God’s voice at Christ’s baptism, and now as he heard the report of the works of Jesus, he knew that Christ was indeed the Lamb of God.  With that acceptance came a calm assurance and a great peace that gave John the courage to pray, “According to Your eternal purpose, Your will be done.”
Soon thereafter, we are told that Herod had John beheaded to fulfill a foolish promise he had made to the wicked Herodias, his brother’s wife, and her daughter (Matthew 14:1-11).
Why did God allow John’s life to be cut short in such a senseless and brutal way?
The following are a few thoughts that have helped me on my journey.
Firstly, John’s work was completed, perhaps not as he saw it, but as God could see it in His bigger plan.  Secondly, John’s life was an example for all who would follow after, for you and me as we struggle with life’s perplexing issues.
Even though John’s life was cut short, he died secure in Christ and Satan would never be able to touch him again.  On display before the Universe, Satan revealed his own evil character, and through the senseless murder of John, Satan had once again shown his hatred towards God and man.
To Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and also to Job, Satan accused God of being a tyrant who only blessed those who obeyed Him.  He claimed that all evil was the result of God’s government, and so it was necessary for God to allow Satan to demonstrate the nature of his “government.”
We need to remember that long before John the Baptist’s time, one third of the angels had been deceived by Satan’s lies, and, as Ellen White writes in Great Controversy, “It was necessary for God to allow Satan to develop his plans fully so that anyone could see their true nature.  God knew that it was important for the whole Universe to see the deceiver unmasked.”
Some conclusions:
1. We bring some trials upon ourselves; we reap what we sow. 
2. The actions of others sometimes bring trials upon us.
3. God allows some trials (e.g., earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes, stillbirths, diseases caused by genetic defects).  We live in a sinful world, and more often than not, God allows nature to take its course, but not without hope of a better world to come!  In the Gospel of John, there is a great story that demonstrates my third conclusion.  “As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’  ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus.” – John 9:1-3
4. In all the activities of evil men (e.g., terrorism, murder, pedophilia, etc.), Satan is constantly unmasked as the Great Deceiver and the Great Enemy.  God allows him to show his true colors.
Sometimes we are apt to cry out to God as Job did: “O that you would hide me in the grave, that you would keep me secret, until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!  If a man die, shall he live again?  All the days of my appointed time will I wait in faith, till my change come.  You will call, and I will answer.” – Job 14:13-15.
Here is a great promise for you and me:
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And He that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.  Those that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be their God, and they shall be my sons and daughters.’” – Revelation 21:1,4,5,7
Yes, the Bible does give us some insights into God’s mysterious ways, but for the remainder of our lives, we must heed the words of Paul,  “…the just shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:17.  Not only are we saved by faith at the start of our pilgrimage, but we are also called to live by faith from day to day, believing that God’s sovereign will is what is best for us.  Amen.

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