A friend I’ve known for years recently experienced a sizeable disappointment. There was an emerging career opportunity for which he was qualified and believed God was opening that door. It made sense, given his experience, and his God-centered motivation was fueled by all the right reasons.
Excitement grew as he was among the final few candidates. But after months of grinding through an emotional gauntlet, the process came to an abrupt ending with a one-minute phone call.
God said no.
Every Christian experiences God’s “no” at some point. It can feel devastating and disorienting. My friend found himself figuratively wandering in the wilderness. So, what do we do when God says no, especially when we pursued God in faith?
Three words emerged as I have tried to make sense of his experience and how we should respond to God in our own times of disappointment: Trust, reliance and grace.
Trust is the state of having unwavering confidence. We are quick to quote Romans 8:28 — “All things work together for good…” — when things turn out the way we hoped, but are we as quick to quote it when God has a different plan?
When God says “no” it can be confusing, frustrating and debilitating to our spirits. We may question whether we were following God’s direction. Exodus 13:17-18 recounts the first steps God’s people took out of Egypt and toward the unknown wilderness.
As the journey unfolds, God described to Moses how He — God — would prove trustworthy in His providential guidance of His people. They looked to the pillars of fire and clouds and saw God’s presence. Today we look to the “pillar” of the cross and see the definitive statement of God’s trustworthiness.
Reliance is “utter dependence upon.” Let’s be honest. As much as we like to believe we are autonomous, self-sufficient creatures, we don’t have the ability to control life. When God says “no” we tend to resort to our natural inclination of relying on our own understanding, our own strength, and seek to gain control over situations.
In Exodus 13 and following, God led the nation out to a desolate wilderness and well beyond their available resources to teach them reliance, for food; for water; for protection. The most basic human needs. God’s plan was abundant with purpose. He will take us into the wilderness and beyond our means to increase our reliance upon Him, to increase our trust in Him.
Grace. One theologian describes grace as both God’s inclination to treat us better than we deserve and as the extension of that inclination to help us in practical ways.
Throughout the variety of hardships Israel faced in the Exodus journey, many of which were self-inflicted, God’s grace was always present, even in punishment for disobedience which was intended to turn them back to Him in repentance.
Without God’s grace, the Israelites would have never made it to the Promised Land.
And what of us? The Apostle Peter reminds us we are “sojourners and exiles” wandering with purpose toward an eternal Promised Land. Our lives are full of hardships, some of which are self-inflicted. But God, in His infinite mercy, extends grace that always proves to be sufficient for the journey.
It is beyond us to understand why God chooses to say “no” to situations and opportunities that appear to us to be Kingdom building and God honoring, and it isn’t our place to question why.
However, it is our place to trust God through doubts, to rely on His providential care and plan for our lives, and to celebrate His grace extended to us in a variety of ways as we travel through life. B&R