A Long Day
It had been a long day of disappointments. My heart was heavy, and my mind sorted through each weighty thought one by one, like a cashier taking inventory. It felt as if more had been given than was received, and my soul was nearing depletion. Standing in the shower, as the steam rose around me I thought about God’s answer to a prayer I had been praying. It was a very clear “no,” and I didn’t quite understand why.
My thoughts drifted to the prayer journal I had been filling out each night before bed with praises, petitions, and expectations. There’s a place to write answered prayers in this journal, and it stung my heart to think that the answer to this prayer was no. To be honest, I only like the yeses I get from God. I normally reserve the answered prayer section for things that make me feel thankful and hopeful. The Lord pressed on my heart that His answer was no, and I needed to trust that it was for our family’s good.
But Why, God?
We recently entered the infamous “why” stage of parenthood. My three-and-a-half-year-old recently discovered the power of this three-letter word. When he asks if he can have a cookie before dinner and I say no, he immediately responds, “But why, Mommy?”
“Because we are about to eat dinner and you need to fill your tummy with good food! You can have a cookie once you eat all your dinner,” I answer calmly as I place the casserole in the oven.
“But, why?” he looks at me as he glances back to the cookie jar.
“Because if you eat a cookie you might feel sick and that would be sad,” I say, coming up with another response as I set the timer.
“But, whhhhhyyyyyy?” he asks again, emphatically.
“Because Mommy is working really hard to make you a good dinner!” I take a deep breath hoping the conversation is over.
“But, why, Mommy, why?”
“Because Mommy said so!”
A variation of this conversation happens routinely. He wants to ride his bike without a helmet, but I tell him he can only ride if he wears a helmet because it is for his good. He wants to go to bed later, but I tell him he needs to sleep so he can be rested for the next day. He doesn’t want to sit on the potty, but I tell him he needs to before he plays because, well, you know how that would go.
My answer is always for his good. I want what’s best for my son. I want him to be strong, rested, safe, and cared for. I desire his welfare and growth, both physically and spiritually. When my answer is no, there is always a reason, and the reason is rooted in my love for my child. I do the exact same thing with God.
When He says no, I ask, “Why”? When He doesn’t give me the answer I hoped for, I keep asking, keep wondering, and sometimes I even doubt His love for me, thinking, If God really loved me, He would have answered the way I prayed He would. I treat prayer like a puppet, hoping that if I maneuver my words just the right way, He will respond how I hope He will. But that’s not how He works.
Keep on Keeping On
In Matthew 6, Jesus shared the framework for how we are to pray to our Father as His beloved children. While standing on a hillside teaching his disciples about the upside-down, right-side-up ways of the Kingdom of God, He spoke of prayer like this:
“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. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (vs. 7–10)
The Amplified Version states verse seven this way: “Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.” At first glance, it seems like Jesus was giving us puppet prayers, but that’s really not what He was showing us at all. He wasn’t giving us the formula to get what we want out of prayer.
He was showing us what true intimacy with God looks like. Jesus was showing us that prayer is not a one-time thing; it is a continual practice, an unending conversation with our Heavenly Father. We are to “keep on keeping on” in prayer, trusting our good God with the outcome, even with His no.
Jesus later described a father and his child (Matthew 7:9–11). When a child goes in need to his or her parent, the parent will supply that need. For instance, when my little boy comes to me after riding his bike in the heat and wants a sip of my water, I will gladly give him my water and even get him some apple juice to quench his thirst and give him energy!
When I see him rubbing his eyes and he asks to sit with me, I will gladly lay aside the task I am doing to let him rest in my lap. When my six-month-old cries because he is hungry, I will gladly pick him up and nurse him. It is my joy to provide the love, nourishment, and needs of my two sons. Jesus, too, described a parent who loves their child and wants what is best for them.
This parent who provides for the needs of the flesh in this fallen world cannot come close to comparing to our Heavenly Father who is perfect and loving and kind. Jesus gave us the absurd example of a parent giving their child a stone when they asked for bread. It is almost laughable, and that was Jesus’ point.
He went to great lengths to teach us that when God gives an answer, even when it is a no, even when it is hard for us to grasp, it is a good gift. He is God, and we are not. Our minds cannot comprehend what He knows, but we can trust His sovereign plan to unfold even in His gift of a loving “no” or “not right now.”
Stones and Snakes and Saving Grace
I must admit, most of the time when God says no, I see it more like a stone or a snake than as something good. Several years ago, the pastor of a church my husband and I worked at and were also married in died of cancer. Thousands of people across the world prayed for his healing, and God answered no, or at least, no to the physical healing we desired.
When my sister found out that the child she had prayed for would have Down Syndrome, we prayed earnestly that it was a mistake, and if it wasn’t a mistake in the testing, that her child would be healed in the womb of her missing chromosome. God answered no, and He showed us that He doesn’t make mistakes.
When I found out postpartum that my thyroid was no longer working correctly and I’d be on medicine for the rest of my life with yearly monitoring, I prayed God would take away the diagnosis, but God answered no, and to this day I rely on a pill each day for energy.
The nos can feel like we have been handed a heavy stone or a poisonous serpent, but Jesus shows us this: God cannot give bad gifts. As a matter of fact, He is the best Gift-Giver, because He is untouched and untainted by sin.
We only see and receive in part, but He sees and gives in full. A “no” on earth is a “yes” in God’s book because He is leading us on a better path—one that is for our good and for His glory.
What might appear to be a stone at one point will soon be revealed to be God’s saving grace at another point.
There is no gift He gives that His children will not one day behold in a better light, even if that beholding takes place on the other side of eternity.
Trust God’s No
Sometimes “no” is the best gift God could give us. His no leads to a greater yes when that yes is knowing Him more deeply and fully. We live in a fallen world full of nos and disappointments, but we have a risen Savior in whom all the promises of God find their “yes” in him (2 Corinthians 1:20). Suffering in this world is inevitable, even for the Christian. However, we can respond to suffering and the nos of life with trusting and hopeful hearts this side of the cross, because in Christ we can believe that God’s no is going to be a redeemed yes to something else someday.
When Jesus was about to die a heart-wrenching, despicable death on the cross, He prayed in the garden that God would take the cup from Him (Matthew 26:39). What was God’s answer? No. Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father, saying, “Yet not my will, but your will be done.” He went forward and endured hostility from men, taking the sin of this world on His very shoulders, and suffering in our stead. But we know the whole story. We know that this “no” actually led to life, and life abundantly. We can learn to trust God’s no through the example of Christ, who maintained trust in the Father during intense suffering and disappointment. Jesus demonstrated that the Lord is ultimately redeeming and working out a story much more significant than our finite minds can comprehend.
A “yes” and a “no” in the Kingdom of God may look upside-down and backward to our earthly, temporary eyes, but someday we will see fully all that God has been doing for His glory and our good. In the meantime, we pray, trusting God to guide and direct, and praising Him even for the nos we wanted to be yeses. Because in Him we have hope and the ultimate “yes” of salvation, redemption, and eternity in His presence.