says, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you
have faith” (ESV). Mark
11:24 says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in
prayer, believer that you have received it, and it will be
yours” (ESV). These verses give many Christians a great deal of
trouble. Not understanding them within their biblical context,
many folks have prayed with as much faith as they can muster and
yet did not receive what they asked. They wonder, “Why didn’t
God answer my prayers?” At this point, some people get
discouraged about themselves as Christians. Others decide God must
not be out there. In fact, in the June 10, 2007 edition of The Tennessean, Colby Landis, 18, of Nashville said he didn’t
believe in God or heaven. One of his big reasons was, “I used to
pray about a lot of things that I needed help with. It seemed like
whatever I prayed about got worse, it made me a little bit
iffy.” Let’s face it. We have all been there. We asked and
asked and didn’t get what we asked. Why does that happen?
Before we actually answer our question, there are some
fundamental principles we need to grasp about God and answers to
Who is God? Genesis
1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and
the earth” (ESV). God is the creator. He is the sovereign ruler.
He is the Supreme Being. He is more powerful than we can possibly
imagine. Who are we to think God is obligated to answer our
prayers? Consider Job. He spent the first 37 chapters of his story
demanding that God explain Himself. In Job
38-41, God essentially answered, “I’m God and you’re
not. You have no right to demand anything from me.” We act as
though some cosmic travesty has occurred if God were to ignore us.
The reality is it is more amazing that God ever listens to our
Further, we are asking the wrong question. Consider Psalm
139:8. Is there any place from which God cannot hear our
prayers? Of course not. Consider also Philippians
4:6-7 and I Peter 5:6-7. Is there any aspect of our
lives about which God does not care? Of course not. God hears our
prayers and God cares about us. Why then would we ask about
unanswered prayers? Think about your children. How many times do
they ask for things? How many times do they get what they ask for?
(If it is every time, then we need to have another sermon on
parenting.) If they don’t get what they ask for, is it because
you didn’t answer them? It is because you said, “No.” We
must not think that if God is actually going to answer our prayers
that He is always going to give us anything and everything we ever
wanted. Sometimes God says, “No,” just like every loving
We need to be rightly shocked about prayer. Allow me to
share an illustration. Have you ever put your money into a coke
machine and the machine kept it without giving you a coke. What
did you do? You complained to someone that the machine was broken.
However, what do we do if the machine gives us a drink and spits
our money back out? We walk off and say it is our lucky day.
Isn’t that interesting because both machines are broken. But we
don’t ever say anything about the one that gives us our money
back. This is the same kind of interesting mindset we have when it
comes to being told no by God. God created the world and us. He
has provided us with life and bodies. He sent His Son to die for
us. He has given us His word. He has forgiven us of our sins. Does
God owe us anything else? Did He even owe us this? Yet, if He
says, “No,” we complain that prayer is broken. Think about
this for just a moment. Which is really more surprising, that the
sovereign God of the Universe answers our requests “No”
sometimes or that He answers them “Yes” sometimes? Before we
get too upset about the Nos, let’s be properly surprised and
grateful for the Yeses.
What seems like No is not always No
We have already learned that what we often call unanswered
prayers are not unanswered at all. Sometimes God simply says,
“No.” However, there are sometimes when the answer may seem
like No when, in fact, it is something else.
Consider three examples.
2:23, the Israelites had prayed for rescue from Egypt.
This led to the most spectacular display of God’s power ever in
the ten plagues. However, once the Israelites were actually
allowed to leave, they came to the edge of the Red Sea and saw
Pharaoh’s army behind them. In Exodus
14:11, they thought God was saying no to their prayers for
rescue. They thought they were all going to die. But God had not
said no. He had said yes. However, they had a picture of what yes
would look like and it wasn’t being caught between Pharaoh’s
army and the deep Red Sea. They didn’t realize God was still
displaying His power. Sometimes God’s answer is not no, it is
just yes in a way that is different from what we expected.
