When God Says No
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
The Bible explains that God will answer our prayers. Famously, in Jeremiah 33:3 the Lord says, “Call unto me and I will answer thee…” However, the Bible also indicates that there are three primary ways in which God answers our prayers. Sometimes He shows us “great and mighty things” by saying “Yes,” other times “Wait,” yet other times He says “No.” Either way, He is answering us.
When He says, “Yes,” we gleefully rejoice. When He says, “Wait,” we hopefully learn patience. When He says, “No,” we often wonder why. Before we specifically consider what the Bible says about the times when God says “No,” it’s helpful to consider His other potential responses.
Sometimes God Says “Yes”
No doubt, God is powerful enough to say “Yes” to all of our many petitions. God said “Yes” to Hannah when she prayed for baby Samuel, and she rejoiced! “For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:” (1 Samuel 1:27). God said “Yes” to Hannah’s prayer.
God said “Yes” to the praying church in Acts 12. They fervently prayed for Peter’s release from prison. “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.” (Acts 12:5)
As a result of their prayers, God sent the angel of the Lord to deliver Peter from the “four quaternions of soldiers,” to free him from the chains that bound him, and to escort him through the corridors of the prison, right out the “iron gate that leadeth unto the city”! (Acts 12:10) God said “Yes” to this praying church family.
God even said “Yes” as Elijah’s prayers turned off and on the rain. “He prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” (James 5:17-18)
God is powerful enough to give life to Hannah’s barren womb, to open Peter’s prison gates, and to stop and start the rain as Elijah prayed. Often God graciously says “Yes” to the prayers of His children. He is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20)
Often God Says “Wait”
God certainly has the power to say “Yes” to our prayers. However, sometimes He says “Wait.”
John 11 records the account of Lazarus being brought back to life. Among many lessons, that passage teaches us patience in prayer. Mary and Martha were disappointed with Jesus’ timing, but ultimately God did an incredible miracle and they learned that His timing is best. Interestingly, the passage specifically notates that “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” (John 11:5).
He loved them in a special way, and even shed tears Himself. Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) But, He knew that the most loving thing He could do was to teach them to wait on God’s timing.
Additionally, the Psalmist provides a relatable explanation in times when God says “Wait.” In Psalm 13, David feels as though God isn’t answering his prayer requests. Four times in Psalm 13 David asks God, “How long…”. He’s basically asking God, “How long will I have to wait before I hear from You, God?” David realized that he was in a waiting period.
Further, in Luke 2:25-35 we read of Simeon. God the Holy Ghost told him to “Wait.” In verse 26 the Bible explains, “It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” This is why Simeon is described as a man who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” He had probably read prophetic Scripture passages like Micah 5:2, Psalm 2, Psalm 22, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 40:1, and Isaiah 53 numerous times. He waited and waited. Finally, into his old age, Simeon rejoices when Joseph and Mary bring baby Jesus to him. Simeon declares, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” (Luke 2:30-31)
Simeon waited faith-fully and then He rejoiced, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son…” (Galatians 4:4). Even though God initially told Simeon to wait, and he waited most of his life, God eventually gave him a “Yes.” God’s answers of “Yes” or “No,” are each according to His divine timetable.
With that in mind, when God answers with “Wait,” don’t give up on your prayer life. Don’t give up on praying for that specific request. Don’t lose hope. I know of more than one instance when an individual prayed their whole life for the salvation of a loved one. They prayed and prayed, but it wasn’t until the funeral of the praying individual, that the lost loved one trusted Christ. Whatever your prayer request, wait patiently, but continue to pray persistently.
Delight in God’s divine timetable, even when it includes delay, but continue to pray with the “importunity” described in Luke 11:5-13. While you are waiting at the divine door for the metaphorical “three loaves” of bread, continue to talk to God, your Father and Friend, about your need. Waiting patiently on God’s answer doesn’t mean that you discontinue praying. It doesn’t mean that you discontinue communing with Him. In actuality, God instructs us to do the opposite. He wants us to continue to ask, seek, and knock. And eventually, after waiting, the door of God’s provision will be opened unto you. Plus, there’s a huge value in the waiting period.
