Biblical Prayer: Sometimes the answer is “No.”

Luke 16:19-26, God will not change the past.
Luke 16:27-31, God will not cross another person’s will.
Numbers 22:2-6, 24:10-13, God will not harm someone else to benefit you.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10, God will not give you what you want when He has something better in mind.
Numbers 20:8-12; Deuteronomy 3:23-26, God will not change His previous final answer.

More About Biblical Prayer

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Luke 16:19-26, God will not change the past. (9/29/08)

Some time ago I was reading an extremely popular book on prayer.  I didn't care much for it – it was a very dry, academic, verbose treatment, with little in the way of scriptural support.  Then it got to the part about unanswered prayer.  The writer said something to the effect that many people say that the reason some prayers "don't get answered" is that the answer is "no," but that's too glib.  "Glib."  Now there's a word you don't see every day in Biblical commentaries.  Anyway, that's when I stopped reading the book entirely.

Here's the thing.  It may or may not be "glib" to say that God's answer can be "no," but it's true!   There's plenty of Biblical basis for the idea that God answers "no."   There's virtual unanimity among the writers of the Bible that God always answers the prayers of His believers.  So who ya' gonna believe?  A best-selling author, or the Bible?

There are quite a few reasons that God says "no."  One is that we often pray for things not to have already happened – today the rich man in effect prays, "God, make it so that I didn't do that!"  Nope.  You did it.  If you are still in a position to repent, good; if not, uh oh.  In either case, it still happened, and the inevitable consequences are still going to occur.

Today’s Prayer: Dear God, I know the past can't be changed, but that You have a plan for my life starting today.  I want to be part of your plan for me.  Amen.

Luke 16:27-31, God will not cross another person’s will. (9/30/08)

When you were a kid, did you ever go to your mom and say, "Mo-o-m!  Make him stop doing that!"  No, of course you didn't; sorry.  But many of us do.  We go to God and say, "Make him stop doing this!  Make her start doing that!"  The answer will always be "no." 

Biblically (and according to John Wesley and UMC doctrine), God will not force people to believe in Him.  Neither will God coerce anyone into doing His will, much less my will.  

(Of course, the scary part of all this is that God won't cross my will, either, even to save me from myself.  But that's a topic for another study.)

Today’s Prayer: Dear God, I'm concerned about my friend ______.  I think my friend is not doing your will.  Tell me what I can do today to help you bring my friend back to you.  If I'm the problem, change me.  Amen.

Numbers 22:2-6, 24:10-13, God will not harm someone else to benefit you. (10/1/08)

Did you know that everything in the world affects everything else in the world?  True fact.  In particular, some things that I pray for to benefit myself could directly or indirectly harm someone else.  Now, I may not know that, or I may not care, or maybe that's exactly what I'm praying for!  God does know, and God does care, and if that's exactly what I'm praying for, He gets Peter to write it down against my name in the Book.  In any of those cases, however, the answer will be "no."

Today’s Prayer: Dear LORD of Everything and Everybody, Help me to remember that I'm not your only child.  Amen.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10, God will not give you what you want when He has something better in mind. (10/2/08)

The "no" that is easiest to understand – usually in retrospect – is the one that is accompanied by an "instead."  It's very common these days to talk about doors that open and close:  "God closed the door I wanted to go through, but He opened another door instead."  Off hand, I don't recall anyone ever saying to me, "God closed the door I wanted and forced me to go through a door that was just terrible!"  What God has in mind for you is better than you can possibly imagine.

Today’s Prayer: Dear God, I am so excited to see what gift you have for me today!  Amen.

Numbers 20:8-12; Deuteronomy 3:23-26, God will not change His previous final answer. (10/3/08)

Sometimes when my kids were younger, they would come to me with a request, and I would say "no."  Then they would explain, wheedle, or bargain, offering some sort of reason why I should change my mind.  Often, it worked.  Other times, I had said "no," and I meant "no."  God is not an unreasonable person, and we will see in a couple of weeks that persistent prayer can be effective even when one prayer is not.  Nevertheless, when God gives you "no" as a final answer, that's it.  Move on along.   

By the way, notice that Moses and Aaron are punished for their own actions, but Moses later blames his punishment on somebody else.  That's the second-oldest sin in the Book.

Today’s Prayer: Dear God, Help me to know when to keep praying, and when to accept your answer as final.  And by the way, help me to take responsibility for my own sins, so that I can repent.  Amen.


More About Biblical Prayer

The Purpose of Prayer
Conversations with God – Abraham
Conversations with God – Moses
Conversations with God – David and Solomon
Adoration: Sing to the Lord a New Song
Liturgical Prayer
When God Speaks
God promises to answer all prayers…
… Except the prayers of the Wicked. But if the Wicked repent, God hears them, too.
Sometimes the answer is “No.”
The disciples talk about prayer.
How Not to Pray
How to Pray: Effectively
How to Pray – Privately
How to Pray – Corporately

Copyright 2008, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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