There are an abundance of scripture promises about God answering prayer. A couple that most Christians are familiar with are, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14 NASB). Then, “All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22 NASB). Also, “All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” Mark 11:24 NASB). Why then at times do our prayers seem to go unanswered?
I was converted in the mid-seventies in the midst of the Charismatic movement. There were a lot of good things in that movement, but there were also a lot of extremes. I remember hearing one man preach that God must always say “yes” in answer to our prayers. Then I heard others say that God sometimes says “yes,” “not yet,” “wait” and sometimes “no.” God does work on a timetable (Galatians 4:4; Acts 2:1). His timing is perfect and doesn’t always match up with ours. God does also at times say no. Below are some specific times in scripture when God said no (There are times when it’s a good thing He doesn’t answer our prayers because we are often misguided and don’t know what’s best for us)
God said no to Israel concerning entering the promise land (Numbers 13-14; Hebrews 3:7-18). God through Moses commanded Israel to send twelve spies into the promise to land. He said, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:2 NKJV). They were to “See what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not” (Numbers 13:18-20 NKJV).
“They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told him, and said: We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:26-28 NKJV). They stumbled at “Nevertheless.”
Caleb said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it. But the men who had gone up with him said, We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, the land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants…and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:30-33 NKJV).
When God speaks we must move in faith and not shrink back in fear. It’s interesting that in most churches we make decisions based on a majority vote, yet the majority here were wrong. If they had listened to Caleb, they could have encouraged the people and went into the promise land. Instead they listened to the negative report of the majority, spent forty years in the wilderness and died there (Numbers 14:20-24). Caleb followed the Lord fully, had a different spirit and therefore would be able to enter the promise, but not for another forty years (Numbers 14:24). How often are we hindered by the negative report (response) of the majority? We listen to the majority instead the ONE who is following the Lord fully. Church beware! God said no to Israel concerning entering the promise land because they failed to move in faith (Hebrews 4:2), but let fear control them instead.
God said no to Moses’ entering the promise land because of his sin (Numbers 20:1-12). The people were complaining because there was no water. “Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation” (Numbers 20:6-8 NKJV). Instead of speaking to the rock, “Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly” (Numbers 20:11 NKJV). God told Moses to speak to the Rock but he hit it. God was angry with Moses because of this and said, ““Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12 NKJV).
Why was God so angry over this? What was the big deal anyway? This happened once before in Exodus 17:5–6, but that time God told Moses to strike the rock. Moses was just doing things the way he was told the time before. Why would this keep Moses from entering the promise land? Let’s look at a few things we can learn from this.
- God means what He says. When God says something we must do as He says and the way He says it.
- God expects obedience. Saul did a similar thing when going to battle with the Amalekites. Saul was told to utterly destroy everything and everyone. Instead, he kept the best of the flocks. When Samuel arrived he rebuked him saying, “Why did you not obey the voice of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:19)? He went on to say, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness (insubordination) as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:22-23 KJV). How often do we cover up our disobedience with supposed spirituality?
- We mustn’t depend on what worked in the past. Just because it was right to strike the rock the first time doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it the next time. God is always doing something new or in new ways (Isaiah 43:18-19). He doesn’t always do things the same way.
- The Rock in the wilderness was Christ. Paul said, “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4 NKJV).
- Christ was to be struck only once for the sins of the people. The first time this happened Moses was to strike the rock to get water to come out of it. This time he was to speak to it and not hit it and notice he hit it twice. Christ is not to be crucified over and over. That’s why we don’t get saved over and over. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 KJV).
- Anger is seldom beneficial and usually has consequences. “For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20 KJV). We are to “Be angry, and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26 KJV). The Bible says, “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11 NASB).
- There is a price tag to sin. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:6 NKJV).
- Speech is powerful for those who are in Christ. Let’s take note of a few things concerning our speech.
- Our speech is the means of our justification or condemnation. “Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 NKJV).
- We must confess Christ once we have believed in Him (Romans 10:8-10; Matthew 10:32-33).
- We must simply speak for our spiritual language to be manifest (John 7:37-39; Acts 2:4).