One individual helpfully explained waiting on the Lord this way… “If every prayer you ever prayed was instantly answered, you’d never really develop a deep relationship with God, because He would become just a vending machine. If every time you prayed you instantly got results, all you’d think about is the blessing. God wants you to think about the Blesser.”
God always has a purpose when He has us wait. We rejoice when He says, “Yes” and we learn from the times He says “Wait,” but, what about the times He very clearly says, “No”?
When God Says “No”
God said “No” to the great Apostle Paul when he prayed thrice that the thorn in his flesh would be removed.
Similarly, God the Father said, “No” to Jesus when He prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39).
Paul dealt with the “thorn in the flesh” for the rest of his life, and Jesus faced the cup of God’s wrath as He was crucified in Matthew 27.
Essentially, God the Father said “No” to both of those prayer requests. It’s important to recognize that, because God is God, He has the divine prerogative to say “Wait” or “No” to His children. If He couldn’t say “No,” He wouldn’t be God: we would be.
Whenever we pray, we should pray in faith, believing that God is powerful enough to grant any request; while at the same time, we pray humbly, recognizing His Lordship and Mastery over us. As His loyal subjects, our above-all desire is to accomplish His will and please Him. God’s answers to our prayers are administered according to His wisdom, His loving justice, and His perfect will.
In the times that God says “No,” remember these three things:
First, remember that your prayers are not in vain. In actuality, a Christian’s prayers are an act of obedience. Throughout Scripture, over and over again, God instructs His children to pray. When we pray, we are doing exactly what He told us to do. A faithful prayer life is an obedient act of humility. When a Christian prays from a pure heart, no matter how God answers, that Christian is humbling himself “under the mighty hand of God.” (1 Peter 5:6)
For example, we read in the Old Testament that Daniel knew his prayers were not in vain. Daniel certainly received yeses, waits, and noes from God, like we do; yet he obediently prayed three times a day in spite of a nonsense decree, and a life-threatening civil consequence. Daniel knew, no matter how God answered, his prayers were not in vain.
Nehemiah was a man’s man. He was a builder, and a leader, yet he was also a prayer-warrior. In the book of Nehemiah, he is often found praying. We can read his most famous prayer in Nehemiah 9. He received a “No” from God on many occasions throughout his life, and faced much adversity, but he persisted in his prayer life. Again, a faithful prayer life is a God-honoring act of humility and obedience, therefore even when God says “No,” your prayers are not in vain.
Second, in times that God says “No,” remember that He provides sufficient grace, just as He did for the Apostle Paul. While He did say “No” to Paul, He also said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Even though we are sinners, as saved sinners, we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
This grace is given in numerous ways. Certainly it’s given through the gospel. “For by grace are ye saved…” (Ephesians 2:8) No matter how physically painful the thorn in the flesh was, Paul knew that he was spiritually secure because of the sufficiency of God’s saving grace. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” God said “No” to removing Paul’s thorn, but He said “Yes” to providing sufficient grace. Paul knew that even if he endured the pain of tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or even death by sword, nothing could separate him from the love of God. Why? Because God’s grace in salvation was sufficient to comfort him through whatever the world threw at him. (Consider Romans 8:35-39 and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
Additionally, His constant presence is gracious. No matter how painful the thorn is, His grace is sufficient because He promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5) Interestingly, the content of that verse includes a call to contentment. When God says “No,” to our prayer request, we are to be “content with such things as (we) have,” and Hebrews 13:5 promises that we have Him. Even when we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” we “fear no evil.” Why? Because, He is with us. If you’ve lost a loved one in death, He is with you as you grieve over that loss. You’re not alone. He is with you. God says, “My grace is sufficient for thee:”
Further, His all-sufficient grace also teaches us that Jesus is coming again. Titus 2:11-13 explains that grace teaches us to be “Looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” It’s interesting that Paul uses the word “looking” in Titus 2:13 since it’s very likely that his thorn in the flesh was a problem with his eyesight. Paul had trouble seeing physically, but he could see CLEARLY spiritually!
