Christians correctly believe that God will hear our prayers, answer our prayers, and bless our lives as we follow him. We cannot separate the Word from our prayer life because we learn about these beliefs in the Bible. From the Israelites’ walk through the sea, to Peter’s walk right out of shackles and a jail cell, we learn to walk with Christ, trusting in his ability and inclination to help us when we are in trouble.
Sometimes God Says No
However, if we’re honest, we tend to discount the many incidents in Scripture when God delayed or denied heartfelt petitions. Job said, “There is no violence in my hands, and my prayer is pure” (Job 16:17, English Standard Version). He refused to give up on God and endured the kind of personal loss and suffering most of us will never experience. Job had to wait before God restored him. Habakkuk, knowing the destruction that was coming for his people, begged God to “do something.” God said, “Wait for it.” He promised to do a great work that Habakkuk could never even imagine (Habakkuk 1:1-5). Eventually he did bring salvation to his people, generations later through Jesus.
David cried out, “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 143:6, 7).
Jesus promised trouble—along with his presence in the midst of trouble. We expect God to do amazing work in our own lives, although sometimes our definition of amazing is different from God’s definition. If the pain and suffering lands on our own doorstep we can become confused and discouraged when it seems that God has hidden his face from us.
My two-year-old granddaughter has already learned that sometimes momma and daddy say things she doesn’t want to hear. When they presume upon her will, she covers her ears and squeals a little for good measure. We don’t like it when our requests are not granted, especially when we can’t imagine any alternative. A faithful Christian will always envision how prayer requests align with the will of God. We would never seek something that is clearly against his will, so it is natural to wonder why God doesn’t answer prayer as we expect.
It’s easier to cover our ears when God seems to say no and pretend we don’t hear, or worse, that God no longer loves us. Some believers teach that petitions are denied because we do not have enough faith. Well-meaning friends may suggest that some sin in our lives prevents God from granting requests. Only God knows the heart, but these may also be convenient ways to deny an inconvenient truth: Sometimes God says no even to the reasonable requests of faithful believers. Maybe a better question to ask God is, “How can I have patience and faith when you say no?”
Luke records Jesus’ promise, “And I tell you, 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. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:9-12).
When God’s Answer Seems Wrong
God knows that sometimes his answer may seem wrong to us. Jesus’ question about giving a scorpion to a child is akin to, “Would your momma substitute broken glass for chocolate chips in your cookies?” Heaven forbid! But catch the insight into our soul! God knows we rely on human understanding, which sometimes causes us to be repulsed at what God allows. He gets our attention with this parable.
Jesus prepared his followers for the persecution that would come. He wanted them to hold on tight even in the worst. Perhaps you’ve thought to yourself, God is all-powerful. He could stop this cancer, this natural disaster, child abuse, this _____ (fill in the blank).
He insists that we not only have an ask-seek-knock faith, but that we also accept his answer with faith. With faith we must accept he would never give us anything that would harm us. He is the father who gives good gifts. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).
Hugh Redwood observes that “sincere prayer is never without result. Apart from the fact that the act of prayer is in itself a blessing, I believe that God finds other uses for the trust and love in a prayer which He cannot grant. I believe that were we but willing to realize it, he turns them to our benefit.”
Jesus’ conclusion to the parable in Luke 11:13 speaks to the work of his Holy Spirit. He will put everything into perspective if we let him. Do not allow a misunderstanding of how God answers prayers to hinder your prayer life or your faith. We ask with earthly needs and desires in mind and he answers with heavenly, eternal realities in mind. Be careful that you do not see the bad or hard things in your life as a serpent or a scorpion. Do not insult God by rejecting the eternal value of what he allows to occur.
His Grace Is Enough
Paul boldly taught that God’s grace was enough even when he did not grant relief from a crushing problem (2 Corinthians 2:8-12). Isaiah declared, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). To accomplish this he must reform us. In repentance, we yield to that work. The amazing work of salvation not only makes us fit for Heaven, but also equips us for the rest of our time in this world of trouble. God’s proclamation that “He is the potter and we are the clay” is not a punishment. It is a promise to help us reflect the glorious, victorious Christ who lives in us.
Christ identified with us to save us. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). And now that we are saved we must identify with Christ. As we yield, we see life on earth through God’s eyes and understand him when he says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Lean in to God and give the burden of the outcome to him.
If you have come to the end of your own will, your patience is thin, and you do not like what you have to endure, step aside and allow God to have his way. Make the conscious decision to choose God’s no over your yes.
Carol Stine is a writer and speaker who lives in Florissant, Missouri. Check out her blog, Addicted to Joy (addictedtojoy.blog).