God’s “No”: When He Closes a Door Overseas

no door

So many factors, really, had sifted out what felt like the remaining solution: It was time to leave.

Among the factors: My husband’s job (he was moved to leadership, and had effectively mentored a national to take over his position). My kids’ education. Other family factors we batted back and forth, scouring for solutions until it seemed this was really the only way to love well.

And in many ways, the poor and this work God had been doing in our midst would be better served as my husband performed his leadership role from headquarters in Colorado.

Colorado! I should’ve been thrilled, right?!

I was heartbroken.

Not Here, Not Now

Maybe you’re dealing with your own closed door; your own “not here, not now”.

That country making your heart beat a new way now won’t give you a visa. Or the political climate has become too dangerous. Or support-raising has dragged on for years, and your agency indicates it might be time to move on.

You could be asking, Did I even hear God right? If I was so willing to make sacrifices…weren’t they meaningful?

I’ve bled all over this for so long. (And why does so-and-so get to go?)

What do I do with a “no”?

Paul’s Closed Door

Did you know Paul got a “not here, not now”?

Check out Acts 16:6-10. As you read, note the five places Paul and Timothy went–and the two places they didn’t.

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.

And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Y’know what’s also interesting? God would eventually send Paul to both places he’d forbidden.

This doesn’t mean “When God says no, he means later.” But sometimes a “no” is a “not now.”

no door

Why Did I Get A No?

Earlier in Acts, in chapter 12, we see another cryptic act of God. We read that Herod

killed James the brother of John with the sword…he proceeded to arrest Peter also…and when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.

After this, you might remember God rescues Peter in dramatic fashion via a personal appearance by an angel.

Why Peter and not James? you might wonder.

Why does one of us get a painful no, and one a radiant, supernatural yes?

A “No” from the God of the Cloud

You already know God’s ways are most often inscrutable. In my own experience overseas, I found his ways more inscrutable than ever.

This Aslan is not tame.

“Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” Psalm 97:2
Why did God answer this prayer, but not that one for all those people to come to Christ? Could you explain why my evangelistic event was rained out? Why was that girl we wanted to help stopped by her alcoholic parents? 

“No Graven Image”

I am still riveted by Keller’s account of an Elisabeth Elliot novel written in the 60’s, No Graven Image.

Elliot spins the tale of Margaret, a missionary translating the Bible for unreached South American tribes.

One day, she’s walking to the home of Pedro, her translator, the sole translation link between her and the unreached tribe.

She’s thanking God for the gift of Pedro; for the elaborate set of circumstances and support and training that have brought her to this point. She’s imagining bringing the Bible to a million people in this region.

But when she arrives at his home, Pedro is suffering from a severe leg infection. Having been trained in medicine, Margaret has penicillin with her, which Pedro requests.

Unfortunately, Pedro has an anaphylactic allergic reaction. His family gathers as he seizes. His wife is saying, “You killed him.”

Margaret cries out to God. But Pedro perishes. And her work is over.

Keller reports that Elliot, when he heard her speak, pointed to the last page:

“God, if He was merely my accomplice, had betrayed me. If, on the other hand, He was God, He had freed me.” She went on to explain to us that the graven image, the idol of the title, was a God who always acted the way we thought he should…That is a God of our own creation, a counterfeit god. Such a god is really just a projection of our own wisdom, of our own self.

….Many readers wrote Elliot and protested vehemently that God would never allow such a thing to happen to a woman who has so prayerfully dedicated her life to his cause.

….However, Elisabeth told us, her own actual life experience had run almost exactly parallel to this novel–and actually had been even worse.

….She warned against trying to “find a silver lining” that would justify what happened.

….She wrote, “…There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, ‘God has no right to do this…unless…”*

Elliot warns me–warns us–against spiritual entitlement. Against assuming that If I __, God commits to __.

Your Journey is Also Your Destination

When first raising support, a couple who’d been raising alongside us wasn’t able to complete their support. I wondered for days about how God would call them–or was it the impression of a call?–and not fulfill that.

Or was I reading it all wrong? Had God called them not to a destination, but a life-altering journey?

Did God’s call equal us being Teflon, where nothing bad sticks? I looked at John the Baptist–or any of the other disciples, like James above, whose “calling” ended in what the world might have considered failure.

But which heaven likely considered a resounding success.

What if his call is not to earthly success, but faithfulness?

God’s “no” is always a “yes” to the good works he prepares in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). He channels our hearts–and our support, visas, political climates–like a watercourse. A no to our plans is a yes to his. A yes to his honor.

So perhaps your “no” isn’t as personal as the love he extends–in directing you only to his best.

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*As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.

 

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