No matter the pain, physical or emotional, praise God, it’s only temporary because Jesus is coming again, and heaven awaits the redeemed. The thought of His imminent return, helps us navigate the trials of this life, and that promise is by God’s grace. God may have said “No” but He also said, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Interestingly, God’s provision of grace is mentioned in the final verse of the Bible. In Revelation 22:21, John the Beloved prays that “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” When God says “No,” He provides heaven-sent grace.
Third, in the times that God says “No,” remember that He has another purpose in view.
Jesus is a perfect example of this. In His humanity, He didn’t want to face the pain of crucifixion, yet God had a divine purpose for Jesus’ pain. The purpose for His pain was to propitiate God’s wrath so that sinners could receive the gift of eternal life. In spite of Jesus’ prayer request, He laid down His life saying, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
An additional result of Jesus’ obedience is that because He endured the cup of God’s wrath, He is now victoriously seated at the right hand of God the Father where He ever liveth to make prayerful intercession for the redeemed. We must never forget that access to God’s throne room, through the vehicle of prayer, is a privilege that God allows His children because of the submission and obedience of Jesus. (Consider Hebrews 4:14-16) God said “No” to Jesus so that He could say “Yes” to you.
Paul is also an example of God having another purpose in view. The reason that God said “No” to removing Paul’s thorn in the flesh was for the purpose of helping Paul with a potential pride problem.
“Lest I (Paul) should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Paul experienced many blessings in life that could’ve easily puffed him up. Paul recognized that God said “No” because his Master had a perfecting purpose through the thorn. Interestingly, even though Paul got a “No” his prayer life continued. He prayed “thrice” about the thorn and got a “No,” but that didn’t stop him from praying about many other things to which he got a “Yes.” His prayers are replete throughout the New Testament.
Had this “No” completely shut down Paul’s prayer life, Satan would have won. Remember, the “thorn in the flesh” involved “the messenger of Satan to buffet (him)”. Satan wanted this thorn in the flesh, and this “No” from God, to hinder Paul in his walk with the Lord. In spite of the “No,” Paul continued in his spiritual journey and was the human penman who wrote “we know that all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28) Just because God may say “No,” doesn’t mean we let Satan have the victory. God had a perfecting purpose for Paul through his thorn in the flesh.
I mentioned previously that “God is powerful enough to give life to Hannah’s barren womb, to open Peter’s prison gates, and to stop-and-start the rain as Elijah prayed.” While He is all-powerful, remember that He’s also all-knowing. He is not only omnipotent, but He’s also omniscient. He knows the beginning from the end, and He knows when it’s best to say “No” to His children. It’s in these moments when Proverbs 3:5-6 become extremely relevant.
If We Want God to Say “Yes”…
If we want God to say “Yes,” the Bible indicates that we must avoid several specific things.
We must avoid asking amiss. God says “No” when we “ask amiss,” out of self-consumption. The word “amiss” in James 4:3 definitionally implies praying “diseased and evil” prayers. They are “sick and sore” prayers because they are self-serving in nature. Essentially, “asking amiss” is praying greedy prayers. To those prayers, God says, “No.”
“Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3)
The heart motive of our prayer matters, and is known to God.
Along a similar line, if we want God to say “Yes,” we must avoid praying to be seen of men.
This is how a hypocrite prays. He loves “to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that (he) may be seen of men.” (Matthew 6:5)
The only reward the hypocrite receives is the ego boost of human adulation and earthly recognition. It’s vanity. The prayerful hypocrite forfeits the reward of God saying “Yes” to his prayer requests.
Additionally, if we want God to say “Yes,” we must avoid indulging in iniquity.
Isaiah 59:2 indicates, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
Psalm 66:18 explains, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
We must remember that it’s the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man” that avails much. (James 5:16) As Christians, we are robed in Christ’s righteousness.
Finally, if we want God to say “Yes,” we must avoid self-inflicted, hindered prayers. 1 Peter 3:7 instructs husbands to dwell with their wives “according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel… that your prayers be not hindered.”
