When God Says No

About 40 years ago, when Sueanne and I were much younger, we came in contact with a preacher who introduced us to the mission field in Scotland.  Sueanne and I actually went to Scotland, spent two weeks in Glasgow, getting to know the church there and checking out the country, and by the end of those two weeks, we had absolutely fallen in love with the people of Scotland.  When we got back home, we spent a lot of time in prayer, and we came to the conclusion that God wanted us to pack up and move to Scotland to share the gospel with the people of that country.

            We then spent the next two years trying the raise the necessary funds.  At the end of those two years, we had only raised about 25 percent of the money we needed, so, very reluctantly, we gave up our dream.  And I have to say that that was a very difficult time in our lives.  We truly felt that it was God’s will for us to move to Scotland, and we didn’t understand why God didn’t make that happen.

            This morning, we’re going to take a look at someone who had something similar happen to him.  Like Sueanne and me, King David had it in his heart to do something good for God, but God didn’t allow him to do what he wanted to do.  That opportunity was given to someone else.

            And so, I want to explore this question — what do you do when God says no, when God closes the door on something good that you wanted to do for him?

            Maybe you had a great idea for some way that you could serve God.  You felt certain that this would be done for the glory of God.  But it didn’t work out.  You asked God to lead you in a certain direction, but for some reason that you can’t explain, God said no. 

            And if that wasn’t hard enough, maybe someone else is now doing what you wanted to do.  And it’s difficult for you when you see that God is blessing the work that they’re doing and they’re having great success.

            And, as the years pass by, you find yourself looking back wondering about what might have been.  When you were younger, you had all of these hopes and dreams.  Maybe it was somewhere you wanted to move.  Maybe it was a ministry that you wanted to get involved in.  Maybe it was something you wanted to accomplish for God in your family or in the church.  But things didn’t work out.  Maybe there were health issues.  But, for whatever reason, you can’t do what you wanted to do, and maybe you can’t even do what you used to do.

            I think one of the toughest challenges that Christians face is this — what do you do when God says no and closes the door on something good that you wanted to do for him?

            We pick up in 2 Samuel 7, verse 1, “When King David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies…” (2 Samuel 7:1)

            At this point in time, everything was going great for David.  This man, who began life as a shepherd was now the king of Israel.  He had fought many battles, but there was a break in the fighting, and David had time to reflect on everything God had done for him.

            And David wanted to do something in return for God.  He thought, “God has done so much for me.  What can I now do for him?”  He comes up with this idea to build a temple for God, but, as we’re going to see this morning, God said “no” to that idea.

            Which makes us wonder why God would do that?  Was it because David did something wrong?  Was he being too prideful?  Or maybe he was being punished for the mistake that he made with the ark of the covenant?  But God saying “no” had nothing to do with David doing anything wrong.  In fact, there’s a lot that David got right.

1.         David’s concern was good

            Verse 2, “The king summoned Nathan the prophet. ‘Look,’ David said, ‘I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!’(2 Samuel 7:2)

            That was bothering David.  He realized that he was living a comfortable life — he was living in a palace made of cedar, which was the life of luxury in that day.  David looks at how much has been spent on his own comfort, and then he looks at what he has given to God and he says to himself, “I’ve been investing a lot of my money and a lot of my time in myself and in my own comfort.  It’s time I used some of the resources that God has given me to do something for God.”

            Not only do I think that David was right to be concerned about that, but I think that’s something that we all ought to be concerned about as well.  This was the same argument used by the prophet Haggai when God’s people returned to Jerusalem after the captivity.  He said, “Why are you living in luxurious houses while [God’s] house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4)

            Why are you spending all of your time and all your money to make sure that you’ve got everything you want, but you’re not using what you have for God?  God has called those of us who are Christians to advance his kingdom in this world.  Does it ever bother you when you think about how much of what you have that you spend on yourself?  If so, it’s good to be concerned.  

            David’s conscience bothered him and he wanted to do something about it.  He said, “God has given me so much, and it’s time for me to use what I have in a way that will honor him.”


2.         David’s goal was good

            David wanted to built a temple, a place that could permanently house the ark of the covenant which represented the very presence of God.  Now it may sound like God didn’t like David’s plan. 

            God said to David beginning in verse 6, “I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day.  I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling.  Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, ’Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?’” (2 Samuel 7:6-7).

            So, it may sound like God didn’t like David’s plan, but later on, God is going to bless Solomon with the privilege of building his temple, and the glory of the Lord will come down and fill that temple. 

            And Solomon will later say, “My father, David, wanted to build this Temple to honor the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.  But the Lord told him, ‘You wanted to build the Temple to honor my name. Your intention is good, but you are not the one to do it.  One of your own sons will build the Temple to honor me.” (I Kings 8:18)

            David’s plan was a good one.  The problem wasn’t that God didn’t want the temple built, he just didn’t want David to build it. 


3.         David’s heart was good

            Some people have said, “The reason God didn’t want David to build his temple is because David wanted his name on the temple.”  He wanted to take pride in everyone coming to “David’s temple.”

