When God says, “No.” This is a sermon that needs to be preached, but one that might not be so easy to hear.
As we study the Bible on the subject of prayer, the question arises: Does God always listen to our prayers? The simple answer is: it depends. Scripture speaks a lot about God hearing our prayers. But, the Bible also tells us that there are prayers to which God does not listen. Then, 1 John 5:16 advises us against praying for someone who is sinning unto death. So, there are at least three kinds of prayers: prayers that God hears, prayers that God does not hear, and prayers God does not want to hear. Today we will look at some scriptures on this and, I hope, take to heart our need to be a kind of people whose prayers God will hear and answer. Remember, “No” is an answer, but generally, whenever the Bible speaks of God answering prayer, it is in terms of giving us what we ask, or at least demonstrating His presence so we know we are being led by Him. When we don’t get any confirmation at all, there’s a greater problem. 1 Samuel 28:6 says that Saul inquired of the Lord and the Lord did not answer him either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets. In other words, God was not listening to Saul’s prayers. In this case, God was not saying, “No.” It was worse than that; God was not saying ANYTHING! That’s the dreaded state that Saul was in, so that Saul showed his true colors and went to a witch to get his answers. What does that tell you about Saul? I wonder what Saul’s prayer life was like. You see, Saul wanted control. He seemed to think he could manipulate God, or control his circumstances in order to get what Saul wanted. Saul even sounded religious doing so. 1 Sam. 13:7-14 is an early example of how Saul tried to control things when he got desperate.
It is much better to get a clear “No” from heaven than silence. When Saul couldn’t get answers he wanted from God, he tended to take matters into his own hands. Do you ever do that? When God says, “No” what do you do? Another problem is: How do you know God is saying, “No” and not just saying, “Wait.” How can you be sure it’s a “No” answer from God? Is there any confirmation that you should look for? I think that there is. Besides not getting what you asked, God can make it clear that He is saying “No.”
Let’s notice two cases for a “No” answer to prayer that came with a confirmation. 2 Cor. 12:7-10 tells us how Paul prayed three times to be freed from what he called a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to buffet Paul and keep him humble. God answered Paul’s prayer with a confirmation. He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Now, that’s the kind of “No” I want from God, don’t you? Not a silent sense of distance where I don’t have any evidence that God hears my prayers. I just want to know that He hears me. The “Yes” answers are clear enough! It’s the “no” answers that I’d like confirmation on. Can I get an “Amen?”
Our second case for a “No” answer is, perhaps the most important one to learn from. Here we see that you can be perfect and God tell you, “No.” Even more: You can be aware that God will say, “No” and still pray for a “yes” as you struggle to accept God’s answer of “No.” The gospels tell us: The night our Lord, Jesus, was arrested He prayed three times to the Father, “Father, all things are possible for You, take this cup from me. Yet, not my will, but your will be done.” Did Jesus not know that He was sent here to die for us? Did Jesus not know that this was God’s plan? Yes, but!!! Prayer is the place we can go for strength to accept God’s will. As Jesus prayed, Luke 22:43 tells us that an angel came to strengthen Him, but then the next verse says, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, was fervently in prayer and God the Father heard His prayers. Hebrews 5:7-9 (read). Did Jesus get an answer from heaven?
What was the answer to the prayer of Jesus? The answer was “No” to His request to have the cup taken away, but it was not without a confirmation and strength, even that of an angel. Does God confirm His answer of “No” to us today? Or does God simply remain silent and let us figure it out?
Let me make this personal. Over the years I’ve prayed for healing for our members who are sick and dying and then… I often ended up preaching their funerals. That’s a clear “No.” But it makes me wonder at times, am I doing what God wants here. Do you know what I’m saying? Are we not taught in God’s word to pray for the sick and should we not pray with faith that God CAN heal them? Of course we are, and I have also seen some “Yes” answers to our prayers. I have seen God’s healing work in my own family. But many times when I’ve asked for healing, God has answered, “No.” What do you do when God says, “No?” Do we still believe God can do anything and nothing is impossible with God, as Jesus said.
I have prayed for years that we at this church would baptize 100 people in a year. I’ve fasted and asked others to join me in this prayer. Is that foolish? Am I being out of line by continuing to ask, seek, knock and pray for something I believe God Himself desires? I know He does! Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16 are Jesus’ own words. Is God saying “No?” Or am I not praying hard enough, or for the wrong reasons? Well, until I get the “NO” confirmation, or die, I will just keep on asking. Now, I must say that I have changed my prayer from 100 baptisms to asking God, “Help us make 100 new disciples in one year.” Still, I wonder, am I only trying to get something I want? Would a “yes” answer stroke my pride to much? Maybe if I can just die and get out of God’s way, He can answer that prayer here. I love what Jesus said in Luke 18:1-8. Would you join me in asking God to help us make 100 disciples in one year? Will you pray to be ready for a “Yes?” Remember Moses? He wanted so much to lead Israel into the promised land! But God said, “No.” Look at Deut. 1:37-38, 3:23-28, 4:21-22. Moses begged God, but God said, “That’s enough! The answer is “NO!” Now go get Joshua, He will lead them in.” If our next preacher is named Joshua, you guys better look out! 100 new disciples may be right around the bend!
Imagine if God always answered every prayer we prayed giving us whatever we asked. What kind of God would that be and what kind of people would that cause us to become? We have terms for children who get their way too much, do we not? Spoiled is actually one of the nicer terms.
God does not spoil His children, He disciplines us. Hebrews 12 makes that clear. No wise and loving father will give his sons or daughters whatever they say they want. How much more will God refuse to grant all of our requests in the way we want things. Prayer is not about getting our way. I’m learning through prayer that this is really about trying to find God’s way.