I’ve heard a saying that, when we pray God’s answers are: yes, not yet, or no. He never leaves prayers unanswered. The “yes” answers are great aren’t they? That thing we have been dreaming of finally happens. We can see God’s blessings and feel his glorious presence and the joy that happens when our will aligns with His! The “not yet” answers are less exciting, but we still hope and pray over the situations at hand. Even when the not yet season has been your entire life, we can cling to the hope that the time will come soon. However, the hardest is the “no.”
It is not a word that anyone likes to hear, especially when it comes from God. When that prayer you prayed more fervently than any doesn’t come to fruition, it can almost feel like God is rejecting you. You may even feel like God is apathetic or doesn’t care.
I know that’s how I felt.
On November 1, 2014 my mom called me to say that my cousin had a drug overdose and was on life support. Over the next few days I prayed more passionately, honestly, and frequently than ever before. I knew God was capable of miracles. I knew he could fully heal my cousin, and let this overdose be a life-changing event that could bring glory to the Lord. There are stories of people who were near death, miraculously healed, and now walking intimately with Jesus. The question in my heart and prayers was not if God could, but if he would perform this miracle.
About a week and a half later, I was walking out of a Cru large group and my mom called to tell me that they were taking him off life support that night. The next day he died. God had said no to my prayer.
It can be so easy to start believing lies from Satan in those moments.
Did I not pray hard enough?
Was there something I should have done?
Why did God reject me?
There was nothing selfish in that prayer, so is God really good?
Does God really care?
From those lies it is so very easy, sometimes even unnoticed, to let that experience affect our prayer life and how we view God.
God was not rejecting me, and he is not rejecting you. During that week and a half God’s love comforted me in the midst of the “no.” The Sunday before my cousin died, the pastor at church preached on holding our loved ones with an open hand. Understand that ultimately they are God’s creation, and it will hurt a whole lot less if we trust them to God. Otherwise we will experience more sorrow when God pries open our clinched fists. An hour before I found out they took him off life support, the Cru worship leader prayed that we would welcome suffering in our lives. It was a (seemingly) random thing to pray for, considering none of the songs or the speaker that night discussed suffering. Yet, I knew in that moment, that God was not going to heal my cousin. While that prayer seemed random, it granted me a peace that can only come from the Lord in knowing that he heard me. He heard my pleas, he saw my suffering, he knew my heart, and he was grieving too.
Fast-forward to 2017.
In the spring I realized that my prayer life and view of God were seriously altered after my cousin died. It wasn’t that I stopped praying, but I stopped trusting God with the big stuff in my own life out of fear that he would say no, and I would be left hurt and disappointed. The few times I would pray over big things, I did not have an expectant heart (I did not think or believe that God would move in that area or care about my prayer). I would start and end my prayers with passive wimpy phrases like, “God, it would be really cool if…” or “I mean only if it is in your will, I guess…” I believed the lie that God did not care about my prayers, nor would he bother to respond. The only way to combat those lies, is to replace them with truth. Psalm 66 illustrates beautiful truths about God’s character and prayer:
“I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me.”
Sometimes we may never know why God says no, and that’s okay. I still don’t know, and probably never will, why God said no when I prayed over my cousin’s life. I still don’t know why God says no to other prayers. BUT I still know and cling to truths about God. God is good. God hears us. God loves us and is for us. I highly recommend reading Psalm 66 and Romans 8 to be reminded of God’s fierce love for you. He is fighting for you, not against you.
It’s okay if you are in the midst of struggling to understand God’s goodness in the presence of a no. It is okay to be confused and upset and grieve. It is okay to tell God that you’re confused, upset, and hurting. He knows, he cares, he sees you, and he wants you to bring this sorrow to him.
Now I don’t have a magical do-this-and-everything-will-be-better prayer or song, but I would love to share some practical suggestions that helped to comfort me and replace the lies with truth.
First, and I would argue most important, go to the Bible. Read through Lamentations or some Psalms. Lament literally means “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow,” and the Psalms truly express both joy and sorrow. In Psalm 88 the Psalmist ends with “you have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.”
Another thing that is helpful is to spend time talking with a trusted friend or mentor who is grounded in their faith. Sometimes having an older woman look you dead in the eye and say “that is a lie from the devil” is a lot more powerful than telling yourself that.
Finally, another suggestion is to read a faith-based book. This past summer I read, Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. It was refreshing and encouraging to be reminded of the truth that God wants to hear my prayers, wants us to trust him with big things, and wants to give us good gifts.
God does say yes sometimes, and to big things. He is a God of miracles. So let’s not focus on the no so much that we miss the yes. In the midst of it all, no, yes, and not yet, we need to remember that Jesus already gave us every yes we need this side of heaven and the next when He said “it is finished.” He freed us from all of our sin and the chains that bind us in shame. We have so much to look forward to, despite the answers we aren’t thrilled about.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Hello friends! My name is Melissa, but you can call me Mel☺ I am interning with TidewaterRVA Cru this year at CNU and William and Mary. I graduated in May from CNU with a degree in History. I am so excited to do life with the women of the Tidewater area, challenging each other to take bold steps in our faith and love Jesus and others fiercely. A few of my favorites: a good book (now and forever taking recommendations), Harry Potter, coffee, and road trips! I’m looking forward to getting to know this community more. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me!