It can be disheartening when we pray only to find the opposite of our request come to reality. Whether discouraged by election results, job frustrations, family disputes, medical complications, or a number of other trying circumstances, it can be difficult to comprehend why God sometimes says no. We read verses such as I John 5:14 that tell us “that if we ask anything according to his will, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” and Matthew 7:11 that says, “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!” Those verses can sound like God will supply whatever we ask, especially if in our minds it could glorify God. If you’re like me, you may try to think of reasons why your request would glorify God as if the additional reasoning will convince Him. I tell myself that surely God would want to make Himself look good by answering my request as if I really know what effect my request would have. However, reality is that God often says no. Not only does He say no, but it isn’t always readily apparent why He said no, particularly in the moment.
So how do we cope with difficult refusals of our appeals to God? How can we reconcile our faith with the fact that we may see tragedy instead of the hopeful answer we requested?
I think about Jesus’ prayer in the garden. He made a specific appeal to God that He would not have to undergo the suffering that He knew was before Him. However, God said no, and Jesus had to suffer a horrific death. But Jesus didn’t lose faith. He knew that God’s plan was better which He acknowledged when He asked God if His suffering could be prevented. Jesus could have reasoned that God would be more glorified if people saw angels deliver Him from the hands of His accusers. He could have argued that people witnessing the Son of God die would make God seem weak in the eyes of the world. But He chose not to argue with God. He trusted God even when it meant He had to suffer.
We can also look back and remember times when we saw good come of God’s plan for our lives. I particularly like this post by Sue Donaldson that reminds us to continually celebrate what God has done for us so that we can remember His faithfulness. God gave the Israelites feasts such as Passover to help them remember how He had provided for them in difficult times. By remembering and celebrating what God had done, they were able to look back and see that God had always been faithful to them. He had never left them even when times were hard. Nations fought against them, and they had plenty of trying times. However, God never forgot them.
The truth is that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). On this side of heaven, we will never fully understand why God says yes to some prayers and no to others. He does ask that we humble ourselves and trust Him. There is so much that we think we understand, but our perception of what God is doing in the world is extremely more limited than we can ever imagine. He is gracious in remembering our limitations, and He helps us look back to see that He has always had more planned than we can see.
It is always hard when God tells us no, but at least we can rest, knowing that He always has and still is working to accomplish good. If Jesus can trust God when He says no, then we can know that we can trust Him too.