“My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a temple for my Name, you did well to have this in your heart. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, who is your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’” (NIV)
I Kings 8:17-19
With the statement “Nevertheless, you shall not build the house” God tells David He would not be allowed to build the temple for God in Jerusalem. It was a dramatic refusal. David must have often dreamed of this house to honor God, erected for His glory and the Jewish nation. This national shrine would cause all to focus on in the worship of Jehovah—yet God said, “No, other hands will build it but not yours.”
And it seemed to be a decision without logic, for the enemies were subdued and wars on the borders were over. Soon to come was peace and even prosperity. This, of course, was what David had looked forward to and cherished for years. Now, the intention of his heart was so firmly and finally refused. This must have been heartbreak to David. Few things are more difficult to deal with than when suddenly the door slams shut and God refuses to allow our cherished dream to become reality.
Jesus did this too. Healing a madman from Gadara caused sensation. “The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him; but Jesus sent him away: ‘Go back home! And tell them what God has done for you.’” (Luke 8:38-39, EB) Jesus said no to his request to join the disciples!
I know of a couple who graduated from seminary where he surrendered to be a missionary in a special service—only to be refused for health reasons. There are endless instances of some variations of these types of things happening. The dream is shattered, the hopes sabotaged, and the plans wrecked. — God is not cruel, but He does say no at times, and here is Him saying no to even such a man as David. “you are not the one” (verse 19).
How do we deal with God’s refusals? It is a great test and something that needs to be fully addressed.
David must pass the task on to another—the way was blocked, the vision and dream and the mission left to someone else. It was final, no more discussion allowed!
How many hundreds and maybe millions have had very much like this happen in their life? All kinds of things occur to cause it—health, unforeseen circumstances, finances, disruptions, disputes, controversy—a record of such disappointments stands as a testimony. The inevitable handicaps of life develop, and suddenly all we hoped to see is gone forever. God refuses to allow it.
And this was most certainly the experience and emotion of Moses when he was told, after more than forty years of leading and laboring with the Hebrew people—Moses, looking across to see the land of promise but then to be told, “You are not the one to lead them across the Jordan”! And think, Canaan had been his goal, and then to be told, you will never step foot into it. One is not to know what he actually prayed, but it’s easy to imagine. “Oh, Lord, please, I wanted and worked so long to walk on the land of promise—let me join the grand moment when at last Your people enter it.” And remember, it’s more than half a lifetime of labor to which he refers and now to be refused after working and waiting. And God flatly refuses to allow Moses to enter the promised land with Israel.
And we know of two dreams Paul had that were refused. One was to go into Bithynia as he gazed across the Black Sea into Russia to the east and Ukraine to the north, but God refused him. It’s said in less than one verse, “… they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” (Acts 16:7, NIV) But another disappointment may have met the Apostle Paul for he mentioned several times wanting to go to Spain. He wrote the church in Rome and he said, “… when I go to Spain …” (Romans 15:24, 28, NIV) There is no Biblical reference to it, and Bible scholars are divided as to if he ever got there—it was certainly in his heart and mind. He mentioned it twice, a hope and a dream that he cherished. Did God confound that or confirm it? Was the journey to Spain blessed or barred?
And in the “hall of fame” in the New Testament, when heroes of the faith are listed—saints, pilgrims, and God’s itinerants are mentioned and these words are added, “These all died … not having received the promise” (Hebrews 11:13). In fact, it says, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance …” These are people celebrated for faithfulness, having never attained their desired vision. It was refused them by God.
David, the warrior king, had now come to a time of power, peace, and prosperity, and it seemed to be the perfect time. Already, building materials were acquired and the building of a glorious temple seemed the fitting thing to do as a monument to his success—and then God says “No! It’s not for you to do!” Yet, God warmly commended him for the desire he had, saying, “you did well” to dream and desire it.
Immediately some are wondering how to handle this kind of thing in their life, God’s refusals, which can so easily become bitter disappointments. We must face it without bitterness and with ongoing faithfulness, but how? So, this has to be something worthy of looking into for us all.
It is not difficult to find examples in history, particularly the people of faith who looked up to see their dreams fading. This does not have to enfeeble us if we have a robust sense of God’s sovereignty. After all, Luther simply suggested, “Let God be God!” which is not a bad answer, but there is more to be said.
