Someone cautioned me recently about the begging and pleading prayers I wrote about a few weeks ago (Nagging and Begging). She wisely reminded me that we need to be open to times when God might say “no” to our requests.
She’s right, of course. To continue to plead with God for something that clearly goes against His will is just asking for trouble. You think I’m kidding? Read about the quail that came out the Israelite’s noses if you doubt me (see Numbers 11:20).
But how do I know when God is saying “no”? That seems to be an important question. So, I spent some time thinking about this and considering other examples from Scripture. My pondering has led me to believe that while we do need to hold our requests before God with open hands, we also need to make sure we don’t give up too easily or too soon.
What would have happened, for example, if the widow in Luke 18 had stopped too soon? The judge paid no attention to her day after day after day—but she kept asking. Finally, he gave her what she needed. Jesus used her story to illustrate the need to “always pray and not give up” (verse 1).
Or, what would have happened if the blind beggar mentioned later in Luke 18 had given in to the people who tried to dissuade him from asking Jesus for help? He begged. They told him to stop. But he didn’t accept that as a “no”—he just cried out all the louder. And Jesus heard him and gave him his sight. Not only that, but Jesus commended him for his faith.
How about the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15? If ever there were a reason to give up, she had one. She cried out to Jesus and He ignored her. She kept crying out, and the disciples tried to send her away. She kept on crying out, and Jesus gave her a discouraging response. But she kept on asking. Ultimately, instead of chiding her for pushing Him too far, or for asking inappropriately, Jesus praised her. “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” He told her (verse 28).
When God wants to say “no” to our prayers, He has ways of telling us. Take Paul, for example. Three times Paul pleaded with God to remove the thorn in his flesh. Paul didn’t assume God’s answer was “no” just because his repeated prayer requests were not answered. Paul waited until God actually said “no” and gave him grace instead of removing his thorn (2 Corinthians 12:1-9).
Similarly, when James and John asked for seats of honor in God’s kingdom, Jesus made His “no” very clear (see Mark 10:35-40).
If I’m asking God for something He doesn’t want me to have, I believe He will find a way to tell me that. My job is to humbly listen for Him and to trust Him enough to accept His decisions for me.
However, too often I misinterpret circumstances, God’s silence, or long delays as a “no” from God. I wonder how many of my prayers have gone unanswered because I thought God was saying “no” when instead He was saying “Pray a little longer. I love to see your faith.” Rather than giving up too soon, I want to learn to pray until He says “no.”