When the Answer Is "No"
Have you ever prayed for something that seemed good, reasonable, unselfish, and God-glorifying, and yet the answer was still “no”? We often say that prayer is God’s means of appointing His will, but to borrow a familiar Waypoint metaphor, what happens when God doesn’t give us the Doritos we earnestly request? Sometimes, despite faithful prayer, the marriage still dissolves, the adoption still falls through, the family member does not convert, the cancer still spreads, and the child is still lost.
Sometimes the answers to prayer are visible and undeniable. My faith and my joy grow when I hear exciting stories of redemption, healing, new life, and God’s provision in my brothers’ and sisters’ lives. It’s fun to look at a situation in reverse, tracing God’s hand, and say along with others, “Only He could have done that.” When I share positive answers to my own longings and requests, it helps me remember God’s goodness and give credit to him.
Yet, what do we do with the dreams that go unrealized, the pain that doesn’t lift, and the resolution that does not come? Do we buckle down and pray longer and harder, hoping that if we do this prayer thing right, the right answer will come? Do we simply sigh and accept our fate? Do we secretly wonder if God is really good, or powerful, or concerned about our lives?
It is comforting to know that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to his father, asking that “this cup may pass.” Though he does set an example for us to follow, the language used to describe this scene does not seem to paint a picture of a teacher simply modeling for his students what it means to pray in crisis but a man dreading what will follow, earnestly pleading for another way but trusting in God above his desire. We know the end of that story, and praise God, the cup did not pass, but Jesus fulfilled God’s will and our salvation was purchased, and the world was reconciled back to God.
There is so much to learn here. I love that Jesus wanted his friends close by (though they just couldn’t fight the urge to sleep). I am reminded to call on my brothers and sisters in Christ for support - even though their response may not be perfect. I love that Jesus is honest about His desire, repeating His request, raw with emotion. He, more than anyone else, must have understood God’s sovereignty and what was needed for redemption. Yet, as a child to His father, He asked for another way. Then, in the end, He prayed for God’s will above His own.
When I base my faith on whether or not God gives me what I deem good, and I think of prayer as a power I wield, I am on shaky ground. However, when I base my faith on the character of God, I am on firm footing. For it is because that He is a kind, generous, gracious, and loving father, I can place my unedited longings before Him. And, it is because He is just, omnipotent, wise, and faithful, I can have the courage to pray for His will.
I’m not there yet. I’m so glad God is patient with me. I’m glad there are storehouses of treasures within His word I have not yet uncovered that will teach me more about who He really is. I’m thankful for the trials that have helped me trust him more and the lavish gifts, that I am prone to take for granted, that remind me of grace. I’m grateful that He has placed me within this local body so I don’t have to cry out alone. I was reminded of this blessing when I glanced up on Sunday and saw all of the prayer huddles around the sanctuary. I am reminded of this when I get the privilege of praying for others during worship or experience the blessing of someone else praying for me. May God’s will be done in all of our requests and may we grow to believe His will is always good.