When God Says No

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:8-10

As a child, I was taught to pray to God for anything I needed. I prayed for the food I would eat, the challenges of school, and also, with some frequency, for a pony. While I can confidently say that God provided for me, through my parents with food to eat and through my teachers with everything I needed to learn, I never once got a pony. Cocker Spaniels are cute and all, but they are not ponies. What happens when God says no?

Like any child asking their parent for something, we children of God don’t always ask for what is good for us. My children have asked me to eat a whole quart of ice cream in one sitting, to buy the entire Lego aisle, and to wear the same clothes four days in a row without washing, just to give a few examples. To each of these and many other outrageous requests, I have offered a firm “No.”

God says no to plenty of prominent, faithful people in the Bible. Moses asked to enter the Promised Land, and God said no. David begged God to heal his sick son, and the child died. In the verses above, Paul recounted that when he asked God to take away some unknown trouble, God’s answer was no. Paul understood that this “no” from God was for the sake of Christ’s power dwelling more perfectly in Paul’s weakness.

It seems backward, really. How could the heart-felt prayers of such faithful people receive a “no”? How could Paul say that he is strong when he is weak? How, for that matter, can Lutherans say that we are both sinner and saint all at once? How could Jesus say that the first would be last and the last would be first? Like this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

The answers we get to our prayers are not the answers we expect when we expect God to act according to our ways. Or, to put it another way: God always acts like God. We always act like God’s children. Sometimes, that means we ask for what we don’t need and what might even hurt us. When we do this, God does what any good parent would do: says no. We might not like it. We might pout. We might even throw a temper tantrum. As I say to my children when they turn to such tactics: the answer is still no.

When God says no, I hope you don’t pout too often. Instead, let those “no”s be a reminder to trust that God’s ways and thoughts and plans are different from ours. That God’s ways and thoughts and plans are good, even when we don’t like it. That God’s power in Jesus Christ may show up all the more strongly in your life when God says no.

God, I know that your ways are not the same as mine. Even so, I struggle when I hear you answer “no” to my prayers. Dwell in me with Christ’s power, so that my weaknesses may show your strength and I may trust you more. Amen.