Our loving Father does answer prayers. But what if the answer to our heartfelt request is no? What should we do then? These examples in the Bible can help.
In a number of places in the Bible, Jesus told His disciples, and therefore us, that the Father would give us anything we asked in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24). But that doesn’t mean He will give us a fancy new car this afternoon. Some things—both physical and nonphysical—may not happen in this lifetime.
We know that God is our Father. He loves us and wants good things for us. He wants us to have joy—not pain and heartache.
But there’s a problem I think we’ve all experienced. Sometimes we’ve asked the Father to do something for us. We’ve made our request repeatedly. We’ve gone to Him in prayer, with our minds full of whatever was bothering us, and asked Him to do something, fix a problem, influence somebody, give us something . . . and He didn’t do it.
We asked our Father, who loves us and knows us, oh, so thoroughly, to do something for us and the answer was no.
Sometimes that’s just the way it is. It’s part of Christianity. Sometimes we ask God to do something, and it doesn’t happen.
And I’m not talking about that fancy new car. Really important situations happen in our lives. We go to God and ask Him to rescue us, and sometimes a rescue doesn’t take place.
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts
How can this be? We know that God is able to do what we wish. We know that He wants us to have joy and to prosper. So, what’s the problem? Why does God sometimes say no?
The problem is that we don’t know everything God is thinking. We don’t know all that He knows. We don’t comprehend God the way that He does us. He tells us this in Isaiah 55:8-9:
Abraham knew that it was not necessary that he understand all of our Father’s decisions. It was necessary to stay close to God, even when disappointed.“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
But, through using the Holy Spirit and growing in its fruit, we can learn to think more and more as God thinks and to have faith that His will is perfect and in our eternal best interests. The trials of this life can help us develop godly character and prepare us for greater service in God’s Kingdom.
So, we can pray with confidence, as John wrote: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Examples of God saying no in the Bible
Some of the great people of the Bible had their requests refused.
Let’s look at some biblical examples where God said no to certain prayers and the ways God’s people reacted.
Abraham’s request and response
Abraham loved his son Ishmael. He pleaded with God to give the covenant blessings to Ishmael. But God refused. The answer was no. In fact, God said that Ishmael would have much conflict in his life.
“He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Genesis 16:12).
That certainly wasn’t what Abraham wanted and requested for his son. But Abraham had faith. He accepted God’s answer and continued to look forward to the city and kingdom that God would build. He knew that it was not necessary that he understand all of our Father’s decisions. It was necessary to stay close to God, even when disappointed.
We must be the same way.
David pleads with God
Acts 13:22 says that King David was a man after God’s own heart. In many ways, he was a great example for us to follow. But God did not always do what King David asked.
When David and Bathsheba’s baby was conceived, David tried to cover up his sin. Ultimately, he arranged to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed in battle. After the birth of their son, God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with what he had done and to tell him the consequences, including that David’s baby would die.
“Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon” (2 Samuel 12:9).
“So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.’ Then Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill” (verses 13-15).
The baby (we never learn his name) got sick. David fasted and prayed night and day for a week. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us, I think we can guess some of the things David may have said in his prayers.
He probably pointed out that the baby was innocent and had done nothing to earn death. He may have asked God to take pity on the baby. We can imagine that he said that he, David, was the guilty one. It was he who had lusted after Bathsheba. He was the one who brought her to his house and seduced her. It was he who tried to deceive Uriah. And he was the one who had ordered Uriah, his neighbor and loyal soldier, killed.
David may have confessed all of these things to God and asked God to let him pay for his sins himself. He may have asked God to take his life, not his child’s.
But the answer was no. God does what He does for His own reasons, and we don’t always understand. David prayed, asking God to do something really important, and God refused. The lesson for us comes from considering what David did next.
“When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, ‘Is the child dead?’ And they said, ‘He is dead.’ So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped” (verses 19-20).
When our requests are refused, even if we don’t understand, we must have the same response as King David. We must continue to worship our Father.
Perhaps David then focused on God’s power to resurrect his son at a better time.
“My grace is sufficient for you”
Paul is a hero in the Bible. Paul had great faith and was also a great example of Christian living. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” He fought the good fight all the way to death, regardless of his circumstances.
Like Paul, we must look to God for the strength to endure and recognize that His grace is sufficient for us.But, as great as Paul was, sometimes God did not grant him what he asked. Sometimes the answer was no.
Paul had a physical malady that caused him pain and difficulty for years. The Bible doesn’t reveal exactly what that difficulty was, but we read Paul’s description of it:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7; see “What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?”).
God chose not to relieve him of the problem, but chose instead to let to him deal with it:
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (verses 8-9).
So Paul, full of faith and a great example of Christian living, was told no. Essentially, the answer was, “Yes, you have a difficulty. No, I’m not going to fix it, because My grace is sufficient for you.”
That’s the way we should look at it when we ask God for help with something and the answer is no. Just like Paul, we must appreciate God’s incredible grace toward us.
Consider what that means. God graciously provided Paul the strength he needed to endure his trial, just as He provided Jesus the strength to endure His (Luke 22:41-43).
Also, consider that we have received God’s grace. Our sins are forgiven when we go to God in repentance. We’ve earned the death penalty for our sins. We could be dead forever, but we don’t have to suffer that. Instead, we will enter God’s Kingdom. And not just be there. We will be kings, and priests, and teachers. We’ll be rewarded with responsibility to serve others.
And even more, we’ll get to do that forever! We’ll get to be with our Father in His Kingdom with joy and happiness in eternal life! In the Kingdom, God will wipe away every tear. There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. No more pain!
That is what was sufficient for Paul. It’s sufficient for us too!
What we should do
So, when we ask God to help us in some way, possibly with some serious problem (not the fancy new car), hopefully the answer will be a quick yes. But maybe, just maybe, the answer will be no or not yet.
And if God’s answer is no, what should we do? Like Abraham, we must look forward to the Kingdom. Like David, we must continue to worship God. Like Paul, we must look to God for the strength to endure and recognize that His grace is sufficient for us.
Entering God’s Kingdom and living forever abundantly as a child of God is greater and more important than any problem we may have in this life.
Study more about how and when God answers prayers in our articles “Does God Answer Prayers Today?” and “Five Keys to Answered Prayers.”