Why is there a fence around the graveyard?
Because people are dying to get in!
The above is a joke I heard as a child. The joke is not all that funny, and my grandkids roll their eyes whenever I share it as we pass a cemetery.
Many will find this odd, but I have always found cemeteries intriguing. Seeing the names and dates on all the tombstones, it makes me wonder about the people. What did they do? Where did they live? How many children did they have? Were they happy or sad? Within the dash between the dates of birth and death is the answer to all these questions and more. I even wonder about where are they now; heaven or hell?
My mind flowing on further asks another question – Did anyone pray for these people? As a minister, I have conducted a funeral or two over the decades. Most were people I knew, many were friends, and a few I never met. Millions of people have prayed for the ailing and sick. Often people are cured of their infirmities; sometimes recovery comes with the help of doctors and sometimes the only explanation is a miracle. However, even while prayers are going up to the throne of God for the health of the sick, some of the infirmed will pass away. I do not know if prayers went up for all the people under those tombstones, but many received intercessory prayer. Either way, all of them within that fence died.
Sometimes, the death of a loved one will make the living mad at God. “I prayed and prayed and prayed for my mom to get better, and she died anyway” is a statement I have heard more than once.
God does answer every prayer, but often people will refuse to believe that sometimes God replies, “No.”
Some believe the only reasons for unanswered prayer is sin in a person’s life or a lack of faith on the part of the prayer. It is Biblical that these two things can cause a negative answer to prayer, but sometimes it is not the will of God to give a positive response to a specific prayer.
The Apostle Paul had “a thorn in the flesh.” We do not know with certainty what Paul’s ailment was, but something was not perfect physically. Paul prayed for healing, but God had other plans, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
The glory and will of God are paramount to answered prayer. Paul understood that God had revealed many things to him. He also realized people would exalt him because God used him so powerfully. To bring Paul down a notch in the eyes of others, God allowed Satan to inflict him with this thorn in the flesh. Paul prayed three times for healing, but God responded by giving Paul the grace to live with his physical problem. God wanted others to see His strength work in Paul. A miraculous healing would give glory to God, but only to eyewitnesses and possibly those that heard of the miracle through the grapevine. By not healing Paul everyone who ever met Paul could give glory to God when they saw that God could use an imperfect vessel. God does not need the smartest or the strongest; He will use the foolish to confound the wise. The weakness of God is stronger than the strongest of men; and God will show that fact to the world (1 Corinthians 1:25-29).
Death is not a joking matter, but as the children’s joke states, people are dying to get into the graveyard. The tombstones are a testament that God does not always answer in the affirmative. They also tell us we do not always get what we desire.
When you pray, and God says, “No.” Remember that He does have a reason, and He always knows best. His will does involve our lives, but His plan also includes everyone’s life and all of history. We can only see and feel what is in our realm, God meanwhile sees and knows all. He knows and loves us so well He knows the exact number of hairs on our head and regardless if we see eye to eye with Him or not, His grace will always be sufficient.