Did you ever pray incessantly for something, and it seems that God doesn’t hear you? You wonder if maybe he doesn’t like you! Jesus did encourage us to ask, to seek, to knock and our Father will give us what we ask him for. Surely Jesus wasn’t fibbing. Why then do our pleas sometimes apparently fall on deaf ears? In teaching about prayer, I tell my students that God always answers, but it may be in several ways besides “Yes.” Take the example of the Israelites’ request for a Messiah. In this case, God answered, “Wait awhile.” Patience and perseverance were required. Many centuries passed before the Christ was sent to save us. And he came in a way far beyond what people had hoped for: God himself in the flesh.
God sometimes answers, “No.” I just read recently that a large part of eternity will be spent thanking God for not answering our prayers. An illustration brings home this point effectively. A young boy prayed hard to have the gift his uncle had. Every night his uncle was able to remove his teeth and place them in a glass of water! When the boy grew up, he was grateful that God hadn’t answered his prayer. The all-wise God knows what’s best for us…and for others.
God may sometimes say, “I have a better idea.” Ten years ago I prayed that I would be able to write full-time. My community sent me to “do something” at St. Dominic Parish, where there was a job opening. That new ministry was and still is a blessing in my life.
Former President Jimmy Carter says that sometimes God’s answer to our prayer is “You’ve got to be kidding!”
When it seems as though God is not granting our prayers, it helps to remember that God is good and loves us. We can cultivate an attitude of trust in his provident care. We might paraphrase the beautiful words of the prophet Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stall, yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
As we draw nearer to Christmas, let’s be grateful that God cared enough to send the very best.
What is your experience of God answering a prayer without saying Yes?