            But there is absolutely nothing in the text to suggest that.  Again, in I Kings 8, God said to David, “You wanted to build the Temple to honor my name. Your intention is good.” (I Kings 8:18).

            God looks not only at what we do, but he looks at our heart to see why we want to do it.  And when God looked at the desire in David’s heart to build the temple, he saw something good, and he commended David for it.  David’s heart was good.


4.         David’s process was good

            Remember when David wanted to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, it was a good idea, but he went about it the wrong way.  David didn’t want to make the same mistake again, so the first thing he did was to go to Nathan, a prophet of God, and told him what he planned to do.  And Nathan said, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Samuel 7:3).  It didn’t seem like there was anything wrong with what David wanted to do, it didn’t violate any scripture, so the prophet said, “Go for it!”

            But then, that night, no doubt to Nathan’s surprise, God spoke, and he said, ‘No!’  And the door closed on something good that David wanted to do for God.

            I’m glad this story is in the Bible.  Because it teaches us about those times in our lives when we set our hearts on doing something good, and for some reason, it doesn’t work out.  And you’re left wondering, Why did God say no?

            Why was David not allowed to build the temple?  It’s because God had a different plan for King Dvaid.  It wasn’t necessarily what David wanted to do, but it was what God wanted him to do.  It’s worth remembering that building buildings is something you do during peacetime.  Big construction projects have to be put on hold in times of war.

            Here in this chapter, David was enjoying a period of peace, so he said, “Well, now I can build a house for God!”  But that’s not what God had in mind.  David wasn’t done fighting yet.  This was just a temporary rest.  There were still more battles to be fought, and that’s what God wanted David to do.  David would spend years fighting battles for the protection of God’s people.

            His son, Solomon, would be the one who got to be the king during a time of peace.  After David subdued all the enemies, peace would reign, and then Solomon would build the temple. That couldn’t have been easy for David.  David did all the hard work, and Solomon got to reap the benefits!

            But everything David did was right.  His concern was good, his goal was good, his heart was good, and his process was good.  And yet God said no to what David wanted to do, because God had something else in mind for David.  It wasn’t what David would have chosen, but it was what God was calling him to do.

            And whenever that happens to you, when God says no, when what is in your heart is not in God’s plan for you, your faith will be tested.  Because there are several things that God wants to know.

1.         How much do you love God?

            Of all the commandments that God has given us, the most important one is this –  to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  If there’s something that you really want to do for God, your love for God must remain the same whether you get to do it or not.

            Let me give you an illustration.  Suppose Sueanne and I go out shopping and I want to get her a gift.  It’s not Christmas, it’s not her birthday, it’s not Mother’s Day.  I just want to get her a gift for the joy of doing something for someone I love.”

            Suppose I find a necklace that I like, and I say to Sueanne, “I’d like to get this for you.”  And she says, “No, if you are giving me a gift, there’s something else that I’d really like for you to give me instead.”

            Suppose I then say, “But this is what I want to give you.”  She says, “No, it’s really not what I want,” and I say, “But I insist!”

            At that point, I’m no longer acting in love.  Something has twisted the original desire to give a gift for the joy of the one to whom it is given.  Love says, “I want to give you a gift. I have this idea, but if you want something different, I want to give you whatever is going to give you the greatest pleasure.”

            David wanted to do something for God, “Lord, this is what I want to do for you.”  But God wanted something different.  And because David loved God, he was able to say, “Lord, you tell me what you want me to give to you.  I wanted to build a temple for your glory but if you want something different, then I’m happy to give to you whatever pleases you.”

            Maybe the life that God has called you to is not the life you wanted to offer him, but if you really love God, you will gladly give him whatever it is that he asks of you.  Maybe like, Sueanne and me, you wanted to serve God in another country.  But that’s not what God wanted.  Maybe you had in mind serving God somewhere other than Spring Lake, NC.  But that’s not what God wanted. 

            David was not able to give God the gift of a glorious temple. But God had something else for him to do.  And though it may not have been what David wanted, it was the best thing that he could possibly offer to God.  Whatever disappointments you face in your life, God has something else for you to do.

            When God said no to David’s plan to build the temple, he opened the door for David to do something even more important — to establish peace by subduing his enemies.  David needed to finish the job that Joshua started hundreds of years earlier.  We’re told repeatedly in the book of Joshua, that God’s people were told to drive their enemies out of the land of Canaan, but they didn’t do that.

            The Israelites drove out most of the enemies, but some of the enemies remained embedded, and they were able to rise up over and over for the next 400 years or so.

            David was given the very difficult task of completing the work that Joshua had begun.  Driving out the enemies was hard and miserable work – one conflict after another.  That’s not the kind of work that any leader wants to do.  But it had to be done, and until the time of David, no one else had been able to do it.  Only under David’s leadership were the enemies defeated and peace established for the people of God.

