I've been thinking about prayer this week, and how sometimes God answers with a big, fat NO! So, here's something that happened a few years to my husband, Bryan. See below for thoughts on prayer and when God doesn't answer the way we want him to:
I hate it when God says no. And that day, He said “No” with an exclamation point.
The winter sun shone through the clouds like a dirty tennis ball and glinted off the windshield of my ‘87 Jimmy. I gripped the steering wheel tighter and glanced down at the roofing specification I’d written months before. My stomach fluttered with the bumping of the road beneath me.
Today was the big day. I couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong.
If only my competitor doesn’t show up, I thought.
The university’s parking garage loomed in front of me. I sighed and shot a final glance at the sky before guiding my Jimmy into the huge concrete structure. Lord, I prayed, I’ve worked so hard for this customer. Can you just keep my competitor from coming today? Please? In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
As soon as the words fell from my lips, I turned the corner and saw it - a bright red Cadillac Seville, circling the building like a shark on the hunt. My competitor’s car.
I pulled into a parking space and dropped my head to the steering wheel. Obviously God had heard my prayer. And He had given me His answer - a big, fat NO!
Hey, what about all those promises in scripture? I asked. Didn’t Jesus say, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22)? And what about Luke 11:9, "Ask and it will be given to you” and John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." So, how could God say “no” to me now?
Instead of the scriptures making me feel hopeful, they suddenly seemed like God’s way of thumbing his nose at me. Was God really mocking me? As if in answer, I watched the red Seville circle the building one more time before it parked and my competitor got out.
I grabbed my spec and trudged into the university’s facilities office. Minutes later, as we made our way to the roof, my competitor started in with his jibes. Through the entire job walk, he continued his adversarial assault. I knew it, I thought, as I started my presentation. Why couldn’t God have just said yes?
On the way home that day, I thought about the prayer I prayed in the parking lot. What was really at the heart of my prayer? As I considered it, I realized my prayer had been “make this process easier for me” and “give me some security in my job.” That’s what God had answered “no” to. I had used Jesus’ name, but not prayed in His spirit. I had been praying for the “easy way,” the way that required less faith and less dependence on God, instead of more. Maybe it was time to evaluate my prayer life and make some changes.
How often did I pray “the easy way” for myself and others? When my friends or family were sick, I prayed for healing. When they were out of work, I prayed for a job. So many of my prayers consisted of things like, “God give me a parking spot close to the store because it’s raining today” or “please help me know the answers on the evaluation test” or “please make all the lights green, I’m late for work.”
But God isn’t in the business of making life easier. Rather, He’s in the business of growing my faith, breaking me of seeing only the physical aspects of life, and making me rely on Him rather than circumstances.
Since that day in the university parking lot, I’ve learned that when God says no, it’s not because He’s a mean ogre, or He didn’t hear my prayer, or I didn’t pray hard enough or use the right “formula.” Instead, a “no” often means God is working intimately in my life, sculpting my circumstances in order to grow my faith. So even though I’d still rather hear “yes’s” to all my prayers, I’m beginning to see that sometimes “no” isn’t such a bad answer after all.