Have you ever prayed diligently, and persistently, and passionately, and God answered your prayers with a resounding “NO!” How do we respond when God does not answer our prayers in the way we thought He should have? What if God says “No?”
The apostle Paul experienced this same reality as he records his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Paul prayed earnestly three times for this thorn in the flesh to be removed and God said, “No.” What exactly was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? This issue has been debated for centuries. Here’s the reality: We don’t know because the text does not tell us. We can guess, but we will never know. Nevertheless, this thorn was sent purposely to “harass” or “torment” Paul so that he would not become conceited. Why does God sovereignly permit Satan to torment Paul with this thorn in the flesh? To keep Paul humble so that he would not be puffed up with pride since he got to be transported miraculously to the third heaven and see these visions.
2 Corinthians 12:8–9 reads, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” How does God answer Paul’s persistent prayer request? With a resounding “NO!” God said, “I will NOT take the thorn away, but instead, I will give you sufficient grace to endure it.”
When God answers with a “NO” we should not respond with despair or despondency. We must not think that our prayers were not worth the effort or the persistence. When God does not comply with our wants, we need to be satisfied with His grace. Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In verse 9, Jesus tells Paul that His power is made “perfect” in weakness. This verb “made perfect” is in the present tense which is important. It stresses an ongoing process. It’s not just one shot of power and then the pain is gone. Grace is ongoing in the middle of the thorn not being removed. The point is that God told Paul that the thorn was never going to go away. Paul would have to deal with it for the rest of his life. Paul needed grace every minute to live with the pain of the thorn not being removed.
So how does Paul respond to God’s answer of “NO” to removing the thorn, but God’s answer of “YES” that He will provide him with continual supplies of grace and power? In verse 9 He boasts with gladness and in verse 10 he is content. If we take these two truths together, we can say that Paul responded with a joyful contentment in God’s sovereign will. Paul joyfully accepted God’s will. He may not like the fact that God said “No,” but he accepts it. He knows it is God’s sovereign plan. He knows that God is still good and generous. He knows that God is doing this for Paul’s best and for God’s glory.
The key to this entire passage comes at the beginning of verse 10: For the sake of Christ. That is Paul’s ultimate passion. He endures this suffering for the sake of Christ. He longs to hold on to Jesus. Jesus is enough. It’s all about Jesus and His sufficient grace.
When you pray persistently and you ask, seek, and knock and you do it repeatedly; and God says “No!”. . . How do we respond? When God says “No” He still promises a never-ending supply of grace and power in our desperation and weakness. Jesus does not abandon us but gives us sufficient grace in the middle of that pain. And this grace leads to contentment. To peace. To joy. It’s a paradox and very difficult to wrap our minds around. God may not answer our prayers in the way we would like. He may give us an emphatic “No!”
But in the “No” He gives us something greater. He gives us grace upon grace and power upon power. He gives us His presence. He puts His peace in our hearts. He is generous. He is sovereign. He is conforming us to the image of Christ.
When God says “No” let us hold fast to the words of Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”