By David Mizrany
There is a beautiful song by Garth Brooks that goes like this:
Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers.
Remember when you’re talking
To the man upstairs,
That just because He may not answer
Doesn’t mean He don’t care.
Some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers.
The song is about being thankful that we may not get everything we pray for, because in the end God may have a much better plan, one we will realize we are much happier for when we receive it. As you may know, the song tells of a married man and his wife running into his “old high school flame.” Meeting her brings back to him the memories of how in love he had been with her and of him praying and asking God to “make her mine.” But in the end, he is so happy that God had not granted him what he’d asked for, because he is thankful for what God had in store for him instead: his wife.
This song highlights a key issue of many people’s faith: unanswered prayers. People can be tempted to abandon their faith in God over a prayer He “failed” to answer, or, more realistically put, a wish He failed to grant. It is a misconception of God that is so easy for us to fall into when we are focused on our desires and wishes. This can lead to the thinking that if we didn’t get what we asked God for, that means that God didn’t answer our prayers. That He heard us and just kind of stared blankly back down at us. Or that He misplaced His Great Big Book of To-Dos and forgot about us.
If that was the way God actually is, if that was the God I serve, my faith would be shaken, too! Thankfully, God is nothing like that. God always answers prayer, always. Sometimes the answer is an immediate “yes,” sometimes it’s a “wait,” and sometimes—and this is the important bit—it’s a “no.”
Often, it’s the no’s that can be the best for us. It’s God keeping us from doing or having something that He knows is second best. Sometimes He says no because He knows it will actually turn out to be against our best interests in the long run. Just like a good parent, God knows that even if it makes us sad, that saying “no” to us really is best for us.
An example of this comes from the Bible. Jesus’s close friend, Lazarus, was deathly sick. Mary and Martha implored Jesus to come and heal him. They had faith in Him, and they had a very important and pressing need. It’s not like they were asking for some relatively insignificant desire; this was a literal life-and-death situation. And yet He didn’t say “yes” and rush to their aid. He had the big picture in mind, and the answer that He gave them was the one He knew would be best in the long run. Lazarus died due to Jesus’ delay. But when Jesus did go, though Lazarus had been dead for four days by the time He arrived, He still had the big picture in mind. And when the people showed faith, Jesus rewarded them with the answer that they had been asking for.
So even when God says “no” to me, I’ve learned to not allow it to shake my faith in Him. If what I pray for does not come to pass, the prayer hasn’t gone “unanswered,” it’s just that I simply did not receive the answer that I had in mind.
When we ask God for something, of course, we don’t ever want God to say “no.” If we don’t want it, we don’t ask for it. We want God to say “yes” every time. Or at the very least we want Him to say “wait.” Driven by our own desires—even the best and most righteous desires—we often forget that God has the big picture, and so our trust in Him tends to wane. But sometimes “no” is the answer. The best answer.
It can be hard to understand why, but understanding why was never our job. Our job is to trust that God knows best. Sometimes that takes more faith than anything else, to trust rather than to understand, and through everything to trust and understand that He has heard—when He says “yes,” when He says “wait,” and when He says “no.”