How many times have people like you or I mounted up on the ruins of our most cherished dreams only to find that it was an open window to something better? Something better came to us through the refusal of God! Yet, God, in His great wisdom, has something better for us, and a shattered dream was the only way to get it to us. Therefore, it’s not just an empty cliché to say, “Disappointments are His appointments.”
And also, how can there be a disappointment if our wills are totally submerged in His will? Let us by faith declare that someday in the light of eternity we will discover that what we had envisioned would have been a disaster. God knows and He stepped in to show His love to us. The famous hymn writer of Amazing Grace, John Newton, said the very word disappointment is not even found in the dictionary of faith. What those with no faith called a bitter disappointment, people of faith view as a blessed deliverance! So let’s keep things in order.
It seems first and foremost is the necessity of taking our hands off our life. Advanced management skills are subtly taught in our culture. We learn early to market ourselves, which can be totally ego-driven. We must see the distinctive line between Christ’s control and cultural conditioning. If we fail to see this, we will produce a kind of Christianity that knows little of a traditional submissive walk with God. Long ago P. T. Forsyth warned, “There are few dangers threatening the religious future more serious than the slow shallowing of the religious mind.” Paul said, “Let this same mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
A mind not fully under the Lordship of Christ creates a type of Christianity built on half truths. That can be the end of spiritual maturity. All this is arresting, intrusive, and even becomes inescapable—it goes to the innermost part of our lives. It makes us completely unable to handle disappointment. Such people, when one door shuts, are not seeing the window that opens. Without that we become little more than merely mirrors of all defeated disciples. Admittedly, there are multitudes, even among believers, at this very moment who are perplexed and even have come to desperate disillusionment at the way of God. Especially, this is related to early dreams which the corroding years have blighted and destroyed. Who does not know something of God’s refusal and the sunshine is suddenly shrouded by His flat-out refusal? In friends I have seen many dreams scattered and shattered and lying in ruin.
In the face of God’s refusal does God’s revelation and His grace and will survive with total integrity in our lives? Do we briefly resign from our dreams and relocate God to the far edge of our life? More than I want to talk about, I have seen that happen to several people that were personal friends. It means, for the future, God’s will is meaningless, then totally irrelevant, and then finally invisible. God’s refusal produces our resignation.
But I have seen also those who accepted the rearranging and the rechallenging in a manner much more like Paul with his thorn in the flesh (II Corinthians 12:7-10). He said he was ultimately strengthened. In this we see the reality of God who enables and enlightens. In truth this humble acceptance of God’s will is indispensable to one’s becoming all God ever intended. There are countless Christians of all kinds and shapes for whom God’s refusal became a step forward in faith. This is confidence in God, the Biblical God, who has full rights in our lives.
We can say it this way: Our dreams must not only be activated before God, but we must allow that they can terminate in Him. Our dreams and desires must long for nothing more than God’s certification. A dream lived out without God becomes a nightmare!
Very often God’s refusals are seen as an obstacle but with time, a detour to greater opportunity. To rest in God and to wait is the only way to realize it. A resentment of a closed door or a divine refusal is offensive because it means we are accusing God of poor performance on our behalf.
Before God’s refusal we quote William Cowper’s verse:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
If we say we are going to follow God, are we not admitting the road may turn a corner? Authentic faith gives birth to obedience in the shadows as well as the sunshine.
As for David, there does not seem to be resistance or rebellion—he seems to humbly accept it. There must have been disappointment, but nothing in Scripture seems to reveal it. It is un-Biblical as it is unrealistic to divorce the glory of God from the governing of God. He is not God if we challenge His right to decide for us. David seems to have felt that God knows what He is doing and why. Furthermore, the Lord God Jehovah is not under an obligation to give him reasons why. Because God is God, He has the absolute right to govern and direct all and dispose of any and all at His good pleasure.
That seems to be the voice of conquering belief in the face of His refusals. And this is the challenge for all of us now as we run the race set before us. Like a relay race, we may not be the one to finish the race; we are called to hand it to another. I will watch another finish the race or, as with David, build the temple.
And so it means that if I take into my heart His will, there are no disappointments that cannot be transformed. There can be no refusal that cannot yield to ultimate meaning. God will build His temple with or without you and me. Just as Jesus will build His kingdom. Spurgeon said, “God buries His workman but continues His work.” Let it all leave us amazed in adoring wonder that God will complete what He started and successfully build His eternal kingdom, sometimes with us and sometimes without us!