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Prayer is an integral part of our relationship with God. It’s where we’re focused on Him, seeking His wisdom and, often, His interventions. The Bible tells us that God will answer, but what it doesn’t say is that we’ll like God’s answer. So what do you do when you get an answer from God that you don’t like?
Be honest with God about your feelings. Ask Him to help you process them. But don’t stay in that place of not liking God’s answer. As hard as it is to move from emotion to reason, we all have to do that as followers of Christ.
Christ, in the garden of Gethsemane, gives us the perfect foundation for dealing with this situation in Matthew 26:39: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
How do we go from an emotional response to God’s answers to a response based on trust?
1. Consider the reason for God giving us answers we don’t like. Is it for our refinement or even our safety? Is it all about God’s holiness?
Look at Paul and his “thorn in the flesh.” In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8 Paul says, “…to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for My power is made perfect in weakness.’”
So God said no. More than once, obviously since Paul pleads three times. But God in His kindness gives a reason: It’s so that God would be glorified, not Paul.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 shows Paul’s response: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God’s answer was for a purpose: It helped Paul maintain humility. Dependence. Perseverance in trials. And most important–joy in all of that because he’ll boast GLADLY. He’s content. Another version says he delights in his weaknesses and persecutions. God’s NO is working for Paul’s good and God’s glory.
2. Realize that the answer you receive may not be about or for you.
When Karen’s dad was suffering through cancer, many people prayed for his healing. God’s answer was no. But Karen’s dad became an amazing example of peace through suffering to all who came in contact with him. His witness of patient endurance, of submission, of trust in Christ, of supreme hope in the resurrection encouraged and uplifted both believers and nonbelievers alike.
3. Understand that not liking God’s answers but accepting them all the same is the heart of obedience.
We don’t obey because we like, or even agree with, God’s answers. We obey based on who God is, not what the answer is.
Moses faithfully led the Israelites out of Egypt and then after they rebel, led them around in the wilderness for forty years. Moses never gets to see the Promised Land because there was one time when he didn’t do as God asked. In Numbers 20, when they had no water and the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron as if it was all their fault, God told Moses to speak to a rock and it would gush water. But instead, Moses said to the Israelites, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drink.
But God called Moses on his disobedience and told him he couldn’t go into the promised land. We may think that’s a little thing, but God said Moses broke faith with Him and didn’t uphold God’s holiness among the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:51).
Moses pled with God in Deuteronomy 3:24-26: “At that time I pleaded with the Lord: ‘Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.’ But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me. ‘That is enough,’ the Lord said. ‘Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.'”
Moses didn’t like God’s answer. It was a hard answer. But there was nothing he could do because God’s in charge. Moses led the Israelites around all those years and he never got to enjoy the fruit.
The key to see in all this is what his heart is doing. At the end of his life, is he bitter or does He accept God’s response?
He accepts it. Moses is still faithful. He still speaks to the people on God’s behalf.
Was it a struggle to accept God’s decision? Of course, because Moses was human. But ultimately, he has a heart of obedience because of who God is.
We may not like God’s answers. We may never know the reasons this side of heaven. But we do know God, and we have to be willing to say, “This is an example of God being God, and me needing to simply submit to His will.”
4. God’s answer is based on something we can only begin to understand: His Holiness.
God answers in accordance with His holiness. His answers are also based on His knowledge and wisdom. He sees from a perspective we can only glimpse in rare moments of prayer.
We live in the immediate. God lives outside of time, and His answers are based on the knowledge He has of everything, not just of us and our lives.
Remember movie Bruce Almighty? Jim Carry’s character, Bruce, was “made God” so he could see what being God was all about. He carelessly answered everyone’s prayers with a yes. The result: utter chaos. God’s answers are perfect and perfectly timed, because He. Is. God.
5. Realize God’s answers hold benefits that we don’t see yet.
For example, Erin had a friend who’d been offered a job overseas. She’d prayed over the decision and ultimately declined the position, having never felt God give the amen to take the job. But over the years, when her career seemed to falter as a result of not taking that overseas position, she wondered and even regretted it. Now, some twenty-odd years later, she discovered that the career her daughter delights in, the career that is her daughter’s true passion and joy, could never have been possible had her daughter been living overseas for the bulk of her childhood. Only God knew that.
God is the one who is sovereign. He sees and knows everything from before the beginning of time. We have to trust that.
