I was reading about Paul this morning, in a letter he wrote to God’s people in Rome. He told them: “I am on my way to Jerusalem … Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed” – Romans 15:25, 31-32.
I read that, and straightaway I thought: God didn’t answer that prayer, because I knew about that trip Paul made to Jerusalem. He wasn’t rescued; he was arrested, and instead of coming to Rome with joy, he arrived as a prisoner.
If I was to guess when Paul’s letter to the Romans had been written, I would slot it in after Acts 20, and before the incident in chapter 21 where God prepared Paul for what was to come. “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says,”In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done’” (Acts 21:10-14).
I love Paul’s response. He didn’t once complain: “That wasn’t what I prayed for”; he didn’t look at the circumstances and take them as a sign that God must have stopped loving him … Instead, he took courage and declared himself ready to die for his Lord. I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. “The God we serve is able to save us … But even if He does not” (Daniel 3:16-18). Following God isn’t about what we can get from Him; it’s about being ready to serve Him anyway, even when He says no.
Are you following God at the moment? Have you had experience of Him saying no? I’d love to hear your stories.