            But, here’s what important about that — Solomon could never have built the temple if David had not defeated the enemies and established peace.  And David could not have defeated the enemies and established peace if his time and his energy had been taken up in building a temple.

            What may seem like a great disappointment to you may open the way to some other work that God is calling you to do.  That work may not be what you would have chosen, but if you truly love the Lord, you will find peace in following the path that God has prepared for you.

            So, when God says“no”, it’s a test.  How much do you love God?  And second…

2.         How much do you love other people?

            The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  I don’t think any of us are quite there yet, but one day, when God’s work of grace is complete in all of us, we will find as much joy in a blessing being bestowed on someone else as we would have if it had been given to us.

            Imagine being on a sports team where you have as much joy in someone else scoring as you would have if you had scored yourself.  Imagine a music program where everyone rejoices in the success of the person who was given the solo part, as much as they would have if that part had been given to them.  Imagine a church where Christians have as much joy in God blessing another congregation or ministry as they would have if the same blessing had been given to them.

            That would mean no envy, and no jealousy – gone forever the thought of, “Why him or her and not me?”  That’s where we will be when God’s work of grace is complete in us.  Growing in love means moving in that direction.

            If building the temple really was for God’s glory, then it shouldn’t make that much difference to David who builds it.  To God be the glory!  David would have had great joy in building the temple, but there was just as much joy in knowing that that honor was given to his own son.

            The third test is this…

3.         Are you able to see God’s grace?

            God’s response to David’s request is just filled with grace.  Grace is all about what God does for us — what he has done, what he is doing now, and what he will do.  Notice what God says to David.

            God says, “Here’s what I’ve done for you in the past.”  Verse 8, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel.” (2 Samuel 7:8)

            God stepped into David’s life and took him from the shepherd he was to the king he became.

            Then God says, “Here’s what I’m doing for you right now.”  Verse 9, And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.” (2 Samuel 7:9)

            God was with David every step of the way, including those times when things were most difficult.  And God does the same thing for us.  God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).   That’s God’s promise. God sticks with us, even when things are most difficult.

            And then God said, “Here’s what I’m going to do for you in the future.”  Verse 9, “And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” (2 Samuel 7:9)

            “David, you don’t need to worry because this opportunity didn’t work out for you. Your name will rest, not on what you accomplish for God, but on what God is going to do for you!”  And once we understand that, it takes the sting out of our disappointment.

            Do you see what God is saying here?  “David, you are in the very center of my grace. Don’t worry about that door that I closed.  Make sure that your joy lies not in what you hope to do for me, but in what I have done for you , in what I am continuing to do for you, and in what I will do for you in the future.”

            In verse 11, God says to David, I’m not going to let you build a house for me, but instead, I’m going to build you a house.  Of course, God wasn’t talking about a brick and mortar building, but about a dynasty, a long line of kings that would last for generations, culminating in a very special king.

            “Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you — a dynasty of kings!  For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong.  He is the one who will build a house — a temple — for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. …Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13,16)

            God’s grace blesses us more than we can imagine.  Are we able to see that in the midst of our disappointment?

            And the fourth test is this….

4.         Where do you find your joy?

            There was a point in Jesus’ ministry when he sent out his disciples out on a mission. And while they were out, some remarkable things happened — people were healed, demons were cast out, people’s lives were changed. When the disciples came back, they were full of joy and they said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17).

            Jesus’ response was this, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  In other words, “Don’t find your joy in what you are doing for Jesus.  Rather, find your joy in what Jesus does for you.”  Because, if you don’t do that, you will be devastated when disappointment comes and God closes a door that you hoped would be open.

            The significance of Jesus’ words hit me when I heard a story about Martyn Lloyd Jones, who is regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century.  God gave him a remarkable gift and he had influence all around the world.  But, in the last days of his life, Jones was no longer able to preach, he had very little strength, and he was restricted to a routine of hospital visits and receiving a few friends. 

            There was one friend who came by to see him, and Jones said to him, “Our greatest danger is to live upon activity. The ultimate test of a preacher is what he feels like when he cannot preach.”  And I think that’s not just true of preachers, but for all of us when we are no longer able to do what we once did.

            When you realize the value of God’s grace, you will find your greatest joy in what God has done for you, regardless of what you may or may not get to do for him.

            David had it in his heart to do something for God.  He wanted to build a temple.  It was good that he wanted that, but God said no.  Instead, David had to fight battles so that Solomon could enjoy a time of peace in which he was able to build a great temple for the glory of God. 

            That had to be difficult on David, to do all the hard work without ever seeing the fruits of his labor.  But God let David know, “Your work will not be in vain!  You may not be doing what you hoped to do, you may not be doing what you wanted to do, but as long as you serve the Lord, what you do will have lasting value.”

            And that’s God’s promise to all of us. What God has called you to do may not be easy.  Being a parent isn’t easy.  Living for God in your workplace may not be easy.  Struggling with health issues may not be easy.  But what you do for the Lord will have lasting value.  

            As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:58)


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