When God Says “No”

Communication is an interesting matter. We all see and hear through a filter that has been shaped by our life events and how we have processed them. Our filters often like to hear “yes,” and we can even tolerate “wait,” as long as that wait is short-term. But we aren’t fond of the word “no” from God. In fact, when we hear “no,” we tend to believe it is the enemy blocking us, and so we muster our faith to rebuke the resistance.

In reality, it may be the “wind” of the Holy Spirit—that metaphor so often used to describe God’s presence and working in our lives—that is causing the resistance. I read a commentary on Acts 16 that described this passage like part of St. Patrick’s benediction that says, “May the wind be always at your back.”

This was true for Paul’s second missionary journey as they started to nurture the believers: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5, NIV). In two instances, God says “no” to Paul regarding the direction he and his band of missionaries are about to take.

As we know, the wind can blow in some unexpected directions, as it did for this group. Though we don’t know the method God used to speak “no,” it was clear that they had been “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (v. 6). Then again, when they tried to enter Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So …’ (vv. 7-8).

The wind was blowing against them in some manner, but they seemed to understand the “no” of God was simply a redirection. Notice the word “so” in Acts 16:8. It was their response to God’s “no.” They knew the change of the wind wasn’t intended to cause them to stop moving, nor was it for them to press into the wind and go against it.

Paul and his team had also come to discern the difference between being tossed to and fro by the wind rather than being led by it.

“How does God guide his church to the right place for mission? There will be ‘closed’ as well as ‘open doors.’ There will be guidance addressed to individuals as well as to the entire team. There will be guidance via circumstances, sometimes extraordinary, as well as through the use of reason in evaluating circumstances in the light of God’s Word. And specific guidance will come only to those who are already on the road, living out their general obedience to the Great Commission. Being able to say, ‘God sent me; I come with the wind at my back,’ is a strong witness to one’s hearers that one’s message is from God and true” (IVP New Testament Commentary Series, published by InterVarsity Press).

Do you feel as if a strong wind is blowing against you? Listen for God’s “no,” and see if He isn’t redirecting you. There may be people waiting for you in your “Macedonia” (see Acts 16:9-15).

By: Tammy Dunahoo, Foursquare Vice President and General Supervisor