“When the Answer is No”
“Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do You hide Your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our body clings to the ground. Arise for our help, and redeem us for Your mercies’ sake (Psalm 44:23-26).”
Plaintive prayers that receive no relief nor ready response can leave us bewildered and shaken. Does God hear my pleas? Does He care? Christian, God has indeed heard your prayers (Psalm 34:15, Proverbs 15:29, 1 Peter 3:12). He still deeply cares for you in your struggles (1 Peter 5:7). However, there are times when God does not respond to our prayers in the manner that we anticipate or believe that He should. It is quite possible that we may never understand the reasons for why God, in His sovereignty, chooses not to respond as we have prayed.
Job suffered but never received answers for reasons for his sufferings and admitted that God’s plans were too immense for him to comprehend (Job 42:3). But Job was determined to maintain his faith in the Lord even if he suffered unto death (Job 13:15).
The Bible provides records of the faithful who desperately petitioned God for their greatest desires and were denied that which they sought so earnestly. David suffered through many sleepless nights in pained prayerfulness (Psalm 6:6, 22:1-2). On one such occasion he pleaded for God to save his infant son (2 Samuel 12:16). When it was clear that his appeal was not granted this man after God’s own heart arose and worshipped God (2 Samuel 12:19-20). He acknowledged that he would not see his son again in this life but accepted a reunion in the next (1 Samuel 12:23).
Theologians have sought to identify Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” for centuries. Whatever it was it caused the Apostle suffering for which he pleaded with God three times to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). However, Paul’s prayers were heard but the answer was not what he initially desired. Rather than sulk, Paul boasted in his weakness and resultant deepened dependence upon God.
Moses begged God to allow him to cross over into the Promised Land but Yahweh emphatically denied his request (Deuteronomy 3:23-26). After 40 years of suffering and wandering with his countrymen Moses wanted more than anything else to cross the Jordan with them. Yielding to God’s will, Moses strengthened and encouraged Joshua to succeed him in completing the journey (Deuteronomy 3:29).
When Jesus was in a similar dark hour Moses appeared in glory with Elijah and discussed His impending suffering and death (Luke 9:30-31). Jesus prayed fervently to have the cup of suffering and death taken away (Matthew 26:39, Hebrews 5:7) but resolved Himself to accept the Father’s will in the matter.
What could make these faithful souls persist in praising God after He had said “no,” to their most desperate pleas? Faith. Some have suffered, and continue to suffer greatly, having received an answer to their prayers that is injurious to their desires. Clearly, these men and women have hurt to degrees that none would choose. But in their continued faithfulness God is glorified. They do not serve God only for what is in it for themselves (Job 1:9-11) but because they know He is truly a good God, Who is for them and He will ultimately deliver them (Romans 8:28-32). In the end they know He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4).
These faithful children of God have done nothing to incur His displeasure nor censure. But for reasons that we often cannot fathom, our Father has plans contrary to their own. The faithful continue to praise God even in the dark hours, after their pleas have been denied, because they seek God’s glory and not their own, and even when they don’t receive that which they ask, in prayer they align their hearts and wills to God’s own.
“You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me (Psalm 56:8-9).”