As Christians, the belief that we can approach God in prayer and present our needs and desires to Him is one of the cornerstones of our faith. That promise that God listens when we pray (which is made countless times throughout Scripture) gives us the encouragement that we need to continue to take all of our needs to God through prayer. If we’re being honest, we like those moments even more when God agrees with our prayers and gives us exactly what we ask for.
Faith is easy when God agrees with our prayers. When we pray and immediately see God do exactly what we asked Him to do, we’re more than eager to pray again. However, what do we do when God doesn’t respond the way we want Him to? Afterall, if God is really a loving, caring Father, shouldn’t He want to do whatever we ask Him to do?
That line of thinking isn’t only dangerous, it’s also not based on Scripture. There are times where God doesn’t answer our prayers the way that we want Him to. While God is a loving, caring, gracious and generous Father, there are still times where He tells His children no. How do we handle those moments where we don’t get what we want? Thankfully, there are plenty of answers to that question contained in your Bible.
Rethinking Your Theology
Acts 20:27 (ESV)
For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
It’s common for well-intentioned believers to find a Scripture or two and build their entire theology off of those verses. We look at verses like John 14:14 when Jesus said, “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it,” and decide that God is really nothing more than a righteous Santa Clause-like figure who only stands by waiting to give us everything we ask for. Basing your entire belief system off of one or two verses gives you a skewed idea of who God is and can only lead to disappointment.
In the verse that we just read in Acts, Paul is addressing the elders at the Ephesian church. He makes it a point to tell them that he has presented them with the “whole counsel of God.” That means that he presented them with everything he knew about God, not just the verses that would make them feel good about themselves.
The first step to understanding how to respond when God declines your request is to adapt the way that you think. Looking at the verses where Jesus said that He will grant us what we ask in His name does not mean what many of us want it to mean. Looking at these verses in context and through the lens of other Scriptures can help us get a better grasp on how we should respond when God doesn’t do what we want. Simply by accepting the fact that it’s a possibility can help you understand how to react when prayers aren’t answered the way that we want them to be.
2 Samuel 12:16-18a (ESV)
David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died.
The child that David prayed for was the result of his affair with Bathsheba. You can back up to 2 Samuel 11 to read the story, but in short, David had an illicit affair with a woman he knew was married. To cover up her pregnancy, he brought her husband home from war and tried to get him drunk enough to go home and sleep with his wife. The husband, Uriah, refused so David had him murdered. As a result of David’s sinful actions, the child fell sick.
This doesn’t mean that all sickness and death is the result of someone’s sin. In John 9, we read about a blind man that Jesus healed. The disciples asked Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents. Jesus told them that his blindness was not a punishment for sin.
While the story of David’s son is a sad one to read, it does provide one possible reason for God to reject our prayers. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:44). He was God’s chosen king over Israel. However, David was still flawed. God didn’t grant David’s request because David was living a life contrary to God’s Word.
He had sinned multiple times in 1 Samuel 11, and there were consequences for that. The most painful of those consequences was the fact that his sin had separated him from God. Due to that separation, God didn’t give David what he asked for. As painful as it can be, we should constantly examine our own lives to make sure we are still living according to God’s standard (2 Corinthians 13:5). There are times where God says no because we have sin in our own lives that leaves us separated from Him.
However, David did not give up. Once he knew his son was dead, he got up, repented of his sin and renewed his relationship with God. That is the best way to handle God’s rejection in the face of our own sin.
Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh
2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
In this often-quoted Scripture, Paul has asked God three times to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what this issue was that Paul dealt with, but we know it was something he couldn’t handle on his own. Some theologians believe it was a physical ailment while others say that it was some form of temptation. Whatever the issue, the fact remains that Paul asked God to take it away, and God said no.
God’s refusal of Paul’s request wasn’t based on Paul’s sin. By all accounts, Paul lived a holy life. He started churches, spread the Gospel, healed the sick and wrote most of the New Testament. Surely God would say yes to anything Paul asked, right?
Not quite. God didn’t grant Paul’s request. His reason for saying “no” to the Apostle Paul was found in the fact that He wanted Paul to fully rely on God’s grace.
Paul didn’t give up on his faith in the face of God’s denial. Instead, He said that he would brag about his weaknesses! Why? Because Paul’s weaknesses allowed God’s power to be even more evident in his life.
There are times where God declines our requests because He knows what we need. If you have children, you know how this goes. Your child may want chocolate chip cookies and ice cream for dinner, but you know that’s not what’s best for them. How do you handle their request? You deny it. It’s not because you want to punish them, but because you know how important it is that they eat something more nutritious.
There are times where God declines our requests because He knows what we need. He has seen our future and has already gone before us (Deuteronomy 31:8). When we keep that fact in mind, it becomes much easier to accept God’s “no.” He doesn’t reject our requests because He wants to keep anything good from us. Instead, it is because He wants what is best for us.
A Closing Prayer:
God, I know that I thought that I knew what was best for me. Now I realize that it’s not the case at all. Help me to remain faithful even when You tell me “No.” Help me to be faithful in the fact of your denial of my request. If you have said “No” because of my sin, forgive me and show me where the problem lies. If it’s because You have something better for me, help me to be thankful when I get to what you have. In Christ’s name I ask these things, Amen.