Accepting the No
Becoming a mother has been one of the loneliest and difficult places I have ever found myself in. When I first found out I was pregnant, we were hilariously unprepared and I was inundated with thoughts and evidence of my inadequacies. I was living in a constant state of fear and anxiety. My needs were bigger than my ability and I had no way of meeting them: in those days just keeping food in the fridge and a roof over our head took a series of mighty miracles.
But there were times when my needs felt unheard and unmet by God. There were many moments of sorrow and bitterness. If I am honest, it was a constant battle to not lose spiritual ground and go back to my previous state of entitlement: telling God how mean and stingy he was for constantly meeting my earnest prayers with “No.”
I still struggle with God when he tells me “No.” I don’t know if anyone likes having their requests denied, but for a long time I saw God’s saying “No” as an act of punishment. Each time, it sent me into a spiritual spiral. When God didn’t answer my prayers the way I asked, it brought me into a place of distrust with Him because I felt deprived or rejected. When I asked for things that I saw as basic life necessities and God, my Father said “No” it either made me question his character “Is God even good or loving?” or it made me distrust his heart for me, “He is punishing me because I’m not good enough.”
In that season of “No” my prayer life and dialoguing with God went something like this:
“God please let me get this job! I desperately need it.”
“Jesus please give me friends, I am lonely and I need people in my life.”
“God, please take care of our finances so we can pay all of our bills and get out of debt. I am so afraid.”
“God please heal my body. Heal my son. Heal…”
“Wait. Just trust me.”
“God, what is wrong with you? Why aren’t you taking care of my needs? Are you just a big liar, or worse, a figment of my imagination? Am I making too much of your ability to provide for me!?”
I am thankful God never responded to my petulant demands and accusations with angry or petulant answers.
Here is what I have come to realize in the last several years of wrestling with God: when God tells you “No” to your own desperate pleas for help, please know that he is testing your faith to see what you will do, whether you will surrender and receive better or harden your heart: just like he did with his chosen children many years ago.
In the Bible it says that God chose to test the faithfulness of the Israelites.
“...If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before— do not listen to them. The LORD your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the LORD your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:2b-4 NLT)
Please don’t misunderstand me, God is not tempting you to sin or trying to trap you in sin. He is not punishing you or acting as some prison guard who delights in your suffering. God is a proud father who delights in seeing his children do well. He delights when we overcome, but he still draws near to us when we fail. Hard times come to the believers and unbelievers alike, but how we respond makes the difference. Those hard times are a way of shaking the cup and seeing what spills out. God takes great delight when what spills out of his children is faithful righteousness. But when what spills out is anger, fear, entitlement, or just plain sin, he doesn’t stop loving you: he never walks away as people would in that same situation. When you fail the test (as I have done so many times), he corrects you in his steadfast love so that when the next testing comes you can rise above it.
In Deuteronomy God allowed his chosen children to come into contact with temptations to go astray. Like a great teacher, he had prepared them for this test and done everything to set them up for success. God wants us to succeed and if we follow his instructions, in the end we will.
I don’t think I would ever struggle or feel tempted if someone came up to me and said, “Come, let us worship other gods.” But I have had a lot of fear and insecurity tied to my views of money. I grew up with financial hardships and as an adult I have found myself attaching my self-worth to my ability to live in a beautiful home, have good delicious food, and enough money in the bank to make me feel like I have some control and stability in my life.
My culture says, “Come let us value the power of money. Spend all of our time and energy working for money. There is no time to worship God in our time and no money left for our tithes.” God has allowed me to endure through seasons of utter poverty. I have failed to trust that God is my provider and act in faithfulness. Instead, I chose to enslave myself to a career; to work 80-hour work weeks for money. I devoted my heart and soul to money, but God didn’t leave me there.
When the car breaks down and I don’t have the money to fix it, my initial response is to panic.
I want so badly to have all of the things that bring me security. I often don’t even realize that what I see as a basic life necessity have become my idols: I have placed higher value on my comfort than a relationship with my Saving-God.
God has brought my family through hard times multiple times, despite my best efforts to ensure our ease. There was the season of being homeless as a young mother and living at the mercy and goodwill of some friends. There was the season of not being able to find work and being forced to put rent on a credit card to just get by for another few weeks. There was the season of me working long hours at a job and finally having dental insurance, of getting my teeth fixed only to find out that the dentist screwed up and I would have to pay another dentist over a thousand dollars to fix them: a season of injustice.
God used these hard seasons to grow my faith and maturity: to make me strong.
In these seasons of lack, when my prayers received a “No” here is what God was really doing in the day to day.
“God please give me friends I am lonely,” but God was inviting me into a deeper friendship and reliance on him to sustain my relational needs. I was looking to people to satisfy what only He can. Just as Jesus intentionally went to the lonely, desert places I was being led into the desert. I didn’t choose the closeness to God, but God heard the ultimate longing of my heart for a place of acceptance, belonging, and love and answered my request for friends with a “no” because what I wanted was a mere shadow of what I needed. God had to teach me what a close friend looks like in order to equip me to become one.
“God please take care of my finances so we can pay our bills or help us get out of debt.” This is the hardest one for me. I HATE financial instability and have a lot of shame associated with not having that type of stability. But God looked at the span of my days and knew, without this trial I would never surrender to his plan for me. I would never have faith to move mountains, walk on water, or fight for the Kingdom of God. God has given me enough for today, without promise of tomorrow because he is teaching me that he is where my help and strength come from. He is the only real source of stability I will ever have. Money pales in comparison to the riches of God’s love.
