When God Says No

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Have you ever asked God for something and gotten a “no”? If so, you might be skeptical when you hear Jesus say, in effect, ask God for what you need (Matthew 7:7-11). Seek and you will find, Jesus tells us. Knock, and the door will open. He is a good father and he will withhold no good thing from you. If you ask for food, he will not give you a useless stone or a harmful serpent.

The truth is, sometimes we don’t realize that we ask God for stones and serpents. When we ask God to give us things that are useless or harmful, the good father refuses. As sure as he will not give a serpent when his children ask for fish, neither will he give one when his children unwittingly ask for the serpent.

There is an old Puritan prayer which includes these words:

“I thank you that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with your patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it.”

Jesus tells us that our Father in heaven is a good, gracious parent. He knows what we need before we do (Matthew 6:8), and cares more deeply for our well-being than we ever could. God is deeply invested and involved in our lives. We were made not only to benefit from his kindness and generosity, but to interact with him as his children before a good Father.

We are to ask God for what we need, trusting that he gives to his children everything the best father would give and more. But sometimes our loving Father’s best response to our prayers is a “no”. The thing we ask for is not given or the question we raise is not answered. It can be easy to fixate on those responses that seem like a “no”, or worse, like silence. But we miss the goodness of God when we begin to assess his faithfulness according to what we perceive he has done for us lately.

Even in our deepest seasons of confusion or most acute times of want, we can already see what God has given to ultimately address our greatest need—which was something we, in our rebellion against him, did not ask for—redemption. But this he has already given through the sacrifice of his own Son. God has proven his love and goodness in this way:

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8).

The God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, is the same good Father Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. The “yes” he has already given in the sacrifice of his Son in response to our need will forever outweigh a million “no’s”. May our good Father give us eyes to see this, and may this be the prayer we bring as we ask, seek, and knock.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

Russ Ramsey is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is a graduate of Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary. Follow Russ on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram..