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Gracious No

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:10-19

I tend to associate the answer “yes” with being loved, valued, cherished, respected, wanted and favored. I actually have the expectation that I will receive a “yes” to my requests and desires based on this assumption. Lurking within this expectation and assumption is an equation between value and blessing, between my own loveliness and the favor shown me. Understandably, when I receive a “no”, it is startling, hurtful, and disorienting. When I am not shown the unique favor of getting what my heart most wants, it throws my status as “special to God” or “beloved of the Lord” into deep question. Further more, if I follow all the rules, don’t I deserve blessing? (I do hope Gospel alarm bells go off as you read that one.)

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Mark 14:35-36a

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” Jonah 4:1-4

Genesis 37-50 records the suffering and mistreatment of Joseph, at the hands of his own brothers and then of those into whose service he had been sold. Like Jonah and ultimately Jesus, to whom all the stories point, the “blessing” of God was not simply relief for the individual but rescue for the nations. God’s favor on Joseph’s life was not demonstrated by rescuing him immediately from the schemes of his brothers or the hardships of slave life in Egypt. His favor was in using Joseph to rescue his entire family, the nation of Israel and the line of the promised Seed and ultimate Rescuer. God’s “no” to a quick and early rescue was a yes to a deeper love and commitment to all of His people, very much including Joseph. This is the theme throughout redemptive history, culminating certainly in the cross.

Jesus is the only one ever in history to earn God’s blessings. He is the only righteous one, the only holy one, the only one never to have mixed motives, selfish ambition or vain conceit. He is the only one to remain sinless from birth through death while all the rest of us have fallen short and continue to do so. My blessing is entirely upon His righteousness which also means my hardships and disappointments must be entirely upon His goodness and redemptive work in and through my life. He is not punishing my sin as if what Jesus did was not quite adequate and lacking. He is purifying and completing me and all of His creation through suffering. He is making something new and better than the Garden. His not is not petty but purposeful.

So why does it still sting when the very noble desires of my heart are deferred or answered with “no”? Why does it feel like rejection or neglect? I don’t actually have an answer to this, but I do have some guesses. I think it may have something to do with an overestimation of my own righteousness and an underestimation of His deep, deep love. How glad we are that Joseph was given endurance so that the line of Israel did not die in the famine. How beautiful to see the inclusion of many nations, even through Ninevah, in the Old Testament to remind us it is not a New Testament concept but the plan from the beginning. How grateful I am that Jesus did not walk away from the painful trial He had to endure so that we may have life.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Cor. 1:3-9

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