When God blocked my every effort to get a job and earn money, he ensured I would have no other option but to walk through the deepest and darkest fear in my heart. He chose to give me strength instead of ease, of faith instead of temporary happiness, and joy and peace in place of all my anxiety and depression. God said “no” so that I could learn what it means to walk in courage.
I take comfort in knowing that others have gone through similar life lessons and that I am not alone in this. King David of the Israelites said it like this, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” (Psalm 23: 4 NLT)
He too learned that the path of life will lead him to dark places and the only way to safely navigate through them is through relationship with God.
When God tells you “No”, and you feel like you are being deprived of the good that you are asking for, there is ALWAYS something better he is going to give you. Please don’t mistake this for some distorted prosperity gospel. What is best, may be painful, and take a very long time. God had to lead me through a decade of poverty and financial hardship to begin to free me from my idolatry of money.
I did not receive all of the jobs, financial peace and prosperity I begged for because God wanted better for me. He wanted me to be stable regardless of the storms I faced in life. He was more concerned with equipping me for the battle than keeping me comfortable. God could give you everything you ever prayed for, but thankfully he is too wise and all-knowing to give in to our limited and weak requests. God answers our prayers in his wisdom and love, and his ways are not our ways.
In my seasons of extreme lack, God still provided for us. He knit me in closer to him. I learned to pray a lot better than I had ever done before. I learned to study my Bible in a way I never would have been disciplined enough to do before. I learned how to choose to act in faith rather than in my fearful flesh.
I learned how to really get to know who He is, and how to walk in relationship with him.
When God answers “no” it is always disappointing. But he knows you. He knows your future. He knows the obstacles you are going to face and how he will enable you to overcome. When God answers you “no” resist the urge to believe that he is withholding goodness from you. This is quite literally the oldest lie in the world. It has been working for thousands of years and it holds so much power, but when you resist, you hold onto your joy (which is strength). You live by faith and you get to experience the rest of God. He is good, he cannot lie, and he is love. When you know God’s character and you see it, experience it and understand that it is eternal and immutable you understand that there is no need to fear the darkest valley. You don’t need to fear the rod and staff (a.k.a. discipline) leading you through it. Your only job is to rest in God and trust him to equip and build you for the storm he has allowed.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate teacher, he knows you, your thoughts, and your destiny and wants to guide you through the learning process to experiencing the fruit that can only come through walking with Him.
God is not selfish, he is not unkind, he is not mean, he is not condemning. Those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, he prunes, he instructs, teaches, chastises, molds the character, and trains.
Even today as I write this book, I am filled with the battle raging within. I am tired of the “no” answer. I don’t want the “no” because I want what I want when I want it!
When my needs and prayers aren’t answered it’s easy for my prayer life to sound something like this:
“God what are you doing? Do you see me? Do you care?”
Remembering who God is, and what he has done in my life before this trial help me experience faith and the resulting peace a lot faster.
“I know you are good, so I am choosing to trust you even though I don’t feel like it. I will choose to walk in your ways because I know that you will never lead me wrongly, even if Satan is telling me it’s a dead-end. I will trust you because Jesus knows what my suffering is and he showed me how to walk in obedience.”
Satan whispers, “He doesn’t see you! He doesn’t care! You’re nothing to him. You’re a pathetic loser; a pawn to him in his infinite plan. HE DOESN’T LOVE YOU!”
I know these are lies, but when the lies are on repeat in my mind and it is all I can do to not give into doubt, fear, and worry. In these times, the only weapon I have in my artillery is worship. When you cannot see past the lies, fear, anxiety and pain, start singing worship. Honoring God even when you don’t feel like it, enables you to move past your feelings and to experience a peace that goes beyond all comprehension. It enables you to rise above the storm and walk out of the darkness.
Knowing and choosing to honor God reminds me there is no need for fear, worry or anxiety. Those are all responses to believing the lies. Those are what make me shut down, but God has called his children to light up the darkness. In the midst of my worship, he meets me. He quiets the storm brewing my mind and tells me yet again, “I love you. I have chosen you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I knew you before you even existed: I carefully planned your life because I love you so much!”
It’s easy to question how God who is truth and love looks on while I suffer. How can this God give me days where the bills are greater than the income? Or days when the pain of the trial is so intense I can hardly breathe? How can he give me days of injustice and hardship where I feel powerless to end the suffering and oppression?
But it’s here in this moment of lack, with a great storm brewing all around me that he reminds me of this one fact: “You are on display. Even the angels and demons watch your life to see what you will do. Will you follow me and trust me? Will you live for me and bring my kingdom to the lost and suffering? Or will you choose death and decay? Will you demand your own way? Will you choose to believe the lies and live in fear?”
You have a choice. You can either believe Jesus is the resurrected King and that he will safely see you through this storm and then live in peace and joy, or you can choose to not believe he is who he says he is and walk in fear and anxiety. Your beliefs will play out in your actions and all of heaven and hell are watching.
So, what will you choose? Who is stronger? God or your problem? Your problems can either dictate your entire life and you can live reactionary. Or you can live as Jesus intended: revolutionary.
“Choose this day whom you will serve.” because no matter what you will be serving someone.