I’ve been a part of discussions with students and other people about God answering prayers. They almost always come to a false dichotomy of God either answered the prayer or He didn’t. We essentially view this as God said, “yes” to what I wanted and prayed for, or He ignored me. We forget that “no” is an answer as well, and we don’t realize that “wait and be patient” is another answer. Especially when we are suffering or watching people suffer, we want God to heal or fix the problems. Sometimes God says “no” to our prayers because His will, purpose, and knowledge is greater than ours.
Job was a faithful and devout servant of God. One day Satan, or the Accuser, comes to the Lord God and challenges Job’s faithfulness. He says the only reason that Job is faithful to God is because God has blessed Job greatly. If God were to stop blessing Job, then Job would stop praising and worshiping the Lord. Therefore, God allows Satan to test Job by causing him to suffer (Job 1). Satan takes Job’s property and children, but Job still worships God saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20-21). Satan then causes painful sores to appear on Job, but Job still worships the Lord responding, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10). After all that Job had suffered in losing property, family, and being inflicted with sores, he still worships the Lord. When Job finally falters and questions God’s purpose and actions, God basically responds with “Who are you to question me?” (Job 38-41). God lists all of His abilities and the things He has done. God created the universe, given life to mankind, causes the sun to rise and set, and many more wondrous things. Job questions God, and God corrects him.
Who are we to question and complain when God doesn’t say, “yes” to our prayers? Sometimes God says “no” to teach us and bring about His glory. When Jesus teaches about prayer, the first thing He teaches to pray is “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10). Our prayers need to be about God being glorified and His will to be done. We may not always understand why God does certain things, but we need to worship Him through those tough moments.
James also uses Job as an example of being patient. Even though Job did falter at the end, he was faithful to God through most of his suffering. Because Job was faithful and did repent for his moment of weakness, the Lord blessed Job by restoring everything he lost and giving him twice of what he had before (Job 42:10-17). Sometimes God may say “be patient and wait” as an answer to our prayers. If we are patient through our suffering, then we will see God’s blessings. They may not be directly related to our sufferings like Job’s blessings were a restoration from his sufferings, but God may and will bless us in other ways. We may not even see the blessings on this earth. James exhorts, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:8). The coming of the Lord speaks of Christ returning and setting up His kingdom where there will be no more pain, tears, or death (Rev. 21:1-4). Let us be patient and persevere through our sufferings that we may see God glorified and receive His blessings.
When we are suffering, let us come together and pray for each other. James teaches us to pray for each other through suffering, sickness, and sin (James 5:13-16). We too often feel that we need to tell people we are fine when we really aren’t. We want people to thing we are strong or perfect, but we all know this is a lie. None of us are strong or perfect. We all hurt, get sick, struggle, and sin. Let us be bold and honest with one another and let each other know that we’re struggling with hurt and sin. If we do this and lift each other up in prayer, then we will see a revolution, awakening, and a mighty change in our lives and culture. We will see healing of illness and emotional wounds. We will see the shackles of sin broken off and find freedom in the grace and redemption of Jesus Christ.
Elijah was a prophet that prayed for the rain to stop. God heard his prayers and caused a drought in the land for three years. When God had been glorified, Elijah prayed for it to rain again, and God caused it to rain again (James 5:17-18; 1 Kings 17). As James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). Elijah was a man just like you and me. There was nothing special about him except that he worshiped and was faithful to God. He prayed faithfully and God answered his prayers with a “yes” to glorify Himself. Jesus tells us, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7). God will do whatever glorifies Him, but if it is within His will, then He will give us what we ask for. We need to faithfully pray for healing and forgiveness, and God is faithful to give.
We’ve all been told “no” before and have thrown fits because of it. I feel bad when I have to tell my students “no” to some things, especially on trips. They get mad, but I have to say no because they’re under my protection. They don’t understand that I’m trying to keep them safe, or that I’m having to teach them responsibility. But when I do say “yes” to something, then I’m the ‘cool guy’. We don’t always understand why God says “no” to us. It’s hard to suffer and watch our loved ones suffer, but His ways are greater than our ways (Isaiah 55:8). We need to be patient and continue to faithfully pray for each other, healing, and forgiveness. God is faithful and will say “yes” to some of our prayers. There is power in prayer to see God glorified and to receive His blessings.