When God says no

We have been studying the book of Daniel in the OT. And what we have been studying is the decision Daniel and his friends made in chapter one – not to defile themselves or dishonour God. They determined that with the help of God and each other they were going to live God-honoring lives no matter what life threw at them and no matter what that stand cost them. And life throws quite a bit at these guys after this decision. Some real challenging stuff happens that tests their resolve. That kind of stuff happens to us too – stuff that makes us ask questions and make hard choices. So we look at their lives – both to be challenged to a higher standard of living and to see that it is possible to live a life that is honouring to God. It is possible to honour God no matter what happens in life.

In chapter three of Daniel we find that King Nebuchadnezzar (for a number of reasons) has decided to build a huge statue for people to worship. It is 90 feet high made out of gold, so it is very impressive. In fact, the whole scene surrounding this statue is quiet impressive. The king goes to a lot of effort to make this a memorable occasion, one that is meant to inspire awe, devotion and worship. As you read Daniel chapter 3, you will notice that there is a long list of instruments (and that list shows up more than once). All of that detail is in there not because the writer had a minimum word limit he had to meet (like a 500 word essay). It is there to tell the reader, “This is a big deal. The king was pulling out all the stops for this one”. The same holds true for the long list of leaders. “This is the most impressive gathering of leaders. Anyone who is anyone is there”. And if all of that were not enough to inspire awe and wonder and move people to worship, Nebuchadnezzar adds further motivation to inspire people. Worship or visit the furnace. And that probably worked best of all because as soon as the music started there was a race to see who could bow the lowest and who could get there the fastest.

But it does not all go smoothly. Eventually there is a ripple that runs through the crowd – people start to notice something and a bit of a murmur goes up. Because, just over there in that area, there are at least three guys still standing. People notice that, and people know if they get caught, it’s off to the furnace for them. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind what happens next for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And sure enough they get turned in, and they get taken before the King, and he gives them another chance. But he does threaten them. He asks what he thinks to be a rhetorical question, “Who do you think can pull you out of this if you don’t bow?” In Nebuchadnezzar’s mind the answer is nobody.

But S, M and A gave this tremendous answer that we could spend a whole lot of time and space on (and maybe should a little more in our lives.) They say, “Our God is able”. No matter what the problem, situation or circumstance, God is able. The Bible is filled with story after story that underline that God is able. And it’s not just in the Bible. In every church there are stories that underline the truth about the ability of God to make a difference in life – marriages that have been repaired, relationships that have been restored, forgiveness that has been received, wisdom and guidance that has been given, hope and joy and peace that have been rekindled, needs that have been met.

God is able. But here is the thing. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego continue – and that is where we get challenged in all of this. Verse 18 starts out with the words, “Even if He does not.”

Understand that building this 90 foot gold statue didn’t happen over night. And these impressive plans of the kings were not thrown together at the last minute. This had taken weeks, probably even months to pull together. So S,M, and A knew this moment was coming. They would have first heard of the kings plan early on and from what we know of them (and of Daniel) they probably started praying about it right then – “Oh God, please don’t let him go through with this”. And as they prayed together I’m sure they resolved once again to honour God no matter what the cost. “We will not bow down”, they say together. As the building continues and the plan unfolds and the information about the furnace gets out, I’m sure they kept praying that the king would come to his senses. But he didn’t. And then maybe they prayed that it wouldn’t really be mandatory. But it was. And then maybe they prayed that the Jews would be excused because of the influence of Daniel. But they weren’t. And then maybe even as they stood there they prayed that nobody would notice or tell, but people saw and they were exposed. Don’t miss what happened here. At every turn in this story God says no to their prayers.

All they way through God says no to their prayers. And now they face the furnace. Again, we could spend a lot of time and space talking about why God says no. Because sometimes He does. Sometimes He says no because our requests are wrong or selfish or sinful. Sometimes He says no because He wants us to wait or learn. Sometimes He says no because of something in our lives. And, here is the hardest one of all, sometimes God says no for reasons that we can’t and may never understand. Sometimes God’s answer is no. He said no to S, M, and A – and yet they stick to their resolve. “God can save us. But even if He doesn’t, even if He says no – we will not bow down and we will not dishonour God. We will continue to be faithful to Him – no matter what the cost”.

Here is the question for us: how do we respond when God says no? How do I respond when life doesn’t go the way I want it to – even if I pray really really hard? We say that we want to be disciples or Christ followers, but do we only worship when things are going our way? What happens when God says no? What happens to our serving and our giving and our obeying? Do we stick to our resolve and honour Him with our whole lives, no matter what? Or when we start to feel a little heat, do we bow the knee to something else other then God?

God is able. To bring good even out of the furnace experiences of our lives. To change what seemed like loss into victory for His kingdom sake. Even to influence others around us if we hang on to Him through the furnace. Worked on the King (read the whole story to find all this). God is able – even in the furnace. Think about what would have happened if S, M, and A had walked away from God when He first said no. Think about all they would have missed out on. They would have missed out on the very presence of God with them and the power of God at work in their lives and their situations.

So once again here is the standard we are being called too. It is not wrong to pray and ask for stuff. And God is able to answer all our prayers and handle everything that life throws at us. And it’s kind of easy to follow Him and praise Him when that is happening. The call – the challenge for all of us – is to stay faithful to God even if He says no, to honour Him with our lives (our words, thoughts and actions) even when we don’t get everything we want, or understand where he is leading us. But God reminds us also that He meets us in the furnace and brings us through it.

Marc McAlister
Lead Pastor, Sault Ste. Marie FMC