A job I really wanted. For that guy to ask me out. Acceptance into those grad school programs I applied to. For that friend to follow Jesus. A baby. For miraculous healing of a dear friend. All prayers I’ve prayed that God seemingly said “no” to.
And it’s not just in my life. Moses doesn’t get to see the Promised Land. David doesn’t get to build the temple. Hosea doesn’t get a faithful wife. Lazarus dies. Paul has a “thorn in his side.” Lots of disciples are martyred. God’s reasons for each no vary, but the reality is that there are times when His people cry out and He says, “No.”
So what do we do with all of these things, both on a personal level and with what we see in the Word? How do we reconcile a loving God with a whole bunch of no’s?
There’s one particular story of a “no” that has always intrigued me because it’s actually a yes story.
What if that’s how it works? What if there’s a less-than-obvious “yes” somewhere in the story? Does every “yes” have a “no” tucked into the story somewhere? And does every “no” come with a better, future “yes”?
Ponder the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego with me:
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. . .
Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’. . . ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.’
Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.
Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants, who trusted in Him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.’” Daniel 3:19-28
At this point, you may be thinking, “Wait a second… where is the no? This is a “yes” story if I’ve ever heard one! God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!” And you’re right… God did save them. And this Old Testament story probably is more known and celebrated for it’s yes. But think about it with me for just a minute…
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow before the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, I’m sure they did it prayerfully, knowing that there would be repercussions. I’m sure they asked the Lord for His protection as they boldly stood in honor of Him – the True King. When Nebuchadnezzar’s rage explodes and he commands the three of them to be thrown into a fiery furnace, how do you think they’re feeling?
Daniel 3:17 give us some insight as they respond to Nebuchadnezzar: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Basically, they’re prepared for whatever happens next, and so the drama unfolds. They’re thrown into a furnace so hot that the men who brought them to it die. I just have to wonder about what they’re thinking as they approach this furnace. Yes, they’re prepared for whatever the end result is. But don’t you think there had to be some fear and disappointment to navigate at this point? Like, “Okay. God is saying no to delivering us. We will die in this furnace. This is not what we had hoped for.” In they go.
Then something miraculous happens! What felt like a hard “no” becomes a definite “yes” as God miraculously intervenes, delivers them from the furnace, and uses the whole ordeal to change the heart of King Nebuchadnezzar. This is the part of the story we celebrate! This is what we remember and talk about. But even in this miraculous yes, there is a “no.” God didn’t deliver them before the furnace as I imagine they asked Him to. But He did deliver them.
So again, I ask, “What if that’s how it works?” Has every “no” that God has handed me come with a better future “yes”? Has every “yes” necessitated a “no” somewhere in the story? I don’t know the answer to those questions. In some cases, I can see that logic play out… but in others, it escapes me.
I think what sticks with me about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is their absolute confidence in God’s character. Yes, they are confident in God’s ability to deliver them, but His ability to deliver them isn’t the bedrock of their confidence. They take it a step further, “But if not…”
Even if He doesn’t deliver them, they choose to honor God. They are that confident in His rule and reign as God Almighty. They are confident in His very character, the essence of who God is. They have prepared themselves for the “no” by resting in that confidence.
Am I prepared like that?
Am I so confident in God’s character that His “no” will not devastate me?
Do I know His character well enough to put that type of confidence in Him?
Oh, that we would put in the time and trust to build up our confidence in His character – oh, that we’d run hard after this type of preparation, friends!