How to adjust when the answer to a prayer isn't what you wanted.
Posted in , Sep 25, 2015
My mother was hospitalized with breast cancer the summer of my 14th year. Day after day that summer, I knelt at a crude altar at a church camp in Missouri, praying for her healing, begging God not to let my mother die.
God answered my prayer. The answer was "no." She died on September 29 that year.
Maybe you can remember similar moments when you prayed, and God answered...with a "no." And no matter how many testimonies of answers to prayer you may hear, no matter how many books you read extolling the power of prayer, it’s the times when the answer has been “no” that stick in your mind–and in your throat.
But you are not alone. In fact, the Bible records instances when the prayers of even the greatest saints of God were answered with a "no." And they can teach us a thing or two to help us adjust our prayers at such times.
1) Make sure your heart is right.
Moses was a man of great faith. But after leading his people out of slavery in Egypt right to the very threshold of the land of promise, he prayed, “Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deuteronomy 3:25, NIV). And God said "no."
Why? Because the children of Israel–and Moses himself, in fact–had disobeyed God, and that disobedience blocked the answer to Moses’ prayer.
When the answer is "no," ask yourself if your prayers are being hindered because your heart is not right.
2) Consider whether the time is right.
Few names in the Bible shine as brightly as the prophet Elijah's. After he routed the prophets of the false god Baal on Mt. Carmel, he took off for the desert and, after a full day’s journey, came to rest under a tree.
There, Elijah–the great champion of God, the great man of faith and prophet of Israel–prayed, “Let me die.” God said "no."
Why? Apparently God still had things for Elijah to do (1 Kings 19:15-17). And God did eventually answer Elijah’s prayer, in a manner of speaking, by suddenly taking him up to heaven in chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:11, NIV).
Sometimes, when the answer is no, you might consider whether God said no because the timing wasn’t right...and find hope and encouragement in knowing that He knows best.
3) Ponder whether the prayer is right.
More than anyone else, the Apostle Paul was responsible for the rapid and effective spread of Christianity throughout the civilized world of the first century. His inspired writings form the foundation of the doctrine of the church. But he got a “no” from God, too.
He asked three times for God to take away a “thorn in the flesh,” something that caused Paul much trouble and frustration. But God said "no."
Why? Paul answered the question himself. Because the prayer was not right. Paul did not see–until God pointed it out to him somehow–that his “thorn in the flesh” was being used by God for a purpose.
Sometimes the answer is "no" because the prayer itself is not right. Such instances call for surrender–and revision. There may be a different prayer we need to pray instead.
The solution to unanswered prayers lies not in changing God’s mind (for He is wise and always doing what is best) but in adjusting how we pray.