- What we say can bring fulfillment to life (Proverbs 18:20).
- Life and death are in the power of our tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
God said no to Balaam (Numbers 22-25). Balak, King of Moab, saw all that Israel did to the Amorites and “Sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, saying: Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed. So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner’s fee” (Numbers 22:5-7 NKJV). Balaam sought the Lord about what He would have him do and God said, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12 NKJV). He told the messengers to return to Balak and Balak sent messengers again who were more honorable and more money (silver and gold, etc.) This time God allowed Balaam to go with them, but the Lord was not pleased that Balaam persisted.
On his way, Balaam was riding his donkey and the Angel of the Lord stood in his way with his sword drawn. God allowed his donkey to see the Angel of the Lord there, therefore the donkey turned aside into a field. Balaam became angry and struck the donkey. Then they came to a narrow place between two walls and seeing the Angel again with the sword, the donkey pressed into the wall and crushed Balaam’s foot and he struck the donkey again. They went a little further where there was an even narrower place, the donkey saw the angel again, the donkey laid down under Balaam and his anger was aroused and struck the donkey the third time. At this point, God opened the donkey’s mouth and it spoke saying,
“What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times? And Balaam said to the donkey, Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you! So the donkey said to Balaam, Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you? And he said, No. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face. And the Angel of the Lord said to him, Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me. The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live. And Balaam said to the Angel of the Lord, I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back. Then the Angel of the Lord said to Balaam, Go with the men, but only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak” (Numbers 22:28-35 NKJV).
Balak took Balaam to a place where he could see Israel so he would curse them, but God put a blessing in Balaam’s mouth instead. Balak kept taking him to other places where he could see Israel, insisting he curse them. Each time he did this, Balaam would go to the Lord asking if he should curse Israel and every time God would again cause him to pronounce a blessing on Israel. Balak became increasingly angry telling him, Do you not realize that I can promote you to honor. Balaam responded, “Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it…Did I not tell you, saying, All that the Lord speaks, that I must do?” (Numbers 22:20, 26 NKJV). Ultimately, though God would not let him curse Israel, he told Balak how Israel could be cursed and Balak got the women of Moab to entice the men of Israel to commit harlotry with them and get them to worship and sacrifice to their gods and those who participated were killed. “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Harass the Midianites, and attack them; for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you” (Numbers 25:16 NKJV).
Beware: There are times the Lord will let us have our way if we persist, to our dismay. Once God has clearly told us no, we must not persist against His will. If we persist God will often give us what we want but we will be walking contrary to Him and He will set His face against us. Balaam persisted because of his greed. His desire was not for money alone but for the power, honor and prestige that would be bestowed upon him. We must guard ourselves against wrong motives like this. If we desire to proceed, even in doing the right thing, because of a desire for money, power, honor and prestige our motives are contrary to God. That is what Peter was dealing with when he said, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2 KJV).
If we will do the right thing, speaking and doing all that God has appointed us to, with only the desire to serve God and His people, God will take care of us. Let God’s people also beware. When God’s man is serving with the proper motive and working diligently to give us His Word, it is His people’s responsibility to make sure they are well taken care of. “The worker is worthy of his support” (Matthew 10:10 NASB). And again, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing, and The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 NASB). Read also Romans 15:26-28 and Galatians 6:6.
God said no to David’s request for his child’s life (2 Samuel 12:1-23). David had sinned with Bathsheba and she became pregnant. David tried to cover up their sin by bringing Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battlefield, hoping he’d sleep with his wife and it would look as if it was his child. Uriah was a noble man and refused to go to his wife while his men were still on the battlefield. Ultimately, David gave orders for him to be placed on the front lines in the battle, where who knew he’d likely be killed and he was. Nathan, the prophet, rebuked David for his sin and said God would forgive David but the child would not survive. Bathsheba gave birth to the child and it became ill. David mourned and prayed for the child, hoping God would have mercy on him and the child but the child ultimately died.
There is a price tag on sin. The Bible says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7 NASB). We seldom get by with sin, even in this age of grace. This is true spiritually as well as with natural laws. If you jumped off the top of the Empire State building, you could ask God to forgive you on your way down and He know doubt would, but you’d still splat when you hit the ground – GRAVITY!
