How do we know the difference from a “wait” answer from a “no” answer and how long do you wait before you know it’s a “no?” How did Paul realize that God wasn’t going to take away “thorn in flesh?”
How did Paul realize?
The easier part of this question is the second part and so let us deal with that first. Turn to 2 Corinthians 12. Here Paul describes being caught up into the third heaven and speaks about visions and revelations that he has received. In verse 7 Paul says he was informed as to the reason for his thorn in the flesh which was that he would not exalt himself or boast in himself because of the revelations he had received. Now it is important to note that we do not conclusively know that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Many speculate an injury to his hand or bad eyesight or an infirmity in his legs. All speculation and is of no real relevance. The point, there was some physical trouble that Paul had. Verse 8 tells us that Paul had pleaded with the Lord three times to take away his thorn in the flesh. But the Lord answers in verse 9 that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” How did Paul know that the answer was no? Only because God specifically told him that the answer was no.
Persistence in prayer
I think it is important to see what Paul was doing. He was continuing to pray about the thorn in the flesh that he had, and appears that he would have continued to pray about this until he received this vision or revelation from God. I believe that this is an example for us and it is something that Jesus teaches in Luke 18:1-8. The parable is about the need to pray always. As we look at this parable we must notice that this is a parable that is given by Jesus to contrast the way God is toward us versus the way the unjust judge was toward the widow. Otherwise people read this parable and think of God as a tyrant. That was not the purpose of the parable. The parable is not a comparison but a contrast.
In this parable, we have a judge who does not fear God and does not even respect man. The judge was unwilling to give justice to this poor widow. But why does the judge grant justice? Because the widow continues to pester and bothers him until the judge final grants justice. So what is the point? God is not an unjust judge. God is just and wants to give to his children. So what will happen if his children are persistent in asking God? Of course God will respond. But to continually ask God requires faith in God that he will do something. This is what we see Paul doing. He is being persistent with God, asking three times to remove the thorn in the flesh and likely would continue to ask except that God revealed to him that he would not take away the thorn.
Often our prayers lack this persistence. We may offer a prayer with some sort of request, desire, or need but then say nothing of it again. But God says we are to show earnestness in prayer. Consider how you handle your children for their birthday. How do you know what they really want? If they mention it once, or if they drive you crazy asking if they can have something? When they mention it again and again and do not forget about it ten minutes later. We show God our desire and earnestness in prayer when we tell him over and again what is going on and what we need. Remember this was a parable to teach his disciples the need for them to pray always and not lose heart.So one reason we may not receive the answer we want is because we are not persistent in our prayer life.
The need for proper prayer
It is also important that we pray properly. 1 John 5:14-15, “Now this is the confidence we have before Him: whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.” And so we know that we must ask properly of God. James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” And so we must ask according to his will otherwise the answer will be no. James 1:6-7 tells that we must ask the Lord not doubting otherwise we cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord.
And so when we have offered prayer, we need to look and make sure that we are asking according to God’s will. Our requests are not to spend on our own evil desires, but that we want what the Lord wills. Second, we need to ask God persistently. Too often we may offer a prayer up once to the Lord and just leave it at that. We do not earnestly implore God to answer us in our request. We are not told by the Lord to quit asking. We are also not told the difference between a “wait” answer and a “no” answer from the Lord. We are simply told to keep asking of the Lord and make sure we are asking according to the will of God. One final example of this is in Psalm 13. Notice what David says. It sounds like he was not getting an immediate answer. So what did David do? Continued to ask God and asked him why. Psalm 40:1 tells us that David would wait patiently for the Lord’s answer. There are some things that we will be able to tell when the answer is no. We pray for one thing to happen, and the opposite may happen. Sometimes the answer we desire may come later. Sometimes we must wait. What Jesus is teaching is that we must be patient and have faith in God to answer us in the way a father answers a child. The father will do what is in the best interest of the child.