There is a popular Christian cliché that says God’s response to our prayers are either “yes, not right now, or I have something better”. But what happens when God says no to our prayers. I’m afraid that as Christians, we are like children, who when their parents tell them no they can’t have something, we throw temper-tantrums, kick, scream, and beg God to try to get Him to change His mind.
No matter how much we quote Scripture and say that we trust God, deep down we have a hard time hearing “no” from God. Some of us actually believe that God says yes to every prayer, if we have enough faith. However, this thinking is dangerous and unbiblical. I often hear people quote the “ask and you shall receive” Scripture, or “have faith the size of a mustard seed” Scripture, as proof texts that God will answer every prayer. But we must be careful not to use Scriptures out of context, and neglect to read/apply other Scriptures that may go against our feelings and emotions.
The truth is God does say no. This is a painful truth because we want what we want, and we want it now. It truly is a battle with flesh and spirit. We think we know what’s best for us and we think we are entitled to have anything our hearts desire. I must admit that as a strong believer and follower of Christ, it is challenging for me to accept God’s no, because I think that since I’m no longer ruled by the lust of worldly things, and I have a burning desire to build God’s Kingdom, I should get everything I ask for from God. Uh, no. I am a fallen being, I still have selfish desires, and I have not reached a perfected state of “selflessness”. Even if I mastered selflessness, God will still say no to some prayers, because He has a plan that I know nothing about.
There are several stories in the Bible where God said no to prayers. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane ask God to let the cup of suffering and dying on the cross pass from Him (Matt 26:39), and God said no. King David prayed, fasted for seven days and pleaded with God for Him to spare his son from dying (2 Sam 12:16-18), God said no. The Apostle Paul, prayed three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh (2 Cor 12:8), God said no. And let’s not forget, the millions of persecuted Christians who have suffered and died for their faith in Jesus Christ, who God has said no to delivering them from imprisonment, torture or death.
God says no to our prayers for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because of sin in our lives, or a consequence of sin, like in the case of King David’s son. Or it could be that we are asking out of selfish, impure motives (Ja 4:3). Other times it could be to keep us humble and to rely on the Lord, like in the case of Apostle Paul and his thorn. But, it also could be, that God has a plan that He must carry out, like in the case of Jesus dying on the cross.
Whatever His reason for denying our prayer request, we must learn to accept God’s no and trust Him. We ought to respond to God with thankfulness and praise when He tells us no. May the Scripture “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praises shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps 34:1) be true not only in theory, but in practice.