Have you noticed how delicious hot food can be in a cold wilderness? Surrounded by the wonders of nature, famished from the long hike, and tired from setting up camp, it hardly matters what kind of food you have. It’s all good!
The ancient Israelites, wandering through the Sinai desert for forty years, may have felt this way too… for a few days, weeks or months. But for the most part, praise for the food was seldom heard. Bitter complaining was the norm.
The journey to the Promised Land was no walk in the park. God had given the Israelites their freedom and marching orders (the Ten Commandments) but these gifts came with much adversity. Disgusted with the manna God provided in the wilderness, they longed for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they ate in Egypt. They whined: “If only we had meat to eat!” So their leader, Moses, carried their complaints, and his, to God in prayer. His mission had become too heavy to bear. His self-pity was running amuck. He wanted out! He brazenly prayed for his own death: “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:15).
God responded with so much meat that it was, as it were, coming “out of their nostrils” (11:20). To cut to the chase, God said, “no” to Moses and pointed him back to his mission as a leader.
Elijah had just seen God dramatically respond to his prayer to reveal Himself on Mt. Carmel. But there was no victory celebration or ministry appreciation awards for Elijah. Instead, he ran for his life to escape the wrath of his furious queen Jezebel. His life felt worse than worthless. Deep in depression, Elijah irrationally wanted for himself exactly what Jezebel wanted for him: death! Under a juniper tree, he prayed: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4).
Full of self-pity and feeling all alone, Elijah fell asleep and woke up to hear an angel say, “Arise and eat.” A wilderness meal of bread cake on hot stones was there (19:6). It must have been delicious! It also nourished Elijah for a 40-day journey ahead. So God said “no” to Elijah’s death plea and sent him on to further challenges.
Jonah fits this depressing pattern. After running away from his God-given mission, Jonah got with the program and successfully called Nineveh to repent. Instead of rejoicing, he pouted so much that he prayed, “O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” (Jonah 4:3). But instead of killing Jonah, God challenged his right to be angry. This preacher of repentance needed to repent.
Job’s prayers were filled with “whys.” Suffering huge losses for reasons unknown to him, he begged God to crush him and cut him off (Job 6:9). He loathed his life and longed for “Death rather than my pains.” (Job 7:15). But God essentially said “no” and retuned to Job twofold of what he had lost (42:10).
The prophet Jeremiah got sick and tired of being a “laughing-stock” (Jeremiah 20:7) and cursed the day of his birth (20:14). Yet, in all his despair, he did not shrink from His God-given mission to proclaim the judgments and mercies of the Lord.
Then there was Jesus. When he came to his great moment of desperation, he prayed in such agony that “his sweat became like drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44). But unlike Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job and Jeremiah (a venerable hall of fame for men of prayer), Jesus knelt down alone on the Mount of Olives with death looming and prayed that He might actually live: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Once again, God answered, “no.” Like Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job and Jeremiah, God had a mission for Jesus. They all lived to accomplish theirs but Jesus died to accomplish His, providing the only path possible to the forgiveness of our sins forever.
Let’s be like the greatest men of prayer ever and learn to take “no” for an answer.