When God Says "NO"

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

One of the most profound passages of Scripture that deal with the power and possibility of prayer is Jeremiah 33:3. It says, "Call to me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known."


Notice those opening words “Call to me, and I will answer you.” We discovered a few weeks ago that there’s no such thing as an unanswered prayer. According to this passage, we can call to God, and He will answer us. 


But how does God answer prayer? Look at the life of Hezekiah. He had just received word from Isaiah that his life was soon ending, and he ought to set his house in order. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and began to pray to God. As a result, God responded and added fifteen years to his life. 


There are moments like this when you and I pray that God will immediately answer, but there are also moments when God will delay or defer an answer. 


You recall when Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, was sick and on the verge of death. They sent word to Jesus to come back to Bethany. The Bible says that rather than Jesus rushing to return to support Mary and Martha and heal Lazarus, Jesus delayed His return. He took His time.


As a result of Jesus taking his time, Lazarus died. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Mary, and Martha said, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus said, “No. I allowed him to go from sickness unto death because when I resurrect him, no one else can get the glory but me.” 


There are moments in our lives, like Mary and Martha, when we pray to God for support, guidance, and deliverance. We can easily handle life when God says yes and does what we’ve asked. But are you able to also manage life when we pray, and God defers, delays, or even denies our requests? 


There are moments when the answer to our prayer is a resounding no. As if God says, “Prayer denied.” We find it easier to deal with it when it’s just delayed or deferred. But what do we do when He outright denies it? 


Do you know why we have problems when God denies our prayers? It is because we have become addicted to this theology that says, in essence, "Just name it and claim it. Call it, and haul it. Blab it, and grab it." It's as if God has given us a blank check, and whatever we ask God for, God will do it. 


There are moments when you and I pray, and if He chooses not to meet our request, we hope, at the very least, He’s just delaying or deferring it. Deep inside, none of us want the possibility of God denying our prayers. 


When you study Scripture, you will discover that there have been many moments when God denied requests. Look at Abraham. He asked God to bless him through Ishmael as he would seek to bless the nations in Genesis 17 and 19, but God said, “No.” 


Moses stood at the threshold of the Promised Land, ready to go inside to enjoy it, but God said, “No.”


David went to God on multiple occasions throughout the Book of Psalms. He prayed to God that He would annihilate His enemies, and God said, “No. I’m not going to annihilate your enemies, but I will prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies.”


In the New Testament, James and John approached Jesus and asked, “When You enter Your kingdom, let me sit on the right and let my brother sit on the left.” Jesus said, “No.” 


God even said no to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “Let this bitter cup pass by me.” 


In Acts 16, Paul wanted to go to Asia to advance the Kingdom of God and do greater work for God, and God said to Paul, “No.” Not only then, but in our text today, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul prayed to God three times that God would extract the thorn out of his flesh, and God said, “No.” 


These examples show that we are in good, biblical company. The reality, sometimes God will say no. 




The question we can ask then is, what are the reasons that God would say no? Why would God reject our requests? 


Let’s explore some possibilities. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things to consider. 


Praying Foolish Prayers

There are moments when God will say no to foolish prayers. You know the prayer: You go to purchase gas and see the Mega Ball numbers on the Mega Ball machine. You get some tickets, take a moment to pray, and ask God, “God, if you would, just bless me. Bless me.” Foolish prayers are mindless, thoughtless, pointless, or aimless, and God is not obligated to say yes. 


Praying Forbidden Prayers

Forbidden prayers are the prayers that God has prohibited us from in Scripture. God automatically says no to these. For example, it’s forbidden to pray to have somebody else’s husband or wife. God would not bless any relationship or endeavor that violates His commandments, statutes, precepts, or laws. 


Praying Fleshly Prayers

God also says no when we’re praying fleshly prayers that do not have the right motive. In James 4:3, we read, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” God says no when prayers are motivated by selfish motives. 


Praying Faithless Prayers

James 1:6 reads, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” When we pray, we ought to have faith because, without faith, it is impossible to please Him. When we’re praying faithless prayers, God will say no.


Praying Feuding Prayers

In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter says when we find ourselves feuding and fighting with our spouse, our prayers may be hindered, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Make sure you are not feuding with others when you pray.


Praying Foul Prayers

The Lord will not listen to us when our prayers have been fouled with sin because we cherish iniquity. 


Praying Faithful Prayers

Here’s the one that is challenging to us when God says no: a faithful prayer. This is a type of prayer that you would assume God would say yes to. 


“Mama is sick. Daddy is sick, and I’m just asking You, Lord, to heal.” 


As faithful as that prayer is, God will often still say no, as is His Divine prerogative. Have you ever prayed that God would Divinely intervene, save and deliver you, or protect you from sure pain and agony? And God said no?


