Archive for May, 2015

When God Says No

Yesterday morning, God said no to me a couple of times regarding being involved in specific ministries. I wanted to do these ministries because I enjoyed them and thought I had something to offer. But God said no.

He said no to mentoring a young med student in courting a girl. He also said no to mentoring a group of young Christians in their faith. He spoke to me through circumstances and counsel.

But why would he say no to me? Why does he say no to us when we want to do good things?

Reasons He May Say No

One reason he may say no is to make us humble. His no helps us realize that we have limits and that God has the ultimate say about our life. This can help keep us from pride, arrogance, and pretense.

Another reason he says no is to give us something better later. In my life, God’s noes have resulted in a better wife, a better church, a better career, and a better character. But at the times of the noes, I was hurt and sometimes devastated.

An unknown confederate soldier captures this idea well in the following statement on prayer:

“I asked God for strength that I might achieve. 
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey. 
I asked for health that I might do greater things. 
I was given infirmity that I might do better things. 
I asked for riches that I might be happy. 
I was given poverty that I might be wise. 
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. 
I was given life that I might enjoy all things. 
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. 
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”

How We Can Respond To His No

One important thing we can do is to look to his promise – “I will cause all things to work together for good for you” (Romans 8:28, paraphrased). We may not have any idea what the good is, but we can rely on the fact that he has something better in mind.

God said no to Paul when he pleaded with him to take away his “thorn in the flesh.” God had something better for Paul – godliness. God told him, “My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).

Another we can do is to make the most of the no. Paul wanted to go to heaven long before his time, but God said no. However, he decided to make the best out of the no by working hard to help Christians grow in faith while he was still here (Philippians 1).

A similar thing happened to me nearly two years ago. I had just awoken from major heart surgery in which I had almost died. In that moment, he impressed upon me the following words:

“I’m not letting you into heaven now, because I’m not done with you. I still have things I want to do in you and through you.”

It would have been easy for me to crossover into a world of joy, peace and painlessness forever. But God said no.

May we learn to accept God’s no. He has our best interest at heart. His no today will lead to a better yes tomorrow as we continue to follow him (Romans 8:28).

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The answer to this question is “No” for many of us. We tend to be moral people who try to live up to the standards of goodness and decency.

But are we supernatural? Or, can our life be explained by sheer human effort and gifting?

For example, I was trained from childhood that if I were to become important, loved, and respected, I had to work hard and maybe I would get it. I was not trained by my home, school, and society that I could get these things by just being me. Paraphrasing a commercial, ”I became important the old-fashion way, I earned it.”

But I am becoming more supernatural in this area. I am daring to allow God’s perspective to become mine. This means that I don’t need to earn respect. I already have it. “You are precious, you are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4), says God.

This is supernatural. This helps free me from my natural dependency to rely too much on flawed people to give me the importance, love and respect I desperately need.

So, how can we know if our life is supernatural?

How We Can Know

One way is to look at the fruit. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). We can examine our life and determine if love and peace are deep within.

If these fruits are there, our life is probably supernatural.

Are we able to forgive those who have hurt us? Do we have the courage to say what we believe even in the face of disapproval from people we respect? Can we claim being a Christian even if we know that the consequence is being beheaded, as the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians did?

If we can do these things, our life is probably supernatural.

If we can look at the homes in which we were raised, the values of our society, and the bad habits from our past and see a big difference, our life is probably supernatural.

For example, my home growing up was not very loving, as my parents’ homes weren’t. I vowed that my home was going to be different for my kids. It was going to break the cycle.

As I look back, our home was largely a loving home for my kids. Mistakes and sins were made, but both kids grew up to be reasonably secure and knowing that they were loved by their parents and God.

Where I see the supernatural the most, however, is in the loving home of my grandkids. Their home is supernatural. Sheer natural effort can’t explain it. The cycle is being broken – supernaturally.

How We Can Experience It

The most important thing in order to live supernaturally is to allow the Holy Spirit to live through us. “Depend on the Holy Spirit and then our life will become supernatural” (Galatians 5:16, paraphrased).

But how do we depend on the Holy Spirit to live through us and make our life supernatural?

Courage, obedience, trust, and perseverance are key ingredients for our lives changing from the natural to the supernatural.

  • It’s supernatural to trust in the goodness of an unseen God when great pain awaits us if he doesn’t come through.
  • It’s supernatural to follow the voice of the Lord to go a different way when the common path gets us approval.
  • It’s supernatural to trust in a God we don’t understand more than in our own wits and wisdom.
  • And finally, it’s supernatural to continue on the hard road of following God instead of quitting and taking an easier path.

But God can and will help us to have the courage, obedience, trust, and perseverance to do these things, if we ask and rely on him.

Let us not be one of “those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat,” as President Teddy Roosevelt described people who were not willing to meet the challenges of life. May we meet perhaps the greatest challenge of our life by allowing God to transform our life from the natural to the supernatural.

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In the last few days, I’ve become aware of the sufferings of several older friends and relatives. One just got diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a diagnosis that he was dreading to hear. Another was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer and starts chemotherapy this week – he is handling it well, but his wife is experiencing considerable anxiety.

Then a friend shared his concern about his wife who is slipping into dementia and is refusing to eat.

Even younger people I talked to were suffering. One received a diagnosis this week of Lyme’s disease and another was struggling with an undiagnosed pain that often keeps him standing all day to get his office work done because it hurts too much to sit. This has been going on for over a year.

What is going on here? I felt depressed over these sufferings and scared that they could happen to me. If God is good, why does he allow so much suffering?


