The Answer is No
Recently, I was listening to music and came across a line that has stuck with me: “Where do we go when our prayers are answered, but the answer is no?” Too often in life, hearing those two simple letters can derail everything we are working towards. We often have a black-and-white mentality where yes equals good, and no equals bad, but is that truly the case?
I hear people talk about unanswered prayers all the time, but we easily forget that our Father answers every prayer. The answer to the prayer depends on the plans of the Lord; if we ask Him for something that is not His will, the answer may be “no” or even “not yet.”
When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tells us, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We are taught to take everything to the Lord in prayer, but when our desires don’t align with God’s will, sometimes He will tell us “no.” Why would He do such a thing? As Jesus continues to instruct His disciples, He says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7) This can easily be misinterpreted to make God seem like some sort of genie who grants our every wish, but God isn’t a genie; He’s our loving Father. As with any parent, He is always looking out for our best interest; unlike earthly parents, He knows the outcome.
As a parent, I often have to tell my children “no.” “No, you can’t run out into the street after that ball.” “No, you can’t stay up all night when you have to get up early for school.” “No, you can’t play video games instead of doing homework.” Why do I have to tell my children “no”? For their sake, for their benefit, because, as a parent, I know the possible outcomes of the actions I am denying them, and I don’t want them to get hurt. David tells us that “I called upon the Lord in my distress; the Lord answered me and set me in an open place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.” (Psalm 118:5-6) We may not immediately see the open place that the Lord has set us in, but we know He is on our side and always will be, even when we ignore Him and do what we want anyway.
As a child, my father passed along some wisdom regarding being told no: “If you don’t ask, the answer is already no, so what do you have to lose by asking?” So where do we go when the answer to our prayers is no? We continue to press forward, knowing that God has plans for us, and His plans are good. “No” can be a stop sign in our lives, but just like driving, when we encounter a stop sign, we pause, consider our course, make sure it is safe, and then continue on our way. Sometimes that stop sign is warning us of a dead end ahead, so we need to turn in a different direction; sometimes, it’s there to keep us safe from oncoming traffic; and sometimes, it’s just there to make sure we slow down and watch out for the safety of others.
There is a children’s story that I love, The Legend of the Three Trees. It tells the tale of three trees who each have very different, grand desires, but the Lord has much bigger plans for each one. Each tree is told “no” by God, but then their true desire is fulfilled in an entirely different and much bigger way. The olive tree dreams of being a magnificent treasure chest, but when it is made into a feeding trough, it loses hope of its dream and becomes downtrodden. Until one day, a carpenter and his wife need to borrow the feeding trough in the stable as a bed for their newborn son, the greatest treasure ever to exist on this earth, God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. The other trees have similar grand dreams that seem to have been ignored, only to be filled in a way beyond their comprehension.
When the answer to our prayers is “no,” it’s not a bad thing, it just means we need redirection. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) God has a plan for us, and when He tells us “no” it simply means that He has a different, better plan than we do.