6. You can come in full confidence that God will fulfill His promises, but the timing and way is up to Him.
Numbers 23:18-20 says, “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”
We can trust God’s Word and His character. The problem happens when we want to put parameters on on how and when God answers us.
For example, Abraham was promised a son, a promised child of a new covenant. But Abraham and Sarah got tired of waiting and thought God needed help. Their idea did result in a son: Ishmael, born through Sarah’s servant Hagar. But Ishmael became a source of pain and struggle. Abraham pled with God for Ishmael to live under God’s blessings, and while God said He would bless Ishmael, He also said that the covenant would be with the promised child: Isaac.
The birth of Samuel shows an example of God’s perfect timing. Hannah pleads year after year for a child but God says no. Her husband’s other wife has all these kids and treats Hannah cruelly, provoking her so that when they go to their annual sacrifice, Hannah never ends up being able to eat the feast. Hannah, distraught, prays in the temple and, Eli, the priest, thinks she’s drunk.
Hannah tells Eli her struggle and he says, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to Him” (Samuel 1:17).
Seemingly, Hannah has confidence that God would ultimately answer her prayer because she gets up, goes to worship and seems at peace.
In God’s time, He does say yes. Samuel is born, whom Hannah promised to give back to the Lord. Samuel ends up living at the temple with the priest Eli, and ultimately Samuel becomes the one who leads Israel after Eli and his sons all die on the same day. This was God’s purpose for Samuel, which happened on God’s timeline, but no one could’ve foreseen it.
It’s okay to go through the emotional response of not liking God’s answers. That’s a normal human emotion when we don’t get what we hope for. But we need to move from that place of emotion to a place of trust in the One who gives us our answers to prayer.
We get past the emotions when we focus on the answer, on the Giver, not the answer itself. Our trust is in God and His proven character, not in the individual answers we receive when we pray. The verse we’ll end with is one we’ve heard over and over, but too many don’t take it to heart. Let it sink deep now. Let this be your guide when you receive an answer from God that you don’t like:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
We want to hear from you!
Have you ever gotten an answer you didn’t like from God? What did you do?
Do you struggle with God’s answers to your prayers? Here’s what to do when that happens!
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Thank you for your words of wisdom. I always love listening to your podcasts. I love your analogies from the apostle Paul, to Moses, to Hannah. How relatable to know that God’s wisdom surpasses our own.
Thanks, Rhonda! Glad you’re enjoying the podcasts! And, yes, thank God His wisdom surpasses our own! : )
To be honest, I resent God for his answer – or lack thereof – to my 22-year prayer. What kind of goodness is that? Does he really have my best interest at heart? I don’t believe my situation has any benefits in the long run, and there is no value in my life suffering.
Why even waste time and energy hoping that God will change my situation?
Thomas, I’m sorry for your struggle and understand your frustration. I have a prayer that I’ve been offering up to God for 40 years and, to my human mind, it, too, is unanswered. And there have been times I was angry about that, or even depressed. I took my emotions to God, throwing them at Him and even, one time, walking away with the vow to never utter another prayer to Him. But––and here’s how I know God has my best interest at heart––He continued to speak to my angry heart and weary spirit. He didn’t let me go. It wasn’t that He changed the situation, not that I could see, but He changed me. It took a while. I was very angry. But He drew my angry heart close, helping me focus on Him, not on my prayer. To seek Him. To see and rest in HIM and who He is. And in that, I finally understood, as best I could, that He is God. I don’t have His wisdom, understanding, power, or love. And so I surrendered my prayer, my heart, my desires, offering them to Him. And I said, as I still say, “Do with me what you will, God, for Your glory.” All I can tell you is what I know: God’s love is beyond anything we can imagine or understand. And His goodness rests in the fact that He is love. And that He who created us sees all, from beginning to end, and knows what is best for each of us. I saw a show recently about a child who had leukemia. The mother took her beloved child to be treated, but as we know, such treatments are often brutal. Painful. Frightening. And the child cried out to his mother, saying he was scared, that he wanted to go home. The pain on that mother’s face as she told her child they couldn’t go home yet tore at my heart. But she was doing the right thing. Her child suffered, but that suffering lead to remission and life. That you’ve struggled for so long grieves my heart. But even as I write that, I have a certainty deep within that God has you in His hand, and that He is at work. Just know that if you don’t have the energy or desire to keep praying, it’s okay. God has heard your prayer, and He is answering. And I will be praying, too, for you, for His presence with you, for His peace to cloak you. In His love, Karen.
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