ANSWER TO PRAYER IS NO - WHY?
Some answers to why God says no at times
My mother was hospitalized with cancer the summer of my
Day after day that summer, I knelt at a crude altar at a church
camp in Missouri, praying for her healing.
God answered my prayer: The answer was no. My mother died
September 29 of that year.
All of us can remember similar moments when we prayed and God
answered ... with a no. And no matter how many testimonies of
answers to prayer we may hear, no matter how many books we read
or how many preachers we hear extolling the power of prayer, it's
the times the answer has been no that stick in our minds - and in
But we are not alone. In fact, God's Word contains instances when
the prayers of even the greatest saints of God were answered with
WHEN THE HEART IS NOT RIGHT
Moses was a man of faith, a man of prayer. It was he who had
announced the ten plagues on Egypt. It was he whom God used to
part the Red Sea. It was he who received the Ten Commandments
from the hand of God. It was he who had led the children of
Israel out of bondage in the land of Egypt right to the very
threshold of Canaan. Yet this man of God had a prayer that was
After the Israelites had defeated the kings of Bashan and
Heshbon, Moses told Joshua that God would give their people
similar victories over all the kingdoms of the Promised Land. And
then Moses described to the people of Israel the request he had
made of God:
"Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan -
that fine hill country and Lebanon." But because of you
the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. "That
is enough," the LORD said. "Do not speak to me anymore about
this matter" (Deuteronomy 3:25,26).
God's servant, nearly at the banks of the Jordan, prayed, "Let me
go over." And God said no.
Why? Because the children of Israel - and Moses himself, in fact
- had disobeyed God, and that disobedience blocked the answer to
Moses' prayer. Many times, when the answer is no, it is because
the heart is not right.
As Isaiah explained, "Your iniquities have separated you from
your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he
will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). We may be indignant when God seems
not to hear our prayers, but often the fault, as Shakespeare
wrote in Julius Caesar, is in ourselves. When the answer is no,
we might ask ourselves if our prayers are hindered because our
hearts are not right.
WHEN THE TIME IS NOT RIGHT
Few names in the Bible shine as brightly as the prophet Elijah.
His story is set against the backdrop of a nation that had turned
their backs on God and had turned instead to the worship of other
One day Elijah challenged the prophets of the false god, Baal, to
a contest on Mount Carmel. The priests of Baal prepared an altar
with a sacrifice on it, and both parties to the contest agreed
that they would pray to their god. Whichever god answered by
sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice would be
declared the one true God.
The priests of Baal lost that contest when the God of Elijah
answered the prophet's prayer of faith by consuming the sacrifice
Elijah had prepared. All the people fell to the ground, crying,
"The Lord, he is God!" Elijah routed the priests of Baal that
Soon thereafter, however, an exhausted Elijah began to worry
about what Queen Jezebel might try to do to him in retaliation.
He took off for the desert and, after a full day's journey, came
to rest under a tree.
"I have had enough, Lord," he prayed. "Take my life." Elijah -
the great champion of God, the great man of faith, the great
prophet of Israel - prayed, "Let me die." And God said no.
Why? Not because Elijah's heart was not right; God did not rebuke
his prophet as he had Moses and the children of Israel. No,
Elijah's case was different. It illustrates the fact that many
times when the answer is no, it is because the time is not right.
God did eventually answer Elijah's prayer, in a manner of
speaking. Not many days later, as Elijah and his new companion,
Elisha, were walking along the Jordan River, "Suddenly a chariot
of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of
them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind" (2 Kings
As it was with Elijah, so it may be with us. Sometimes when God
answers no, we may find hope and encouragement in knowing that He
knows best and that His timing is perfect.
WHEN THE PRAYER IS NOT RIGHT
Like Elijah and Moses, the apostle Paul is another towering
figure of faith. More than anyone else, Paul was responsible for
the rapid and effective spread of Christianity throughout the
civilized world of the first century. His inspired writings form
the foundation of the church's doctrine. Yet even this great
apostle of God knew the frustration a praying soul feels when the
answer is - no.
Paul once wrote to the Christians in Corinth:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these
surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn
in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three
times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But
he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power
is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:1-9).
We don't know what Paul's thorn in the flesh was. Some have
speculated that it was a form of epilepsy. Others suggest it
could have been an eye disease. Still others think it was a
difficult wife! But whatever, it was an affliction that brought
suffering and agony and prompted Paul to pray three times for its
removal. But God said no.
Why? Paul answers the question himself: Because the prayer was
not right. Paul did not see, until God pointed it out to him
somehow, that his thorn in the flesh was being used by God for
The apostle John wrote:
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
what we asked of him (1 John 5:14,15).
But, of course, we often ask according to our own wills. As James
wrote, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with
wrong motives ..." (James 4:3). We tell God what we want instead
of asking what He wants. We promote our wills to Him instead of
allowing Him to promote His will in us. Consequently, often when
the answer is no, it is because the prayer is not right.
God always answers prayer according to His righteousness, His
timing, and His will. If we would make sure, when we pray, that
our hearts are right, we might receive the answers we seek. If we
submit to God's timing, we will see God makes everything
beautiful - in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And if we ask
according to His will and not our own, "we know that we have what
we asked of him" (1 John 5:15).
Thus, the solution to unanswered prayer lies not in changing
God's mind but in changing how we pray.
Bob Hostetler lives in Hamilton, OH. Scripture quotations were
taken from the New International Version.
May 2004, Bible Advocate, Church of God (Seventh Day), Denver,
Entered on this Website July 2004