LCN Article
When God Says “No”

January / February 2021

Lenny Bower

Have you ever gone to God in prayer and not gotten the answer you wanted? I believe that every single human being who has ever prayed to God has had that happen at least once. It isn’t unique to any of us, and in all likelihood, God may say “No” again in the future. One of the hardest things in this life is to receive the answer “No,” and even when it is God who gives us that answer, we can be tempted to ask, “Why not?”

How Did We Ask?

When we ask anything of our Father and Creator, we should always ask in a right way. We know we should come boldly to God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16), but we also need to do so respectfully, remembering that we are talking to the great Creator of all things! We also must remember to ask often—the lesson of the parable of the unjust judge is that we are to come to God continually (Luke 18:1–8). God may require us to do more than simply ask once! A question we can ask ourselves is, How badly do I want this prayer answered?

We also must ask without doubt. James 1:6 tells us to ask in faith, with no doubting. As Dr. Meredith used to admonish us, we should know that we know that God is real and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). We have also heard in times past that we need to truly put our hearts into our prayers. Hannah was an excellent example of someone who asked with all her heart. As recorded in 1 Samuel 1:10, she prayed to God and wept in anguish. She poured out her heart, her very being. She didn’t just ask God—she went before Him with her whole heart, inwardly crying out to Him! Do we put our entire being into our prayers to God?

Are we asking for the right things? James 4:3 is a corrective passage, reminding us that God may be telling us “No” because our motives are wrong: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Are we asking for the right reasons? Is what we are asking for truly of benefit to others, or is it something for the self only? Of course, not everything that we ask for ourselves is wrong—but our motives might be.

We need to be sure that when we come before God’s throne, we realize that God reigns supreme. He regards those who diligently seek him. We must ask fervently, trusting in God, continually coming before Him, and asking for right things for right reasons. We can make a checklist of those points if it helps us remember. This can also help us to examine ourselves, our requests, and our motives.

One more thing that we may have to consider is our own need to change. Sometimes the only thing holding us back from getting a “Yes” answer is simply that we haven’t repented. The book of Deuteronomy is filled with passages that tell us that when we seek our Creator with all our heart, when we turn to Him with all our being, He will hear us and bless us.

But What If…

What if we did all that, and the answer is still “No”? Perhaps you have had times where you asked for something that seemed to be right and good, for the right reasons, continually, with faith, humility, and respect—and God still said, “No.” This can be one of the most difficult times in a Christian’s life. Perhaps we asked for the healing of a loved one, or perhaps of our own ailment. Perhaps we had someone who was absolutely dear to us and we cried out day and night with all of our hearts for them to be healed—to no avail. All of the crying, all of the prayers and seeking God diligently with all of our hearts—all to be told, “No.”

At times like these, we can be tempted to ask God, “Why?” We can be confused, upset, heartbroken, even angry with God or ourselves. We face a myriad of emotions when things don’t make sense to us and we confront painful loss despite having done everything we could physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It can be extremely trying, tearful—it can seem to rend our very being in two. It can seem we’ll never be comforted and never understand—and we can find ourselves on unsure spiritual footing. We may be tempted to ask questions we never would have expected to ask, like “Why did God allow this?” or “How can I ever trust God again?”

This is truly a sore trial and a dangerous time for us as Christians. At times like these, our emotions can be all over the place, and we ourselves can become unstable. We absolutely must realize that this is a time when Satan will try to attack. We’re at a weak moment, spiritually, and are therefore easier prey if we are not careful.

What Can We Do?

It can be helpful to remember that we are not alone in such a trial. David himself faced a similar one. When confronted about his sin with Bathsheba, David was told that the son he had with her would die. Despite his grave transgression, David was indeed a man after God’s own heart—not perfect, but trying. We read in 2 Samuel 12:16–17 that David went before God and pleaded for the child, fasted, and laid all night on the ground. It certainly appeared that David asked for a right thing, for a right reason, with faith and humility, with prayer and fasting—yet even he was told “No.”

We read what David did next—he pressed on. We do not read that David doubted God after this. David did not open the door for Satan to use the tool of depression against him. He certainly mourned, but he trusted that God knew what He was doing. We must remind ourselves that God always makes things work out for the best if we love Him, are called according to His purpose, obey His commands, and seek to please Him (Romans 8:28; 1 John 3:22).

The Apostle Paul also tells of trials and difficulties. Despite serving God with all his heart, he faced tearful times. We read some of this in Acts 20:18–19; Paul faced these trials with “many tears.” Certainly, Paul didn’t want these things to happen. Despite his tears and continually coming before God, he was given a “thorn in the flesh”—and the answer he got about its healing? “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9)—in effect, “No.” So, what did Paul do? Philippians 3:12–14 tells us that he reached forward and pressed on toward the goal.

We may also forget, when we ask why we face loss or are told “No,” that even God Himself has faced and will face loss! God isn’t willing that any should perish—yet we know some will. His own creation has turned against Him and rejected Him, despite Him doing nothing but good (1 Peter 2:22)! It is only fitting, then, that we, too, share in pain, suffering, and loss (v. 21).

