During our first pregnancy, my wife and I pulled into the hospital parking lot, both eager and anxious to see our baby for the first time via ultrasound. I parked the car and we decided that we needed to pray. We prayed, of course, for everything to go smoothly.
God did answer our prayer that day—but He said no. What do we do with that? That is, how should we respond when God says no to our prayers?
Infinite and Finite
God is infinite; we are finite. I know this fact by itself doesn’t help us—though it should. But this is foundational. In order for us to have a proper perspective when difficult things happen, we have to believe that God is wiser than us. He is infinite; we are finite. He is all-wise; we are all-messed up. He knows better; we do not.
When things don’t go according to our plan, we have to believe that God’s plan is better, even when His plan involves pain. We wanted nothing more than to see our baby for the first time. We pleaded for God to make this a normal pregnancy.
But God said no.
We Don’t Have to Know Why
We don’t know why God decided to say no that day. Though it was tough, though it was gut-wrenching, we believe that God has a greater purpose behind His answers. Theologian J.I. Packer, author of Knowing God, had a few things to say about this:
Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion, humility or meekness . . . Perhaps he has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Perhaps he wishes to break us of complacency or undetected forms of pride and conceit. Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself . . . Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.
How we respond—or react—to trials usually reveal where our hearts were in the first place. Does a tragedy reveal distrust in God? Does prosperity reveal a lack of dependence on God? Or, on the positive side, does any circumstance reveal a deep, abiding dependence on God in all things?
Packer shows that God has planned this event to sanctify you (and others). Are you lacking in humility? Are you relying on your own strength? Sometimes God will (metaphorically) break your legs in order to show that you’re not depending on Him fully.
But to answer the question: we don’t necessarily need to know why God said no. For us, we are creatures who need to know things. Our lack of knowing frustrates us. But this is the point: we should be able to sit under the sovereign hand of God, under His almighty care, and be OK with His no because of what we believe about His character.
Ask and It Will be Given?
In Matthew 7:7-11, we read of a beloved truth about asking things from God: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
If God tells us He will give if we ask, then why does He say no so much of the time? Are we doing something wrong? Is God back-peddling? John Piper answers:
What’s striking here is that God promises to give good things to his children when they ask. It’s striking, because it doesn’t say he gives them precisely what they ask for … Since comparing himself to our own parenting, we know that’s the case. We don’t give our children, especially when they’re two or three years old, everything they ask for. They don’t know all that is good for them.
Piper goes on to give an example. He said one day, his young son asked for a cracker. Of course, Piper wanted to give his son a cracker, but he noticed that the cracker had mold on it, so he said no. His son didn’t fully understand why he couldn’t have the cracker, but Piper knew more than he did, and knew it wouldn’t be good for him.
In the same manner, God knows more than we know. We don’t need to attempt to draw conclusions about why, or that maybe this or that would’ve happened — that will cause greater discomfort, I’m sure. It is more about trusting in the character of the One who is infinitely wise.
When the Answer is No
There will be more times in my life and in your life that God will say no to your prayer, however earnest it may be. Don’t let God’s no make you doubt, become bitter, or lead to distrust. Are you a Christian? If so, Romans 8:28 applies directly to you: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
When God says no, there are (at least) two things you can know: 1) His no is for your good and 2) for His glory. Besides that, we don’t need to speculate. We should trust in God’s all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful character and know that He is for us.
Soli Deo Gloria