When we pray and the answer from God appears to be NO, how do I respond? I am fairly confident that many of us have prayed for many things that have not come to pass. And when we fail to see the answer we want, this will certainly challenge us to think deeply about our motive, manner and method in prayer.
When we talk about motive, we are asking what is the underlying reason for approaching God with my request. Is it more to do about my own comfort and personal well being, or am I asking for God to be glorified through the situation that I am praying about? When we talk about manner, we are asking what is my attitude and faith with which I am approaching God? When we talk about method, we are really thinking about the words I use, the amount of time I am praying, the place where I pray, and they way in which I am praying.
We are to think about all these things whenever we pray, but somehow, when we don’t get what we want in prayer, it seems we are more deeply challenged to think about my heart’s motive, my attitude towards God and the way I am praying. We understand that these things matter to God. The answer NO is painful and that pain leads us to look at ourselves more deeply.
In II Cor 12:7, the Apostle Paul wrote that “a messenger of Satan, a thorn in the flesh” was sent into his life to humble him. And though we don’t know exactly what Paul’s struggle was here, we know it was physical, something really bad, so bad that Paul pleaded with God on three different occasions for God to take it away. We shouldn’t think here that Paul is simply praying 3 simple short prayers about it. No, the force of the passage alludes to probably a great amount of time and fervency in prayer. These were three serious times of prayer, perhaps accompanied by fasting and solitude where Paul was really doing business with God.
After Paul seeks God out on these three occasions, God gives him an answer, and the answer is NO, I am not going to take that “thorn in the flesh, that messenger of Satan away from you!” That was hard for Paul to accept. Here he is trying to plant churches, establish the gospel message throughout the Roman Empire and probably from Paul’s point of view, that thorn was a hindrance to the gospel, not an asset.
What Paul discovered is that the answer NO to his prayer was for a very good reason. We learn in II Cor 12:9 he needed to learn God’s grace and God’s power. God speaking, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Why? Paul wrote that “the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
What can we learn from this? First, we will see that God’s answer NO, when we are His children, is always for a very good reason, for God’s glory and our good. Secondly, we will see that the things we often want OUT of our lives, God allows INTO our lives to teach us, so that our hearts are right with Him and that His power may rest on us.
Finally, we will discover as we mature in Christ through prayer, that these are the occasions to learn joy and confidence in what God has allowed in our lives. This kind of joy only comes when we are confident that God is working all things out for the good and maturing and perfecting us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, to whom all praise belongs.
So let us prepare our hearts to learn that behind the answer NO, God is saying yes to greater things that we may be what He wants us to be. Only when we realize that can we rest in Him, be free from the burden of anxiety about the many difficulties of life, and be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “when I am weak than I am strong!”