A Prayer That God Cannot Answer

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.…2 Corinthians 12:8,9

Perhaps you’ve heard yourself praying this prayer in a moment of exasperation when dealing with people: “God, I can’t deal with all these people anymore! Please remove all the people from my life who make me lose my peace and joy!”

As long as you live in this world, you will have challenges in your relationships with people. That’s just a part of dealing with human beings. The only way you can be free of challenges with imperfect humans is to die prematurely and go directly to Heaven. But if you intend to live a full life here on planet earth, part of the package includes living with people who are far from perfect and who do things that occasionally surprise and disappoint you.

From Paul’s words in Second Corinthians 12:8, it seems that he had prayed to be delivered of problem people on three different occasions during his ministry. He wanted to be free of these people so desperately that he said, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice.…”

The word “besought” is the Greek word parakaleo, an intense word that is derived from the Greek words para and kaleo. The word para means alongside, and the word kaleo means to call or to beckon. When compounded together into the word parakaleo, the new word pictures one who comes alongside someone else, as close as he can get, and then begins to passionately call out, plead, beckon, beg, and beseech that other person to do something on his behalf.

In using the word parakaleo in this verse, Paul lets us know that he had passionately asked God to answer this prayer. Paul had drawn as near to God as he possibly could; then once he was in that close position, he earnestly pleaded with God, asking Him to deliver him from that thorn in his flesh and from the messenger of Satan that buffeted and constantly harassed him (see November 9 to learn more about Paul’s thorn in the flesh).

Paul tells us that he asked God to cause this thorn in the flesh to “depart” from him. The word “depart” is the Greek word aphistimi, which means to depart or to remove and as a rule it is used to refer to people rather than things. The use of this Greek word amplifies the fact that Paul was praying to be freed of problem people! He was literally saying, “God, I don’t want to deal with these people anymore. I earnestly ask You to please remove them from my life!”

But here is why God cannot fully answer this kind of prayer: Even if God did remove this particular group of people that caused Paul such trouble, it wouldn’t be long until another group of problem people showed up!

As long as we live in this world, we will have to deal with people whom we don’t enjoy or whom the devil tries to use to steal our joy and peace. If we constantly focus on getting rid of people we don’t like or enjoy, we’ll be praying to be delivered from people for the rest of our lives. As I said earlier, the only way for you to be permanently free of all imperfect-people problems is to go home to be with the Lord!

That’s why the Lord told Paul, “…My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The word “sufficient” is the Greek word arkeo. This is an old Greek word that means to be sufficient; to be satisfactory; and to give protection, power, and help. In later Greek, it denoted a man who possessed great financial means. This type of person was sufficiently endowed with huge resources that were more than enough for him or for any endeavor he would ever attempt. Hence, he was financially strong or financially sufficient.

This is precisely the word the Lord used when He told Paul, “…My grace is sufficient for thee.…” It was the equivalent of the Lord saying, “My grace is more than enough to protect you, empower you, and help you deal with the problem people you encounter in life. You will find that My grace is completely satisfactory in meeting your need and that it will make you sufficiently strong to deal with these situations.

Just like Paul, we may occasionally feel exasperated and incapable in our own strength to victoriously cope with troublesome people; nonetheless, the Lord gives us His promise: “…My strength is made perfect in weakness.…” The word “strength” in this verse comes from the Greek word dunamis, the word for dynamic power. This is a strength that always releases sufficient power and possesses the ability to make needed changes. God knew that Paul needed a new surge of divine power that would change his perspective and empower him to successfully overcome his struggles with people.

The Lord continued to tell Paul (and us), “…My strength is made perfect in weakness.…” The word “weakness” in Greek is the word astheneo, which describes a person who feels weak, distressed, unsettled, or needy. If Paul was referring to physical sickness, as some assert, he would have used the word asthenes, which actually describes physical ailments. However, because Paul used the word astheneo and not asthenes in this verse, he confirmed to us again that he was not talking about physical sickness; rather, he was referring to the distressing, unsettling emotions he experienced as a result of the people who were a constant source of conflict for him. The Lord knew that Paul felt insufficient in his own strength to successfully deal with these people.

But if Paul would open his heart to the Lord, God’s promise was that His strength would be made “perfect” in his weakness. Here is the answer that Paul and you and I need when we feel exhausted in dealing with troublesome people and relationships. The word “perfect” is the word teleo, which means perfection, completion, or something that is mature. But the Greek tense used in this verse accentuates continuing action, which is a very important point! It means that this inflow of supernatural, strengthening power is not what God only does sometimes; it is power that God makes available at all times if we will only receive it. The verse could be translated, “My power is constantly being perfected in you whenever you feel weak and needy.…”

This verse could be taken to mean:

“…My grace is more than enough for you. If you’ll receive it, you’ll find that it will sufficiently endow you with more than you need to deal with any situation. My power is always on hand, available to help you in moments when you are weak and needy.…”

So the next time you feel exasperated with people and are tempted to pray to be delivered from them, remember that this is a prayer you really don’t want God to answer exactly like you asked. If He were to permanently remove you from “problem people,” He’d have to take you home early! That is the only way you could ever be permanently freed from people who cause challenges for you.

It’s all right to pray for others to be changed, but never forget that God wants to do a work inside you as well! He wants to change you so that you can successfully live in the midst of imperfect people. If you’ll open your heart to receive what God has for you, He will fill you with His dynamic, supernatural power — divine power that will transform your thinking and inwardly fortify you to live successfully in this world. You’ll be able to cope with the problem people you have to deal with — and you’ll do it all with joy, peace, and victory! God will strengthen you and help you overcome your own weaknesses, making you sufficiently strong to handle every people challenge that ever comes your way!

So instead of constantly asking God to remove all the problem people from your life, why don’t you change the way you are praying? Start asking God to release His power to change you so you can walk in peace and victory even when people fail or disappoint you. If you can learn to appropriate the power of God to deal with people, the devil won’t be able to use people to steal your joy and victory anymore!

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, I realize today that I’ve been praying the wrong prayer! I’ve been asking You to remove all the problem people from my life; meanwhile, You’ve been wanting to reinforce me with sufficient strength to live with these people victoriously. Forgive me for wanting to run from my challenges. Help me face them bravely and confidently in the power of the Holy Spirit from this day forward. I know You want to give me this power, so I open my heart to receive it right now!

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that God’s grace is sufficient for me! When I feel distressed because of what people do to me, I turn to the grace of God and allow the Holy Spirit to fill me with sufficient power to love the unlovely, to be patient with those who act ugly, and to walk in kindness and longsuffering with everyone I encounter throughout the day. My weakness in dealing with people disappears when I yield to the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells inside me!

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. Have there been moments in your life when you were so exasperated with people that you were tempted to ask God to remove all problem people from your life?

2. Did you honestly think that was a prayer God could answer? Did it dawn on you that God might want to change you so you can live victoriously in the midst of imperfect people?

3. Do you know of anyone who never has problems with people? Since you will have to deal with imperfect people as long as you live on this earth, what kind of changes need to occur in you so you can live in peace with others and stop losing your joy all the time?