Sunday, March 1, 2015

When God Says No

This past January 2nd, I turned 31. I got sick that very day, was vomiting, and had to leave the office. My plans to babysit these sweet girls were suddenly cancelled—in case I had something contagious, and the Saturday street evangelism had been cancelled due to weather. Needless to say, I’m not sure anyone plans to be completely alone lying in bed the weekend of his or her birthday. But so it was. And for chunks of time it was so miserable—especially after having spent Christmas with my awesome family. I’m not sure what happens when a birthday comes that makes us so insecure about whether we matter to others. But so it is. And for at least 24 hours, I was so sad and cried so much.

Of course, I was not aware that there were surprise party plans for that Friday night, which had been postponed to Sunday afternoon because of my stomach bug. And what an awesome and amazing time it was that Sunday, the 4
th, full of favorite things and favorite people (like Keiana, who planned it) and thoughtful gifts and the opportunity to exalt Jesus in sharing bits of my story through a “hot seat.”

It’s always funny to whine to the Lord about something that seems so icky at the time and then come back to thank Him with a bit of embarrassment for not trusting in His sweet plans in the first place. It makes me think of the story of Lazarus (see John chapter 11), except to a much lesser degree in my case. The principle is the same nonetheless. So often it seems that the Lord has forgotten us. He has forgotten to resolve some painful circumstance. He has forgotten our unsaved loved ones. He has forgotten to cure our illness. He has forgotten to show mom or dad that he or she is supposed to care more. He has forgotten to bring to us the right person to marry or grant the gift of having children.

As a 30+ year-old Latina, not being married means life has gone wrong. At 28, when I thought I had found "the one" and was on track to be married, I thought that was it. Surely, it was the plan of God that I would be happily married and in a different kind of ministry as a wife and mom like so many others. But to this He said, "No." Not no to everyone. It felt like just no to me. Many assumptions and emotions brought us all the way to sending save-the-dates, choosing a reception hall, shopping for dresses, making necessary life changes, and sharing with the world. Yet something was not right in my heart. When I was alone and patient yet desperate enough, I could hear Him clearly tell me that those were my plans, not His. Without much explanation from Him, I knew I had to discuss this with my fiancĂ© at the time and make the hard decision. We broke off all wedding plans, let all of our confused loved ones know, and we have not seen each other since. It seemed as if the Lord had just forgotten to plan things out better. 

It also seemed to Martha and Mary that Jesus had forgotten them and Lazarus—all of whom the Scripture plainly states that Jesus loves. Verses 5 and 6 are remarkable:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus
was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

That word SO! Jesus loved them SO he did not go up to heal Lazarus. Not despite His love because precisely because of it. Just the verse before, He had told them that the illness was for the glory of God, so that Jesus would be glorified through it.
His love is so great that He will allow us to suffer and feel forgotten because His plans are better. The goal of Christ in me is ultimately the glory of God since it is what my born-again soul will delight in more than ANYTHING I ask.

In essence, Martha and Mary want Jesus to heal Lazarus and Jesus in His actions says, “No.” And I cannot count how many times the Lord has—by His actions or lack thereof—said “No.” Oh, but after the fact! Oh, the sweetness of what He brings to life in His perfect timing! When will I learn that His plans are always better than mine? 

In fact, this has been quite the season of looking back and spending time thanking God for all the things He has said no to. I’m so glad He doesn’t always do what I ask! More than this, I am unspeakably glad that God did not take from Jesus the cup of wrath that He was going to endure on that cross! Jesus pleaded for the cup of God’s holy fury to be taken away from Him. The answer was no. Because God loved Him (and us!), He did not spare Jesus from that shameful death on a cross. In God’s wisdom, death comes before life, labor before birth, pain before gain, crucifixion before resurrection, a crown of thorns before a crown of glory.

And when that glorious resurrection of Lazarus came, I’m sure there was a level of embarrassment or a bit of shame. How could I have doubted Your goodness, Lord? Have I not yet learned that a “no” to something good is ALWAYS an “I have something better later?” Even if that later is after this short earthly life?

As I spend a year preparing to move my life to serve in Asia, I look back and thank my heavenly Father so much for every "no" He answered in love. I would not trade this journey or life of being single, satisfied, and sent with anything in the world. Jesus is so perfectly good and wise.

There is a precious seemingly contradictory tenderness happening in the moments of feeling forgotten by God. He is causing this pain by not doing what we ask. He knows this and must let the pain work in us what He desires to produce. He knows that what is coming is better and will make us even feel a little foolish for protesting in our hearts. And still! He is present in the moments of our pain. What?! 

Jesus shows up, after Lazarus is dead, and is so overcome with the grief that Mary is experiencing that He weeps! He knows He is about to resurrect Lazarus, but oh, the pain He feels in His heart because of our own temporary pain. He is not aloof. He does not stand by with apathy or even anger in our suffering. He knows we do not yet understand why He has done (or not done) what He has decided. And He mourns with us in our time of not knowing how it will end.

I must say, my Savior is so beautiful.

Truly the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

And so, I rejoice in my suffering. Knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3

When was the last time you thanked the Lord for all the things He has lovingly said NO to, only to bring about something better? 

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