The truth is we don’t know exactly why. Unless God specifically tells us, why we suffer belongs to the secrets things of God. “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one” (Deuteronomy 29:29.)

However, a few things we know. These include:

  • The pain helps us look forward to a few years from now when we will never suffer again (Revelations 21:4).
  • Suffering produces endurance and makes us stronger Christians (Romans 5:3-5).
  • The difficulties develop our reliance on God who enables us to overcome sufferings that would otherwise crush us (Isaiah 43:2).
  • Suffering helps us to experience God’s comfort, which helps us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
  • Suffering jars us out of our comfort zones and opens us up to a deeper relationship with God (Psalm 119:71).
  • Suffering humbles us and gives us opportunities to allow God to make us stronger (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

So, how are we supposed to respond to the daily dribble of difficulties and sufferings?

How To Deal With Suffering

First of all, it’s a matter of perspective. How does six years of pain compare to 6,000,000,000 years of painlessness? “Why”, you say, “It’s nothing.“ So God says the same thing (Romans 8:18).

Another thing that is helpful in facing suffering is to accept it. M. Scott Peck, a Christian psychologist and author, has a quote that is one of my favorites:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Difficulties have often frustrated me. “This should not be!” I say to myself. “This is wrong! God where are you?”

But there isn’t anything wrong – Life is difficult because we live in a world in rebellion against God. Our suffering is a natural consequence.

A final thought about dealing with suffering is to face it. We love to run from our pain. We take painkillers, stay busy, and repress our hurt.

Instead, we need to listen to the pain and learn from it. God often uses pain to get our attention. He wants us to change and deal with our problems his way.

May we grow to accept the benefits of our suffering. May we accept what we can’t change and embrace it. Let’s allow God to use suffering to do his good work in our heart.

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I think we all long to be happy. We want things to turn out so that we feel good. We want to enjoy life, and anything that blocks getting what we want is bad.

This week I was reading a book about people who have major flaws in their character and, as a result, hurt people around them. It wasn’t hard to see three people from my past that did this to me.

My first response was anger at God for putting these people in my life. “What were you thinking God? Aren’t you supposed to love me? What good thing could you possibly bring from the wounds they did to me?”

These people robbed me of a lot of happiness. How much happier I could have been if they had been different! But they weren’t.

And so goes life. “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). God warns us that life is often not happy. Our days are full of trouble.

Happiness depends on good happenings. So, how can we be happy when so many of our happenings aren’t happy?

God says a better goal for us is contentment. Contentment is wanting what we get (Hebrews 13:5). In contrast, happiness is getting what we want.

When we accept that God is the one who watches out for us, we trust that whatever bad things happened to us really had good purposes buried in them – although we may never understand what they were (Proverbs 3:5-6).

What Contentment is

The dictionary defines contentment as “the state of being mentally and emotionally satisfied with things as they are.” “As they are? How can we be satisfied with physical pain we experience everyday!” we may say to God.

It’s rare to find anyone who is deeply content with his or her life. We are a frustrated people. We worry, desire, fret, and act impatiently. How do we calm and quiet our self, like a weaned child with its mother – and be content (Psalm 131:2, paraphrased)?

How We Can Become More Content

The only way we can become more content is to grow spiritually. Otherwise, we stay the same and are frustrated by life and all the bad things that happen to us. “Human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20, NLT).

But how do we grow spiritually?

One thing Paul did was to consider that the hurts of life would be used by God to make him godlier than he would have been without them happening. Listen to him – “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

These bad things drove him to God in desperation. He allowed God to help him in ways he never would have if he were complacent with the circumstances of life.

Paul further explains his secret to contentment. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation… I can do it by depending on God’s strength” (Philippians 4:12-13, paraphrased).

So, what are we going to do – seek happiness in our human strength and fail? Or, seek contentment through depending on God’s help and growing spiritually? I choose seeking contentment.

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My wife recently told me that one of the things that attracted her to me was my willingness to share my deepest thoughts and secrets with her. In prior relationships, I had focused on impressing the girl, instead of being myself and focusing on her. The girl never got to know the real me. And eventually the relationship died.

I didn’t want that to happen again. So, I let her know the real me – and she loved it.

Now, after 38 years of marriage, she is becoming increasingly vocal about me returning the favor and growing in discovering the real her. She wants me to listen more to what is going on in her life, thoughts, and feelings.

But after 38 years can I change? How do I change bad habits of listening and relating? Is it a matter of better listening technique or do I need to become a more loving person?

I want to change, but how?

False Ways

We can make mistakes when we try to change. One mistake is to try to change all by our self. True change is of the heart, not just behavior (Proverbs 4:23). Our heart is largely formed in childhood and it doesn’t change easily.

Only with God’s help can our heart change. “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26, NLT). Our behavior changes as God gradually changes our heart.

Another mistake we can make is to beat our self up when we fail to change. God doesn’t. Why should we? He is a loving dad who continues to forgive, encourage, and believe in us (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

A third mistake we can make is to do nothing. Either we think we can’t change at all or we think that God has to do all. What about a partnership? God leads and empowers and we follow in working together in changing.

Ways That Work

One thing that is helpful in changing is to notice small improvements. Change is often slow. Sometimes it seems like we aren’t changing. But we can ask God to open our eyes to the progress that we are making.

Another thing that is helpful is to expect to change. God says, “You can change with my help” (Philippians 4:13, paraphrased). Our adequacy comes from him and he ultimately bears the responsibility for our change as we do what he leads us to do (2 Corinthians 3:5).

A final thought about change is to know what change looks like. By reading the Bible and meditating on the God that it reveals, we see the beautiful life that he wants for each of his children.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16, NLT).

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