A recent devotional by Charles Stanley got me thinking about how I respond when God doesn’t answer my prayers. I know I am not alone struggling with this issue. As I’m praying with people after Sunday service or with members of my small group, I hear about desired good that is being withheld: friends, co-workers or family members that remain unsaved, physical affliction that goes unhealed, unemployment that persists, doors of opportunity that stay closed, relationships that remain broken.
Reading the devotional helped me remember some of the reasons God’s answer to our prayer may be “No.”
- It’s not in His timing.
Despite what we perceive, God is always at work. He has not forgotten our requests or ignored our petitions. I know I tend to be like the girl in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory that demands of her father, “I WANT IT NOW!” We need to remember that God is perfect in all of His ways and carefully weaving the threads of many lives together, not just our own. In waiting on the LORD, we can ask Him to help us develop patience, persistence, and peace of mind.
God wants us to succeed and glorify His name. The greater the ministry He has for us, the longer the period of preparation. God wants us to have a firm foundation in Him and needs to know He can trust us with our given assignment in His Kingdom. We don’t want to “crash and burn” because we have great talent and opportunity but weak character.
- It is forbidden.
Asking God for something that is prohibited in Scripture or against His Will produces an automatic “No.” God will not bless any relationship or endeavor that violates His commands, statutes, precepts or law.
- It is not the best God has for us.
Often God has something for us that is “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). His “No” is to our limited thinking or vision. He knows the plans He has for us and is getting us ready to fulfill them. We have many examples in the Bible of God saying “No” to people staying in their comfort zones. His calling required significant changes in location, vocation, culture, and relationships. In God’s Kingdom, our spiritual growth and maturity takes precedence over our comfort and convenience.
- It is wrongly motivated.
James 4:3 reminds us that when we ask out of wrong motives (selfish ambition, unrighteous agenda, sinful desires), God does not honor our requests. We need to make sure that we ask in accordance with His Will, not just for what we want or think is best.
- It is not for God’s greater glory
I can think of two examples in the Bible of unanswered prayer that lead to the greater revelation of God’s glory. One is God allowing a “thorn in the flesh” to remain in Paul. This was to protect him from the temptation to exalt himself because of the many divine revelations he received from God. His physical affliction kept him humble and dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. God received the glory when the strength of Christ was manifest in Paul’s weakness. God sometimes has a higher goal for our suffering and He can help us learn to be content in our weakness as Paul did.
The other example is Jesus’ delay in answering the prayer of Mary and Martha to heal their sick brother Lazarus. Jesus deliberately remained where He was until Lazarus had died. What the sisters thought was a “No” ended up being a glorious “Yes.” The friends and family gathered for the funeral already knew Jesus had the power to heal the sick and afflicted. God revealed even greater glory when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb and demonstrated power over death. God’s delay in answering our request or petition may be because He wants to reveal His Power, Presence or Purpose is a way we had not expected or imagined.
Hopefully, we can remember that it is more important to continue trusting God with every aspect of our lives than to understand what God is doing by withholding what we desire. Romans 12:2 (AMP) says “the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His Plan and purpose for you.]