When God Answers "No"

“Dad, you understand that when you fly standby you have to take whatever seat you’re given, don’t you? It could be a middle seat in the back of the plane, or the last row where the seat doesn’t recline.”

“Yes, dear, I understand. As long as I can stretch out my legs.”

My heart sank in frustration. How could I get through to this eighty-year-old man whose entire life had been spent on a spiritual plane, out of touch with the realities of every-day inconveniences? The matter at hand concerned his forthcoming trip back to South Africa, the land in which he had pastored a church for almost forty years. His organizer for fifty-three years—my mother—had died the previous year, and it now fell to me to assume responsibility for keeping him and his meager finances afloat.

As an airline employee, I enjoyed standby flight privileges and had learned to be flexible when traveling. But the concept of flying standby alone was foreign to Dad. Because I understood the challenges of such travel and in consideration of his advanced years, I planned to escort him to the extent possible. I couldn’t take him all the way, but I would accompany him from Atlanta to Frankfurt. Once I saw him safely on board the South African Airways flight in Frankfurt for the next leg, I would catch the first plane home. Friends were at the ready to pick him up at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg and take care of him. I purchased a confirmed ticket for his return flight to London, where I intended to meet him and shepherd him back home to Atlanta.

The only stumbling block in my carefully-laid plan was his obsession with “stretching out.” My efforts to explain that this may not be possible didn’t penetrate. Each attempt generated the same response, “That’s fine, dear, as long as I can stretch out my legs.”

Finally, I gave up. I would resort to prayer—specific prayer for a halfway decent seat on the eleven-hour flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg. More specifically, that he would get a seat on the plane. I had no idea how many vacancies there might be on the aircraft, or how many stand-by passengers would show up for the flight. So I presented this request it to God. I reasoned that since I was giving my time and effort for the benefit of one of God’s faithful ministers, surely He would come through for me—and Dad.
We were assigned spacious seats in Atlanta. As the aircraft roared through the night, I tried not to think of the next leg. Being someone who endeavored to anticipate every possible eventuality, I’d covered myself by arranging an extra day before I had to show up for work.

We made our way to the Sheraton Hotel next to the terminal in Frankfurt and settled in to rest. As Dad snored comfortably on the bed next to me, I stared at the ceiling and worried. What would I do if he wasn’t boarded? My fears vied with my desire to trust that God would, indeed, grant my request.

That evening, I led Dad back to the terminal, down the long corridor to the international area. I watched him proceed to the departure gate—a very proper, six-foot, silver-haired English gentleman carrying a small suitcase. He looked amazing for his age.

Now it was time for serious prayer!

“Please, please, dear God, get him on the flight.” Nobody in the busy waiting area knew my mental agony as I flipped through the pages of a magazine, glancing up every few seconds to check the time. Standby passengers were always boarded at the very last minute.

Then the disembodied voice of the announcer called my name and intoned “Please go to the international departure gate to meet your party.”
He hadn’t been boarded. Now what? My mind whirled in confusion. He was a deserving man, a faithful shepherd to his flock for so many years. Since I handled the checkbook, I knew he couldn’t afford an expensive air ticket.
Dad remained surprisingly unperturbed as we walked in silence to the main terminal, while my mind kicked into crisis mode. My emotions went into temporary freeze while I attempted to organize my way out of the problem. I knew the SAA flight the next evening had few seats available, and I couldn’t hang around Frankfurt indefinitely until Dad got boarded. My company expected me back at my desk according to schedule. There was only one solution.

I marched up to the Lufthansa agent and said, “I need a one-way ticket to Johannesburg on tomorrow’s flight, please.”

“The flight is full in coach, but I have a seat available in business class.”

Turning to Dad, I said, “Give me your credit card.” Within a few minutes, the agent completed the transaction, and Dad had a confirmed reservation to Johannesburg for the next day.

Tears splashed into my bowl of soup as I sat across from Dad in the hotel café. The cost of the ticket was exorbitant. I would have to juggle finances for the next year to pay off the debt. God had surely let me down this time. Then Dad came up with his favorite saying—one which drove me to distraction.
“Don’t worry, dear. The Lord will sort it out.”

That’s all very well for you, I thought. You don’t deal with the bills. You live on another planet where you expect God to get involved in the practicalities of life.

That night I lay awake and listened to my father peacefully snoring, while tiny rivulets ran into my ears and onto the pillow. He wasn’t the least bit concerned. Was that because he truly did believe “the Lord will sort it out,” or because he left all the worrying about finances to me?

The next evening we did a repeat performance, only this time I knew he would be boarded. I had the credit card receipt to prove it. I hugged him good-bye, and off he went.

Dad reclined all the way to Johannesburg in the front row of business class in the bubble of a Jumbo Jet—with his legs stretched out. Back in 1986, you didn’t get a whole lot more leg room anywhere on an aircraft than that.

Three months later, I paid the last amount on the credit card. Amazing! Where had the money come from? There had been no windfall, just a steady stream of funds, from reduced expenses in a few areas to unexpectedly generous wedding or funeral offerings.

Mulling over the experience, I gained valuable insight into God’s ways. When He withholds or says “No,” He has a reason. He overruled my prayer, my wants in that instance in order to give priority to the deep desire of an elderly clergyman’s heart. At the same time, He did not abandon me to struggle alone to pay off a large debt. My immature, self-centered concept of God began to evaporate like early dew in the bright rays of the sun. My vision broadened, my understanding of God’s intensely personal care deepened.

Many years have passed, but the lesson I learned has withstood the test of time. I present my requests, needs, or plans to God in prayer with open hands and an open mind. He always responds—with a “Yes,” “Wait,” or “No.” And when the answer is “No,” I have proved I can trust His limitless wisdom. I know He has a good reason—as well as infinitely creative ways of compensating.