Another way we can cope with being told “No” is to turn the focus away from ourselves, our loss or pain, and look to others, especially to comfort them. In fact, when David had fasted and prayed for his first child with Bathsheba and was told “No,” he got up after the child died, ate, and started moving forward by, among other things, comforting Bathsheba. Sometimes, in our pain or loss, or when we are told “No,” we can focus entirely on ourselves. That’s natural—and, in a sense, completely understandable. But it helps to remember that others are also suffering. We can turn our grief and emotion outward to the benefit of others.

Various prayer requests reveal that many brethren are enduring extremely sore trials. One way to get our minds off ourselves is to focus on them and their suffering—to pray for them, to follow up and ask about them. Perhaps whatever trial is affecting us is also something affecting those around us, or there are other people who are experiencing similar trials. By getting our minds on others, praying for and talking to them, we are able to serve others as well as empathize with them in their suffering.

Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:12 that we ought not “think it strange” that we have “fiery trials.” Not just regular trials, but fiery ones—extreme hardships and tests, times where we may cry out to God and still be told, “No.” These trials come upon many people, both in the Church and in the world. Paul tells us more about some of his trials: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8)! Have you ever had such a trial—where you “despaired even of life”? What did Paul do in that situation?

Trust in God

Paul points out that he trusted in God (2 Corinthians 1:9–10). Perhaps we struggle to do that, if the trial is bad enough. We may be tempted, in some of these trials, to doubt God and perhaps even blame Him.

Have you ever had a trial or an answer from God that left you doubting or feeling angry at Him? Perhaps we find ourselves asking what we ever did that was so bad that we deserved such trouble or disappointment. In a sense, this can be one of the natural stages of grief. But we must be careful—again, Satan is watching, and he knows we may be at a weak point. Rather than accusation, we need understanding.

Both Ecclesiastes 7:14 and Job 2:10 point out that we ought to accept both good times and troubles, both joy and adversity, from God. God has given us many blessings, but it can be easy to forget those and focus on what was taken away. We may accept the good so easily, yet not accept the hard times, the challenges, and the trials. We may mourn the loss of loved ones while forgetting the blessing they were when they were with us—and without appreciating who gave us those blessings and has the authority and the right to remove them.

I can recall many times when I was told “No” as a child. In my youth, I thought it made perfect sense that my every request should be granted—that I should never be told “No” and nothing should ever be withheld or taken away from me. In my later years, however, I can see that it turned out to have been for my good that I had not been given everything I had asked for, and even good that I had faced loss. Loss and trials help us draw close to God; they help us to truly look forward to Christ’s return, when we can build a world that will not face pain and loss in the same way.

We all want to develop deep, perfect faith, humility, and trust in God. But God’s word tells us that it is through hard trials that we best develop those attributes. 1 Peter 1:6–7 tells us that we will be grieved in various trials to prove the genuineness of our faith that will praise, honor, and give glory at the return of Jesus Christ. Though it may break our hearts, rend us in two, and tear us down, ultimately we need to be tested to become better Christians; we need it to develop deeper faith and trust in God. And devastating loss can drive us to our knees to truly cry out and yearn for His Kingdom to come—and come quickly!

He Knows Best

If we have indeed done everything as instructed to the best of our ability and are still told “No,” we must push through the tears and the heartache and remember that God knows what’s best for us. God does not see as we see, and His thoughts are so much higher than ours are (Isaiah 55:8). He seeks our eternal good, even if that requires temporary suffering, sadness, loss, and being told “No” right now. We, as flesh and blood, tend to focus on the here and now, the physical. But that is not God’s focus. What’s truly best for us is sometimes to be told “No.” It may be best for us to face loss and extreme heartache—it may be what humbles us to the point of deeper conversion and more godly character.

We must resist the urge to ask, “Why?” If we’re honest with ourselves, we know why! It is what’s best for us—as hard as that can be to accept sometimes. We must resist the urge to blame, question, doubt, and be disappointed in God. There are several verses that tell us that when we wait and hope on God, we will not be disappointed or put to shame.

It’s crucial that we resist Satan’s trap of thinking God is not fair. In Ezekiel 18:29, Israel is rebuked for saying that very thing. We must remember that God always loves us and always does what’s best for our ultimate, eternal good. It may be that such eternal good requires our being told, “No.” As Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We must accept that sore and fiery trials that bring us to tears are “extreme training” for our good, and that they will yield peaceable fruit afterward—if we let them!

Our Creator God loves us and wants good things for us. But what God knows is good for us may not be what we think is good for us. God sees further “down the road” than we do. He foresees stumbling blocks and trials that we cannot. Perhaps God’s “No” to our request today will save us from worse heartache tomorrow. Rather than give in to depression and doubt, we can trust that God knows what He is doing. We can dwell on the positive (Philippians 4:8), be thankful for the good, and wait until it all makes sense—for one day, it all will, and “God will wipe away every tear” (Revelation 21:4).