The word “hindered” is the idea of being rendered ineffectual or cut off. When a husband-wife relationship is contrary to God’s plan, prayers are being hindered. Until a husband gives appropriate honor to his wife, it’s very likely that God will say “No” to his prayers.
While all of the above mentioned things should be avoided since they are clearly taught in Scripture, we must remember that even when we avoid these things flawlessly, God still may say “No.” He is our Master, and we are His servants. He is our perfect and patient Father, and we are His submissive and adoring children. He maintains His divine prerogative to answer His children according to what He knows is best for us.
Dear Christian, no matter how God answers your prayer request, continue to steward the privilege of prayer faithfully. Pursue a prayer life like Epaphras, a servant of Christ, who is recorded in Scripture as “always labouring fervently… in prayers.” (Colossians 4:12)
Continue to pray believing prayers, knowing that God can say “Yes” and when He does, REJOICE in His will.
Rejoice that He was able to say “Yes” to Hannah as she prayed for baby Samuel.
Rejoice that He could say “Yes” to a praying church family and break chains, and open prison doors for the Apostle Peter.
Rejoice that He had power over His creation to say “Yes” to Elijah’s prayers about the rain.
However, when God chooses to say “Wait” or “No,” REJOICE in His will just the same. But remember, when we get a “No” from God, it may cause us to grieve deeply over loss. This is natural. Christians grieve too. But, we do not grieve the way the world grieves. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 instructs us not to sorrow hopelessly over the death of loved ones. That passage explains that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, if those we love were believers, we will see them again. This is how a Christian can find genuine rejoicing in the midst of devastating grief. (Also consider 1 Peter 1:6-7; Philippians 4:4-9)
No matter how He answers, and no matter your specific request, remember that your prayers are not in vain, that He will provide sufficient grace, and that He has a greater purpose in view.
Continue, by faith, to ask, seek, and knock. Continue to pray with importunity. Pray in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14) and watch as God’s power and goodness is displayed. Rejoice as His perfect will unfolds.
As we pray, it is important to pray in full-faith: a Hebrews 11 type of faith; a mustard seed type of faith. (Matthew 17:20) All the while, knowing that “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) And, in faith knowing that God is powerful enough to say, “Yes.” His children recognize that even earthly fathers “know how to give good gifts unto (their) children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
There is one prayer to which God always says “Yes.” It’s the sinner’s prayer. Luke 18:13 records the publican’s prayer. “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
In Luke 23:42, the thief on the cross prays similarly, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Jesus replied with a “Yes” when He said, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The Lord said “Yes” to the penitent publican and He said “Yes” to the believing malefactor.
Romans 10:13 explains, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Calling upon the name of the Lord for salvation is a prayer to which God always says “Yes”!
With that in mind, please consider closely the following Bible-based questions and answers.
WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY?
This is the most important question facing mankind. We are eternal beings and when we die our soul will spend eternity somewhere. Hebrews 9:27 tells us, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” The Bible teaches that there are only two options – Heaven or Hell.
WHAT GETS ME TO HELL?
The bad news is that you don’t have to do anything in order to spend eternity in Hell. Jesus said in John 3:18b, “but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Whenever we break God’s law it is sin and Romans 3:23 explains that our sin is the reason we face God’s judgment – “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
We are sinful people, and that sin has consequences. Romans 6:23a describes this punishment: “For the wages of sin is death.” This means separation from God for all eternity. This indeed is bad news, but God has provided a way to escape sin’s penalty.
WHAT GETS ME TO HEAVEN?
The good news is that God has provided a Substitute to die in our place: Jesus Christ. Romans 6:23b says “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God sent His perfect Son Jesus Christ to die on your behalf and pay sin’s penalty. In John 3:16 Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven; He died on the cross and rose again in order to pay for your sin debt. Will you trust Christ as your payment? Will you accept Jesus as your Substitute? Take a few moments and ask Jesus to forgive your sins and trust Him as your Savior. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved...” (Acts 16:31)
If When God Says No was a help to you, and/or if you prayed to receive Christ as your Savior, we’d like to hear from you. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The above article was written by James C. Johnson. He is the Pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email him at email@example.com.
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