I had a Cabbage Patch doll when I was young, and it was by far my favorite toy. From the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, I kept a routine of caring for this doll. During Sunday school one week, we learned about Hannah in the Bible, and I remember our teacher explaining that God heard Hannah’s prayer for a child, and God answered her prayer. I’m sure she further expounded, but what I walked away believing was, If God hears me, He will say ‘yes.’
So, that night I put my Cabbage Patch to bed and prayed that God would make her real the next morning. I went to bed with tremendous anticipation as to what the doll was going to be like as a real baby. When I woke and discovered the same old stuffed doll, I was incredibly disappointed, and wondered if God didn’t hear me.
I decided to pray again that evening. Louder.
While my understanding of the ways in which God answers the prayers of His children has grown (thankfully), the difficulty in accepting God’s ‘no’ has, in many ways, remained the same. I felt a new depth of pain as a young woman when God answered ‘no’ to my pleading to keep my father alive after he was diagnosed with cancer. I felt a wave of confusion after praying persistently that the lump found on my thirty-year-old sister would not be cancer, and God said, ‘No.’ And I felt tremendous grief when God said ‘no’ to the prayer that the strange side-affects my mom was experiencing would be nothing of significance.
When God Says ‘No,’ He Understands Our Grief
Grief and confusion are natural reactions to God saying ‘no’ to our wants. These emotions are not wrong, but as believers, we should grieve knowing that we are not relenting our desires to an emotionless God who cannot identify with our pain. The incarnation is profound precisely because it reminds us that when God came into this world, he entered the human experience and knew sadness, death, and suffering.
God understands our grief.
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is John 11. Mary’s brother, Lazarus, was deathly ill and eventually died. Before Jesus raised him to life again, He visited the family and saw Mary weep over the loss of her brother. Verse 33 says that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” And then he wept. He didn’t just shed a few tears; he didn’t tell them to put smiles on their faces because Lazarus was about to be raised. No. Jesus wept. He was grieved by a world tainted with sin. When God says ‘no,’ trust that His gentle hand is holding you fast through the waves of the unknown, and he is bottling up every tear with unconditional love.
When God Says ‘No,’ He Is Actively Working for Our Good
CS Lewis says in his book, Letters to An American Lady, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” This has certainly been true in my own life. I don’t usually doubt God’s love, but I often fear the journey He has chosen for me, or I pray with doubt, wondering how I will survive if God says ‘no’ to my heart’s urgent desire. The problem with this kind of disposition is that my fear consumes my ability to trust. My anxieties about the ‘no’ answers in life’s journey pulls me away from the One who is working all things together for the good of those who love Him(Romans 8:28).
God is always (always!) working for our good.
You see, when God answers a request with ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean that He then turns silent, leaving us to figure out our own destinies. Instead, God’s loving answer is another step in our journey toward spiritual growth, and as we grow in our understanding of Jesus and His Word, we grow in understanding the depth and breadth of His love. Experiencing this love causes us to lean into God’s good and perfect will for our life, no matter what the path may bring.
When God Says ‘No,’ He Is Still Faithful
One of the greatest gifts God gives His children is time of renewal after we have walked through the valley. Sometimes this restoration is brief, other times it’s years long, but what is beautiful is to be able to look back at a difficult season and recognize that even though God did not answer prayers in the way we had hoped, He carried us through the mud and mire. Deuteronomy 31:6 is a precious reminder for every believer: “… for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
God remains faithful every step of the way.
The Psalmist recorded a song in Psalm 126 that the Israelites sung upon release of captivity in Babylon. They had lost everything—their home, their temple, all of it— and after years in exile, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild. Even after facing such tragedy, the passage says their “mouth was filled with laughter, and [their] tongue with shouts of joy.” Why would they have joy with all the work and uncertainty ahead of them? Because they could look back and recognize that if God was faithful in the past, He would continue to carry them through all that would come ahead.
This faithfulness is not reserved for believers who pray louder or with greater eloquence. God tenderly hears before we utter a mumbling word, and He perfectly answers according to His will. He is steadfast because He loves us, and sometimes that love means answering our meager prayers with, ‘No, my child.’
Has God said ‘No,’ to your prayers? Trust in His good and greater plan for you.
About the Author:
Katie is wife to Chris, a PCA pastor at Trinity church in Kirkwood, MO, and together they have three children, Ella, J-Rod, and Lily. Katie works as the music director at Trinity and serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee. She also spends much of her time writing, playing piano, leading women’s Bible studies, and speaking to women’s groups about the joy she has found in Christ. Katie graduated from Covenant College with a BA in English Education and has served on the board of Covenant. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Theology from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. For more information, as well as various blog entries, you can visit her website at www.katiepolski.com