I know it’s hard to hear this kind of message because the church has theologically jacked up many folks with this “Name it and claim it” idea. We’ve made you believe that all you have to do is pray and that God is your genie.


But there are moments when you can even pray a faithful prayer, and God will remain silent. As a pastor, I’ve prayed for members in this church that God would heal and deliver. Now there have been some that God has healed and delivered, but some have ended up dying. God is not obligated to answer every single one of our prayers. 


The Thorn


We see God saying no in today’s passage of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Let's talk about the theories around the thorn that Paul refers to. 


Some said that the thorn represented a physical malady he was facing. Maybe it was malaria, as it was a widespread disease in his days. Others said it could represent Paul's eye problems. The text is inconclusive as it relates to the nature of the thorn. All we know is that it was a source of pain for Paul that God had allowed. The devil was now buffeting him, bringing more injury to insult. 


Purge Us of Pride


From a theological perspective, the thorn teaches us that God allows thorns in our lives to purge us of pride. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul said, "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited."  


Dr. Jeremiah Wright says, "Pain will teach you what pride won't let you learn." 


There are moments in our lives when God will allow us to have some thorns. Why? To keep us humble. The theology of the thorn is not just that God purges us of pride, but the theology of the torn promotes us to pray.


Promote Us to Pray


With the pain in his life, Paul was praying as he never had. Pain will teach you how to pray. Some of you can testify that your prayer life has gone to a new level because of pain. 


Process Our Perspectives


Not only do we see that God allows thorns in our lives to purge us of pride and encourage us to pray, but God also allows thorns to process our perspectives. Paul made an interesting statement: "I've discovered that when I'm weak, vulnerable, at existential breaking point, as if my life is falling apart when I am weak, that's when God makes me strong." The thorn can help you process your perspective.


God sometimes will intentionally allow us to live with hurts and handicaps to keep us in a position of dependence on Him. 




Now that we've learned why God says no to our prayers. How about the responses? How do we respond when God says no?


Resist the Demonic Lies About God


The first response when God says no is to resist the demonic lies about God. Again our passage says, “... a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me….” Spiritual warfare is happening. Satan is trying to intensify our pain. And when God says no, we’re in the space of believing demonic lies about God. 


Have you noticed that when God says no, we respond the same way our children respond to us when we tell them no? There are moments when, like our kids, we get upset, pout, and have a temper tantrum with God. Some folks haven’t returned to church because they’re upset with God. 


But what about when God says no to you? What do you do? You stop talking to Him. You stop fellowship with Him. You throw temper tantrums along the lines of “I’m done. I’ve had enough.” You’re upset with God and decide to step back from church. 


This happens because Satan has suggested these thoughts to your mind: 


“God is not good. God is not kind. God is not loving, and God is not powerful. So, why pray to God? You prayed to God, and nothing happened. Prayer wastes time.”


Here are more suggestions that Satan would submit:


God is displeased with you.

God has forsaken you. 

He has forgotten you


So here is what must happen. When God says no, the first thing you must do is resist demonic lies about God. You must understand that the enemy, Satan, is the father of all lies. He lies to build a wall between you and God. He wants you to get upset when God says no. He will remind you that your prayer efforts are wasted because nothing you requested happened. You have to resist these demonic lies about God.

Rest in the Definite Love of God


The second response we ought to have is to rest in the definite love of God. If there’s one thing that the devil wants to convince you of, it’s that God doesn’t love you. 


Sometimes, the greatest act of love God can do is to say no. I prayed for my dear friend, Deacon Larry Martin, when he was going through his illness. I prayed, “Lord, save him. Lord, heal him.” It wasn’t until later that God told me, “Craig, I did heal him when I decided to take him home. He’s more healed today than he ever would have been on earth.”


Have you been in that space where you prayed and prayed, and God still said no, and you started questioning whether or not God loves you? Look at Paul. He's the very one who had to deal with a no from God in Romans 8:37-39,


"No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." 


God loves you. God loves you even when He says no to you. Though we don't always understand, often, God sees something better for us. 


"Good, better, best never let him rest 'til your good is better and your better is best."


God never settles for good with you. God always wants the absolute best for you. Sometimes, for that to happen, God has to tell you no.

Dependently Rely on God


Even when God says no, choose to rely on God in all areas of your life. Trust God with everything. You can say it with me as you read this:


“God, I trust you with my life.”


God knows what is best for you, more than you will ever know. Trust God with the tears coming down and the pain in your hearts. Trust God with the question marks that have been racing through your mind. Even when God says no to you, trust in Him:


Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your limited understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge Him. Let the Lord direct your path. 



Remember, there are and will be moments when God will say yes, and there will be moments when He will delay or defer His answer. There most definitely will be moments when He will deny your requests. I want you to remember that He loves you, and you can trust Him. 


God answers our prayers with our best interests in mind. So trust the Lord with your life, even the no’s. 

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