My favorite author of the New Testament is the apostle Paul. I love his use of philosophy and his ability to talk for hours about the love and complexity of God. Paul authored 13 books in the New Testament, Romans and 2 Corinthians being two of them. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that in our weakness, God’s strength is shown.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10
What is interesting to me is that often times during difficult seasons, rather than seeing the strength of God on full display, we question his power and authority. All throughout the New Testament Paul mentions his desire to travel to Rome to preach the gospel, yet while on his third missionary journey in Corinth, he concedes to the fact that he will never travel to Rome and decides to writes a letter — a letter that gives some of the best and most rich theology of the New Testament. If you visit a church today and look at their doctrinal statements, you will see the influence of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
I often wonder how Paul felt about God telling him “no”. Was Paul angry that God said, “no”? Did Paul ever plead with God or make his case that great things would be accomplished for God if he would let Paul go to Rome? I wonder if Paul ever got mad at God. I wonder if Paul ever pouted about his situation.
I ask these questions because that is what I do when God tells me no. I get angry, I plead, I get mad, and sometimes I even pout about my situation. I imagine there are times you have acted the same way.
But here is the cool part of this story. Are you ready for it? Imagine the day that Paul meets Jesus face to face, and let’s just pretend that Paul asks these questions: “Why didn’t you let me go to Rome? Why did you tell me no?”
Now imagine this: Jesus pulls out a Bible, and he explains how, after the disciples died, the message of Jesus was spread because of the Bible. Jesus then goes on to explain to Paul that he had a huge impact on the Church because of the letters he had written and that his letter to the Roman church was extremely beneficial for believers throughout the ages, especially to a guy named Martin Luther.
In the midst of their conversation, Jesus turns it back to Paul’s question and informs Paul that if he had traveled to Rome, there would have been no need to write a letter, and decades of believers would have missed out on this detailed letter.
You see, Paul was correct. He would have had a huge impact on Rome had he visited there, but by writing the book of Romans, he had a greater impact and influenced generations to come.
Maybe, just maybe, the reason that God has allowed a difficult season for you has nothing to do with God saying “no,” but because God has a bigger purpose than even you can imagine!