It happened so many years ago.
I was in my early 20s and sitting in a church service. I’d been dating a guy and hoping we get married, but things weren’t looking so good.
That Sunday, the pastor got up and slowly announced the title of his sermon: “When God says no.”
It seemed like an arrow shot through my heart. I knew God was speaking to me.
The relationship ended shortly thereafter and I wasn’t too happy.
But years later, I was so thankful it didn’t work out.
Because if I’d married that guy, I wouldn’t have met Chuck — who eventually became my wonderful husband.
Chuck died in 2013, about six weeks before what would have been our 23rd wedding anniversary.
My trust in God has deepened as the years have passed. I’ve faced times of pain and hope.
And times when God said “no.”
Recently, I listened to a 2017 sermon by the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California.
It’s called, “Learn what to do when God says, ‘no.’”
He starts with a warning: Use these reasons to comfort yourself. Never use them with someone in pain, because you don’t know why God said “no” to them.
Rick then gives three of many reasons why God sometimes says “no.”
He has a bigger perspective.
- God can see what you can’t see. We don’t see the unintended consequences of what we’re asking. He can see the multigenerational effects. “Sometimes God says ‘no’ to your prayer to protect you,” says Rick, citing Proverbs 2:8: “God guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.”
He has a better plan
- . God’s options are unlimited. “He has — not the easiest way — but the best way that grows your faith, which sometimes requires a delayed answer,” Rick says.
He has a greater purpose.
- “God will never let your prayers interfere with your purpose. … When you’re discouraged, remember God has a greater purpose for your life.”
Rick says to be happy we need to learn that:
- You won’t understand some things until you get to heaven.
- Some things won’t change until you get to heaven. There are permanent problems, because we live in a broken world.
- Sometimes we’re going to suffer for the benefit of others. That’s redemptive suffering. Ministries have been started by people who couldn’t have a child or were struggling to recover from an addiction. “Don’t waste your pain,” Rick says. “God wants to take the greatest pain in your life and use it to benefit other people.”
Rick points out something else: God allowed his own son, Jesus, to suffer and die a terrible death on a cross so we can go to heaven.
“When he allows you to go through suffering for the benefit of other people, you are most like Christ in that moment,” Rick says. “It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but you’re growing up and becoming like Christ.”
When God says, “no,” you can react in three ways:
- Some people get mad and turn their back on God.
- Some people have lived their entire lives being bitter and miserable.
Rest in it.
- While it may not make sense and be painful, you can relax, knowing God has your best interest at heart.
What to do when God says, “no”:
- You need to trust that God does everything in goodness and love. “God loves you too much to give you everything you ask for,” Rick says.
- When in pain, pray what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane: “All things are possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Like Jesus: Affirm God’s power; he can do anything. Ask with passion — “Please give me what I ask.” Accept God’s plan — “I don’t want to go through this suffering or problem, but I want your purpose, perspective and will.
“When you pray like that, God smiles because he knows you trust him,” Rick says.
- You need to expect God to give you his grace to handle his answer. Grace is God’s power to handle pain and to do the right thing, anyway, even when it’s painful.
And Rick knows about pain. He’s dealt with a brain disorder that makes sleeping and public speaking painful.
“The very thing that has been the most painful in my life, God used to shape me and make me depend on him,” Rick says.
Rick has prayed for healing for years. He and his wife, Kay, also prayed for years for their youngest son, Matthew. But in April 2013, their 27-year-old son, who struggled with mental illness, took his own life. With what they’ve learned, the Warrens have gone on to help many other people dealing with mental illness and suicide.
“Everything I’ve learned in life, I have learned from pain,” Rick says.
Yet Rick trusts God, adding:
“If God never said, ‘yes,’ to another prayer in my life, I’d still owe him the rest of my life and you do, too. You wouldn’t be alive and saved and on your way to heaven if it wasn’t for him.”
Rick knows some people’s prayers may not have been answered yet.
For instance, maybe someone wants to get married and it hasn’t happened.
“He (God) may be protecting you from an unforeseen problem and pain,” Rick says.
And the story hasn’t ended yet, Rick adds.
Maybe someone has gone through a divorce.
“A chapter may have ended, but that’s not the end of the story,” Rick says. “God is not finished with you yet.”
Rick notes something else: “If you don’t trust God when he says, ‘no,’ it means you don’t really know him.”
“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you.” Psalm 9:10.
God isn’t going to answer every one of our prayers with a yes — and we should thank God for that, Rick says.
This I know to be true.
I believe God often says “no” to one prayer, because he has a better “yes” for us down the road.
I was sad when God said “no,” on that Sunday so many years ago — not realizing the wonderful “yes” he had in store for me later.
Will we wait for the best “yes”?
I’m not sure why God hasn’t answered all my prayers with a “yes,” but I’ve come to trust that he works for my good and he is faithful.
And some of the best “yes” answers — not the least of which is heaven — still lie ahead.
A postscript: God speaks to us through his word, the Bible, and through the Holy Spirit. He can speak through situations and other people. You can gain confirmation of what you believe God is telling you by talking with Godly people.