6:10-11, the martyrs cried out for God’s vengeance on
those who had executed them for the faith. God didn’t do
anything about it at the time of their prayer. Instead, He told
them to wait. Sometimes God is not saying no, He is merely telling
us, “Not now. Wait until I think the time is right.”
11:5-8, Jesus told the parable of the persistent neighbor
who kept bothering his friend who was already in bed and finally
received what he asked for. Jesus used this parable to explain
that God will provide what we need. However, interestingly, at
first, it appears that the answer is no. This is perhaps the most
surprising of God’s responses. There are indeed times when God
responds, “I don’t know, how badly do you want it?” And then
He waits to see how badly we want something through prayer.
Don’t stop praying just because you didn’t get what you asked
at first. Keep up the prayer until you are absolutely certain God
has said, “No.”
Praying in Faith
One problem we have with the passages that sound to us like
God will give us anything we ask for if we only believe it enough
21:22; Mark 11:24; James 5:16-18) is forgetting what faith
really is for the Christian. God was not telling us that if we
believe that God will do whatever we ask, that He will. Remember Romans
10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through
the word of Christ” (ESV). Faith is not believing something
really hard. It is believing based on God’s word. We can only
pray with faith if our prayer is based on God’s word. Therefore,
let’s consider what kind of faith we can have with our prayers.
First, we must have faith that God wants us to pray. I
Thessalonians 5:17 teaches us to pray without ceasing.
Regrettably, many people never receive the blessings from God
because they never pray (James
4:2). Our faith begins with having enough faith to pray.
Second, we must have faith that God can do anything we ask.
3:20-21 says God can do far more abundantly beyond all
that we ask or think. If we don’t have faith that God can do
what we have asked, we have no business praying it, period. We
need to increase our faith that not even our most outrageous
requests remotely tax God’s power.
Third, we must have faith that God will do what He has
promised. He is faithful to His word. Hebrews
6:17-18 says God never lies. For instance, in Matthew
6:33 says if we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness
first, He will provide our needs. We can have absolute faith that
He will do this. This is not just a faith that He can do it, but a
faith that He will do it.
Fourth, we must have faith in God’s love for us, knowing
that He will always do what is best for us. Matthew
7:9-11 says God will not give us a snake when we ask for a
fish or a stone when we ask for bread. We must understand however
that sometimes we actually ask for the snake and the stone. God
will give us the fish and the bread anyway. Consider Paul’s
example in II
Corinthians 12:7-10. He actually asked for the serpent. If
God removed the thorn in the flesh, Paul would become puffed up
and fall from grace. Paul had to learn that the No was actually
good for him and have faith that God’s way was best even when it
was different from what he asked. This is where we understand the
principle of praying God’s will be done as Jesus did in Matthew
26:42. We have prayed to God what we want. But recognize,
in our human folly, we do not know what is best. Therefore, though
we have put our petitions before God, we pray that what we want
more than anything is for God’s will to be done. In that moment,
we are putting ourselves in His hands and praying from faith in
His love for us.
Finally, we must remember one of our biggest problems with
prayer. Too often, we view prayer as the means by which we bend
God to our will. Thus, we try to figure out how to word our
prayers or how to believe enough to get whatever we want. Prayer
was never intended to bend God to our will. It was intended to
bend us to His. If we get this principle down, then praying in
faith will come naturally.
Why God says No.
Having laid the proper foundations for understanding the No
answer, let’s examine some of the reasons for which God says,
“No.” I do not presume that this list is exhaustive.
According to James
1:6-7, if we do not pray with faith, we must not expect
anything from God. If we do not believe God can do something, then
we must not think He will. As we have already demonstrated, in our
lack of wisdom we cannot necessarily have faith that God will do
what we have asked. That is why we pray that His will be done and
then rest in His love and care for us to do what is best. However,
let me point out if you are actually certain God will not do what
you have prayed, you can’t pray with faith. For instance,
“Lord, heal the sick the world over.” Does any of us remotely
believe God will do that? Why would we ever pray for it? We cannot
possibly pray that prayer with faith.
says some people ask and they don’t receive because they are
asking selfishly, thinking only of their own personal pleasures.