God still disciplines His children, whom He loves. The Bible says, “Do not regard lightly (Despise not) the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NASB). Notice David’s response (2 Samuel 12:20-23):
- He accepted the discipline at God’s hand (Hebrews 12:5-11). He allowed God’s correction to have its perfect work in him.
- He didn’t complain or blame God (Philippians 2:14). Most would complain, blame God or whine about how unfair God or life is. (2 Samuel 12:20 NASB; Hebrews 10:25).
- “He came into the house of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:20 NASB; Hebrews 10:25).
- “He came into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20 NASB). David had messed up pretty bad. Most of us would feel pretty hypocritical about worshiping in the House of God after doing what he had and all he’d gone through. We’d also, no doubt, wonder who might be watching us standing and worshiping, knowing what we had done. David knew God was worthy of his worship and was committed to His praises (Hebrews 13:15).
- He didn’t mope but got up and went on with life. “He came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate” (2 Samuel 12:20 NASB). Paul said, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14 NASB).
God said no to Elijah because he had something better for him (1 Kings 19:1-4). Over the previous three and a half years or so Elijah had been through a lot. He prophesied against and rebuked Ahab the king, fled, there was a three and a half year drought, he was provided for first by ravens and then by a widow, he returned to the land and had a contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and was victorious, he prayed and it rained again. After all this took place, Ahab’s wife, Jezabel made claim saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (1 Kings 19:2 NASB). Elijah “was afraid and arose and ran for his life and…went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:3-4 NASB).
He had all he could take. He just wanted to go be with the Lord and be gone. He wanted to die, he couldn’t take it any longer. But God had something else in mind. After all He’d been through, God was determined Elijah was not going out in defeat. God’s plan for him was a glorious one. He would leave with more than an adequate replacement and in a blaze of glory. It was soon after this experience under the Juniper tree that God spoke to Elijah in a still and quite voice, gave him some promises and much needed encouragement and sent him on his way.
Next we see him calling his replacement, Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21). We see Elisha following him to Bethel, then Jericho and finally the Jordan (2 Kings 2:1-12). He refused to leave Elijah’s side even though the journey was difficult. At the end of their journey, “Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you. And Elisha said, Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me. He said, You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you…As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven” (2 Kings 2:9-11 NASB). Instead of dying, God took him straight to heaven, without tasting death and in a blaze of glory!
God often says no to us because He has something better in mind for us. We want to be taken out of our situations and troubles but God desires to take us through them victoriously. The scriptures tell us, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 NKJV). We may be longing for something specific, crying out to God, claiming He promised to give us the desire of out heart (Psalms 37:4-5) and when He doesn’t grant it we get discouraged. It may just be that God has something much better in store for us, something that will far surpass what we were requesting. Don’t give up, hang in there, keep trusting and looking for the good things He has in store for you. If God says no, it could be He has something much better for you.
God said no to the Syrophenician women because He wanted to test her faith (Mark 7:24-30). A Syrophenician women, whose daughter was tormented by an evil spirit, “came and fell at His (Jesus’) feet” and “kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter” (Mark 7:25-26 NASB). This women was both desperate and persistent. Jesus seemed to actually discourage her. He said, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 NASB). In essence He said, you’re a dog leave me alone. If that doesn’t discourage you nothing will. But she persisted and “Said to Him, Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 NASB). Because of her persistence Jesus said, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter” (Mark 7:29 NASB). Her faith passed the test overwhelmingly. He wanted to see if she really believed, if she’d persist, if she’d continue to trust Him regardless and see what was in her heart.
God said no to James and John because of divine appointment (Mark 10:35-45). James and John came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask. And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you? They said to Him, Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10:35-37 NKJV). This was a bold request. Jesus responded, “To sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared” (Mark 10:40 NKJV).
