Sometimes The Answer Is No

If God really cares, why don’t we have what we want?

Maybe the answer to that question is in the question itself. We want. How often are our wants beneficial to other people? Could our wants harm someone else, sometimes this could be true. Other times maybe not. Søren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Maybe when prayer is not about getting what we want, but aligning ourselves with what God wants for us. Prayer shouldn’t be seen as sitting on Santa Claus’ lap or making a to-do-list for God, but as a different way of seeing who we are in relationship to God.

We pray and hope for something we think will make us happy. We pray for love, a broken relationship to be healed, a job, healing, and justice.

Sometimes the answer is no.

When the answer is no and we don’t get the thing we’ve prayed for we shake a fist and rage against God saying, “Why, why don’t you just give it to me. If you loved me you would give it to me.” We sound more like a petulant child than a mature believer.

We always want something, something that will make us happy or at the very least, we think what we crave will make us happy that they are good things and we deserve them. We deserve to happy and have the good things—apple pie, Fourth of July and all that American Dream stuff. If there was a true loving God He would bestow those things on us. Yet, maybe it’s not so much that God is ignoring our prayers or denying us those things, but doing what is best for us by not letting us get those things. Maybe by saying no to one thing God is telling us yes to something else.  

There are many reasons why God does not answer our prayers.

There are certain things we should not pray for; we should not let our selfish inclinations pray for things that are not in our best interest. We shouldn’t come into God’s presence with mindless rambling and carless rants expecting that God will grant us those things. If God gave us everything we wanted without discretion than God would not be loving us and wanting the best for us. Can you imagine a human parent letting a child eat whatever they want, stay up late, and not going to school? Would anyone say that parent has the child’s best interest at heart?

Our prayers when aligned with God’s spirit will be answered, but just because God doesn’t grant us what we desire doesn’t mean that He was abandoned us. There are things that if we got would be detrimental to our well-being. There are two ways to live life—follow the Jesus way or live how the world would have you live. If you follow Jesus, you love everyone include the excluded and care for the lost and hurting. If you listen to the world, you concern yourself only with yourself and believe you can control your life. Elisabeth Elliot said, “The will of God is not something you add to your life. It’s a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God…or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”

God will answer no prayer that increases our honor or sustains our temptations or delusions. God answers no prayer that covers up evil in a person’s heart. Getting an answer is dependent on eradicating our hardened hearts. We must first repent of our sins and accept the grace of God found in Jesus Christ in order to pray in the right way and for the right things. If our prayers our meant to give us the things we lust for or to avert our transforming into the person God would have us be than we should not expect to get a yes. Paul talk about in his letters in the New Testament about dying to our old self and being reborn to our new self, St Francis prays that we die to our self, and the spiritual journey described in all traditions talks about dying to self to be reborn to our real or higher self. That’s part of praying properly. Saying to our old ways and saying yes to the new. C.S. Lewis said, “[Repentance] means unlearning all the self-conceit and self -will that we have been training ourselves into… It means killing part of yourself, under-going a kind of death.”

We go to God like a slot machine or Santa Claus and expect that God get to working for us while we sit back and gawk at the wonderful work of God. We praise God, but don’t want to get our hands dirty. We don’t want to work. We want God to do it all for us. However, if we are not willing to do our part why should God do His part? God will not do for you what you can do for yourself. Some people go to bed hungry and don’t eat the proper amount; people will ask why a loving God would let his children go hungry. That’s the wrong question. God doesn’t do it. There’s more than enough food to feed everyone. It’s not God who lets people go hungry. We let people go hungry. God has done his part. We haven’t done ours. The right question to ask is why we don’t do what Jesus said to do in John 21:17 (“feed my sheep.”). President Obama said, “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

We only place demands and limits on those we don’t trust. If we trust God and are faithful that He has our best interest at heart than we will not place any demands on how and when our prayers are answered. We will trust that God will answer our prayers in the best way possible. We must face that God does not so much want us happy as He wants transformed. A denial now does not mean we will never get the things we want, but that we will get those things that will make us really happy and transform us into the people God wants us to be. Francis Chan said, “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”

We question how long we have to wait, how long we have to endure before God rescues us, but maybe God is wondering how long it’ll take before we see that our life is part of a much larger story. God has a plan for our life, but sometimes we make other plans and choose a different way. So, the story God wants to tell about our life is delayed. Not so much that God is not answering our prayers as we are not listening to the answer being given. Sometimes we believe if only God would just give us this or that then everything would be OK.

Do we know that, do we know for sure that the thing we pray for will bring all we hope and think it will?

It may, but it may worsen our life.

Jeremiah 29 says God has a plan for our life. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” God has great things in store for us, greater things than any human words could ever communicate. All those things we hope and pray for pale in comparison to the great and wondrous things that God will bless us with. Let us pray with earnest for the things we want, but let us even more want the things that God wants for us. Let us be guided not by what we want, but by the word of God.  

In the final analysis, maybe we should simply become the answer to our own prayers.


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