My grandchildren still do not understand why I left their church. Since Grant is 10 and the twins, Abby and Erin, are 8, I am the only pastor they have ever known. Yet, a year ago, at the age of 64, I resigned the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, to become Director of Missions for all the Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans. I still live in the same house and have even retained my church membership at Kenner. But these days I’m preaching all over, in all kinds of churches–big and small, formal and informal, in the city and on the bayou. And that’s what puzzles my grandchildren.
Yesterday Erin asked my wife, “If Grandpa can still preach, why did he leave our church?”
Margaret went for the simple answer: “Because God told him to.”
Erin countered, “Couldn’t he have said ‘no’?”
Good question. Could I have turned God down? Was this one of those “okay if you do, but all right if you don’t” issues?
You would think no one would dare say no to the Lord of the universe. I mean, isn’t this a variation of the old joke, “Where does the 600 pound gorilla sit?” with the answer being, “Anywhere he wants to.”
If God is sovereign and in charge, isn’t He used to getting His way, and doesn’t He pretty much run the show? Think of Psalm 115:3 for instance. “But our God is in the Heavens. He does whatever He pleases.” Doesn’t that say it all?
We take it that verse could not possibly mean that everything that goes on in our world today is God’s will. All we have to do is pick up the morning paper with its headlines of child abductions and serial killings, of terrorist bombings and political corruption, to know plenty of things go on all the time that are outside the plans and purposes of our loving Father.
Perhaps that verse is telling us the things that God does do, however, He does for reasons of His own without having to justify Himself. I first encountered the verse when reading of the time a Christian lady received the news that her husband had just been drowned in a tragic accident. She looked at the bearer of the news and the first words out of her mouth were, “Our God is in the Heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” I was stunned then and still am by such submission to the will of the Heavenly Father.
Since much that goes on in the world is outside the will of God, it follows that God must allow people to say ‘no’ to Him all the time. All we have to do is look around. So many are thumbing their noses at God and rejecting His will.
So, to answer Erin, yes, it was possible for Grandpa to say ‘no’ to God. But no, it is not possible for me–or any child of God’s–to say ‘no’ to Him and remain in the same place spiritually as before. A number of things happen, all of them bad, when we say ‘no’ to the Lord.
1. We backslide. We are no longer in the same spot as before, but have regressed. This is one of the surprises God’s children get when they first start saying ‘no’ to God. The devil tries the old Adam-and-Eve approach on them, that you can have all this and have your own way, too. Too late do they discover they are making a choice between God’s will and their own way, which is a poor substitute with unfortunate consequences.
And no, you do not lose your salvation when you say ‘no’ to God. That is another lie from the evil one, sent to attempt to unbalance us mentally and upset us emotionally. It works with some, particularly with those with either poor knowledge of Scripture or bad mental health.
Stop and ask, “What kind of parent would disown his child for disobeying him?” Yet this is the very accusation Satan makes about the Heavenly Father. Fortunately, Jesus headed off that tactic in advance when He taught us, “I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish.” ( I will not cite Scripture references for this, since it is found all through the New Testament like nuggets of gold, especially throughout the Gospel of John.)
2. We Have begun to erect a barrier between ourselves and the Holy Spirit. As a result of saying ‘no’ to the Lord, we now see Him less clearly and hear His voice more dimly. Before we can go any further, this sin barrier will have to come down.
A lot of people want their Christianity ‘a la carte’ or cafeteria style. They pick and choose the doctrines they find acceptable and the commands they wish to obey. Eternal forgiveness and salvation, everyone wants, but commands to forgive others, love enemies, give tithes, protect the unborn, and minister to the downtrodden they see as optional. They find it easy to say ‘no’ to the Lord in certain areas, then go right on as though nothing has happened, expecting the Lord to show up on schedule at their next appointment, meeting their needs, answering prayers, blessing them. When He doesn’t cooperate–after all, by refusing His will, they have served notice they do not want Him around–they either get angry at such a demanding God or learn to go on in their religious activities without Him. A lot of church members today have learned to live their version of the Christian life without any direct involvement of the Lord Himself.
Barriers of sin come down only when we confess their existence to God as sin and repent of the rebellion that erected them in the first place, then recommit ourselves to doing His will.
3. Our spiritual growth comes to a halt when we say ‘no’ to God. Like sap flowing through a tree in the springtime, the Holy Spirit lives inside believers, energizing, empowering, enlivening, bearing fruit. When we resist the Lord, we stop the flow. Nothing moves again until we return to the Lord in humility and obedience.
4. We are now soiled and need the deep cleansing only the blood of Jesus provides. “But all I did was say ‘no’ to God,” someone protests. “How can that soil my soul?” The question shows how ignorant we are of the holiness of God. Suffice it to say here that sin of any sort is called in scripture ‘iniquity’ for which the perpetrator will require a thorough cleansing. Check out Psalm 51 for David’s prayer after his sin with Bathsheba. More than anything else, he longed to be clean again.
5. No more prayers are answered. That is not to say we do not pray any more after resisting the Lord, only that He refuses to listen to anything else from us until we deal with our disobedience. If it were up to us, we would say ‘no’ to the Lord, then shrug off the matter and move on to other aspects of living for God as though the rebellion never happened. But God doesn’t leave it up to us.
In Isaiah’s day, the people were convinced God was out of the business of hearing and answering prayer. “His ear is too dull to hear,” some said, “and His arm too short to help us.” “Not so,” said the prophet. “The truth is your iniquities have separated you from God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” (Isa. 59:1-2)
It’s possible to say ‘no’ to the Lord, but not if you want to serve Him, to please Him, and to be used by Him. If you want His blessings in your life and upon your ministry, saying ‘yes’ to Him is the only way to go.
The Lord Jesus put it this way. “The One who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that please Him.” (John 8:29)
“I always do the things that please Him.” I cannot say that, but I want to. So much depends on it.
In time as Erin matures and understands more about the will of God and how He works in our lives, she will be glad that Grandpa said ‘yes’ to the will of the Father.
Eventually, she will learn something else that faithful children of God keep discovering all the time: saying ‘yes’ to Him today does not end the matter. He opens new paths before us every morning, creating new opportunities to serve Him, leaving us with more ways both to please and to displease Him. My obedience yesterday was good, but today is a new day and I must make righteous choices today.
In colonial times a little fellow waited by a swollen river for a ride across to the other side, and finally approached President Thomas Jefferson for a lift. Later he explained, “I did not know it was the president. I just saw he had a ‘yes’ face and decided to ask him.”
I pray that when the Father looks in my direction, He will find a ‘yes’ face. I pray that I shall be able to say, ‘I do always do the things that please the Father.”