How often do those in the church try to assert themselves into positions they are not called to and frequently have no gifting in? They want to be worship leaders or members on the worship team, elders or deacons, on the church board and even some try and push themselves into a ministry or pastoral position when they are not called to it. The scriptures tell us, “No man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God” (Hebrews 5:4 NKJV). We try to take an honor to ourselves when God has not called us. Paul said, “As we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office” (Romans 12:4 KJV). We must take care that we fit in the position God has appointed us to and not where He has not.
It’s interesting that Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (Mark 10:38 NKJV)? He was referring to the baptism and cup of His suffering. We don’t realize there is a price to certain callings. The higher the calling, the higher the price that must be paid. Beware lest you assert yourself into a position that is more than you can handle. Paul had a high calling on his life and God said of him, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16 KJV). If we are indeed called, God will give us the grace for the calling we have received of Him. If we try and fit in a position we are not called to, it will likely be a cup we are unable to bare and will cause problems for the work of God as well.
God said no to Jesus because of the importance of His mission (Luke 22:41-47). Just prior to His arrest Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done….And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly – fervently” (Luke 22:42-43 NKJV). He knew what He was about to face at the cross. He would face not only the physical pain of the cross but also separation from the Father. He was saying, If there is any other way, take this from me. God the Father said no to Jesus because of the importance of the mission He had. There was no other way. If mankind was to be forgiven, He would have to bare the full pain of the cross. It bothers me when people try and say there is any other way to get to heaven other than through Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). If there would have been any other way, Jesus’ request would have been granted and He would have escaped the cross.
There will times we don’t clearly understand God’s plan in our lives. There will be situations and circumstances when God will say no because our mission is of grave importance. We may or may not see what’s ahead down the road. We may be inquiring and requesting things of God and God knows if He were to grant our request we wouldn’t accomplish what He has for us to do. He will say no because He has some great purpose for our life that perhaps has yet to be revealed to us. It’s in these times that we must trust Him. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NKJV). There’s a reason for what we’re going through. If God is not taking us out, it’s because He’s working on something far greater. The main thing is that we be in submission to His will in our lives.
God said no to Paul concerning the thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Paul said, “A thorn in the flesh was given to me..Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NKJV). The reasons for God saying no in a situation as this could be because He wants us to depend on His grace, keep us humble or from exalting ourselves or so we we might become strong or stronger (2 Corinthians 12:7).
No one knows for sure what the thorn in Paul’s flesh really was. We can speculate but I believe it was left open so it could apply to us in whatever area we might be facing. There may be times when God says to us, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV). Below are a few different scenarios as to what Paul’s thorn might have been. Remember, these are all speculative. No ones knows for sure.
- Physical infirmity. We know that when with the Galatians, Paul experienced some sort of physical ailment. He said, “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” (Galatians 4:13-14 NKJV). Some have alluded to the fact that he had bouts of malaria or epilepsy, he had arthritis, or that he had a stammer.
- Poor eyesight. Some have suggested that he had poor eyesight which he could have been alluding to in Galatians 4:14, “If possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.”
- His appearance. It could have been something to do with his appearance. Tradition tells us Paul most probably was Bald, hunchback, poor eye sight and talked with a lisp or stuttered.
- Ex-wife. Yes, it is clear Paul was single throughout the entirety of his ministry. However, Paul was Jewish, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. For the Jews it was of extreme importance that they be married and propagate their race, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28 NKJV). It is likely he had to be married to be a member of the Sanhedrin. If this was so, It’s likely that Paul’s wife left him when he got saved and he spent the rest of his life celibate.
- Unconquered sin. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees and as such prided himself on keeping the law to the most minute detail. If there was some sin that he wasn’t able to conquer, he would have to lean on God’s grace. Hence, ““My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV). Compare with Romans 6:19.
Praying in opposition to God’s will. John wrote, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him (1 John 5:14-15). If we know God grants our petitions (prayers) when we ask in accord with His will, we also must conclude that if we were to pray in opposition to His will He would say no. In fact, according to this passage, we must take it a step further. When we pray in opposition to God’s will, He doesn’t just say no but He doesn’t even hear our prayer. That’s why it’s so vitally important we seek out God’s will before even praying. Then once we are sure of His will we can pray in faith.