Allow me an example. One of our most common prayers is for health,
either for ourselves or our loved ones. What is our reason for
that prayer? Consider Paul in Philippians
1:19-26, who knew that prayers would turn out for his
deliverance. Why? Was it because there was so much he wanted to
experience? Was it because he didn’t want to miss out on so many
things life has to offer? No, it was because if his life were
extended he would be able to serve God and help the brethren. Let
me encourage you to think about when you pray for health and long
life. Why are you praying for that? For what reason should God
consider granting your request.
demonstrates sometimes our desires do not fit God’s will. We
must be willing to submit to His will. After all, we learned from
the model prayer in Matthew
6:10 that one of our overarching desires should be for
God’s will to be done on earth, not our own.
demonstrates a reason God says, “No.” Paul prayed for the
salvation of his Jewish countrymen. No doubt, God said, “Yes,”
in some cases, but in many, He said, “No,” because other
people were involved in this prayer. The answer to it was not just
dependent upon Paul but also on how others might respond. Another
sense in which other people are involved in the answer comes when
you are praying for sunshine when you are having your picnic and
the farmer is praying for rain because his crops are dying. To
whom will God say, “Yes,” and to whom will He say, “No.”
Sometimes God says, “No,” because He is not obligated
to change the natural order of things. Hebrews
9:27 says it is appointed for men to die. God is not going
to change that. No matter how much we pray everyone is going to
die sometime. I once heard of a woman who turned her back on God
because she had prayed and prayed and prayed that her father live,
but he died. When asked how old her father was, she said,
“86.” Brethren, what do we expect? Everybody dies; we can’t
expect God to grant our request for eternal life. That is just not
how our world works.
says we reap what we sow. Sometimes God says, “No,” because we
are sowing the opposite of our requests. If we eat
indiscriminately and never exercise, we cannot expect God to grant
us health. We can pray all day long that God will help us overcome
alcohol, but if we keep frequenting the bars, we can’t expect
Him to grant our request.
As we have already noted, II
Corinthians 12:2-10 demonstrates another reason God says,
“No.” We are sometimes foolish and do not know what is best
for us. Like parents who refuse to give candy to their children
every time they ask and who force their kids to eat vegetables no
matter how much they complain, God sees the big picture and we do
not. Often times He tells us no for our own good. We must have
faith in His goodness and love.
Responding to No.
I have essentially presented a picture that says when God
says no to His children, it is for our own good. However, at times
we will not be able to see that. Sometimes things look so bad we
are in despair and cannot fathom why God is not doing anything
about it. In those moments, we are tempted to turn our backs on
God. I ask you to consider one psalm before you do that. Look at
Many of the psalms start bad but end good. Not this one.
Heman’s life was miserable. He had prayed, but God seemed to be
doing nothing. Yet, Heman continued to submit to God. Why?
According to vs.
1, Heman submitted to God because salvation came from God.
Think about this. Even if God is just being a big cosmic jerk and
ignoring you, what good does it do you to turn your back on Him?
That is tantamount to saying, “Well, if you won’t grant my
requests, I’ll show you. Not only will I have a miserable life,
I will just turn my back on You and go to hell. That’ll show
You.” That doesn’t make much sense, does it?
demonstrate that Heman had a proper perspective on life. While his
life may not have been what he wanted, he was more concerned about
God’s glory and praise. He could continue to submit to God
because he was more concerned about God than himself. He was a
worshipper and no matter how his life went, he was going to
Perhaps the greatest example we have of submitting to God
when things aren’t going our way is Job. Job
13:15 provides the standard by which we need to live.
“Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (ESV). Too often we
have an “if only” mindset in prayer. “If only You will do
such and such, then I will serve You.” We need to be like Job
and have an “even though” mindset.
No matter what happens in your prayer life and no matter
how God is responding, keep praying. God loves us and cares for
us. He wants us to pray. We need to pray. Never let God’s Nos
come between you. Instead, trust Him to see the big picture and
always do what is best for His children.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