Prayer: When God says “No.”
In Prayer – Does It Make Any Difference? Philip Yancey writes, “I have sometimes found that I get an answer to my persistent request after I have learned to do without it. The answer then comes as a surprise, an unexpected gift of grace. I seek the gift, find instead the Giver, and eventually come away with the gift I no longer seek.”
Often the real point of our praying is just this sort of self transformation. Augustine pointed out that a person should approach prayer not so much that God becomes instructed, but that the one praying be constructed.
We must take caution that when we, like Jacob, decide to “wrestle with God” we remember that very often God wins. And when He does, we ought be just as joyous as when in His grace He grants our desire. We must be prepared to receive God’s “No” and move on — as Paul did regarding some uncertain personal impediment:
“…a thorn in the flesh was given to me,” he writes. “I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Cor. 12:8-9).
Paul prayed, and the Lord said “No.” What was Paul’s response? He accepted the Lord’s reply and said, “So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.” Paul adjusted his thinking to see this ‘thorn’ as God saw it: a means whereby to keep Paul from arrogance (v. 7).
As always, Jesus is our example. When faced with His greatest, most urgent and desperate personal desire He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42).
In praying thus, Christ both recognized the sovereignty and ability of the Father. He prayed in essence, “Father, here’s what I desire, but my greater desire is to do what You desire. If what You desire cannot accommodate my request, then have Your way.”
When we approach God with out requests we must never forget they are requests, not instructions! God is God. We are not. When we do come before Him in this manner—call it bold humility – we may find as did Yancey that God has answers better that our asking, and that very often that answer is simply Himself.