When God Says No: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
They call your name. A plastic band is placed on your wrist after you have confirmed your name and date of birth. Led to a room with a bed, you are told to undress, place your clothes in a bag, and to put on a gown that is open in the back. One nurse assists me on to the bed, while another nurse asks which arm I prefer for the insertion of an intravenous needle. A line is then connected to a saline solution. Wires are attached to my chest for an EKG. I hear the print out of the chart. A nurse returns to remove the wires.
Then, I am alone waiting… and I pray as the moments slowly tick by on the clock.
The nurses come in and out. The surgeon stops through and then the anesthesiologist. Finally, they come to wheel me through to the operating room, where, with assistance, I slide on to the operating table. In my final moments of consciousness, I realize that I have no control over what happens next. Moreover, I have no control over the results of the procedure. God will certainly answer my prayer, but the answer might be “No”.
Everything fades and I wake up in recovery.
For some reason, in the days following the procedure, my mind was drawn to a passage of scripture. Oddly, it was not to a promise of answered prayer which, surprisingly, are relatively rare in the New Testament. Instead, I was drawn to the painful reconciliation of Peter following the Resurrection. As we know, Peter had denied knowing Christ or being one of his disciples on the night of Jesus’ arrest and had then essentially gone into hiding. In their post-resurrection meeting on the shores of Galilee, Peter’s threefold denial of Christ just days before is subtly replayed when Peter is asked three times to affirm his love and his willingness to serve. When asked the third time, it is reported that Peter was “grieved”. Peter wanted a simple affirmation, but what he received was this:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
I doubt that this was the answer that Peter was looking for, nor the one he wanted to hear. It basically informed him that he was not in control of his eventual fate and regardless of this, he was simply to follow Christ. A few moments later, Peter would ask about what was going to be the fate of John, the beloved disciple. Christ answers immediately, “…What is that to you? Follow me…”
We have all been in the circumstance of praying when that which surrounds us is totally out of our control, whether in a hospital room, or in our own homes, or where we work. We pray hoping for an answer, or a solution. We speculate about others and their apparent answered payers. What I think we miss, however, is that whether God says “Yes” or “No” is truly in his hands. What we know, however, is that the simple directive to Peter is ours as well, “Follow me…”
Even if it is out of your control, with others dressing you and taking you where you don’t want to go… “Follow me”.
Even if the results are positive, negative or mixed… “Follow me”.
Even if others gain what they desire while you are left in pain… “Follow me”.
Prayer is certainly a mystery. Why God says “Yes” to some prayers and “No” to others is something we cannot comprehend, at least until that time that we shall know even as we are known. Yet, prayer is also pragmatic. The real answer to prayer may come as we put one foot in front of another and simply follow him in love and in trust… Indeed, following may be the answer we seek.
Long time readers know that prayer has vexed me for decades.
I no longer allow it do do so…I simply believe the conclusion you come to here.
It’s about following Him when He takes you places you may or may not want to go…and believing that He does so out of love.
Sometimes following is all we can do…
This is such a good perspective of prayer.
Over the years, realizing that my prayer had to line up with God’s will was a hard truth to accept, BUT….
I’ve also come to realize that Faith allows our God to give us the strength to go through
Thankful that God has kept Michael N. among us…..
This is a difficult subject to engage as there have been so many wretched teachings on the subject that people find it hard to hear reality.
I’ve seen answered prayer…ain’t no way I should be doing as well as I am now after the surgery.
By the same token, I’ve been crushed repeatedly by silence and “no”.
I am content to know I’m where I’m supposed to be…most of the time.
While I’m at it…I think George Muellers writing are Christian fiction and hagiography…
I’ve seen prayers answered, I’ve seen prayers delayed and, it appears, that some are denied. Prayer is a mystery that is wrapped up in the mystery of God. Most of us don’t really like mysteries. We would rather have a fully explained system…
Duane, I really, really appreciate this article. I’ve spent much of my life in prayer, and yet it truly remains a mystery to me. I would love to see more of your insights on this subject. I know full well that God’s answers to my prayers may be “No”. Sometimes this realization is helpful and sometimes it actually causes me to wonder if I should even be praying about something at all. It’s easier to read Scripture or listen to a sermon than it is to pray for me. Yet prayer has often been an important and transformative spiritual experience for me resulting in leaps of spiritual growth.I think that Bible study, good teaching , and prayer must all be working in tandem for this to happen.
I can only speak for myself, but in a certain sense I view prayer as a conversation. Certain conversations do not merely inform us, they shape us. They allow us to see matters from a different perspective. As we are shaped and allowed to view matters differently, we gain a degree of understanding. Now, I’d like to say that this happens to me every time I pray, but it doesn’t! Just as really great conversations can sometimes be few and far between. By following, however, we are more likely to be in that place where they do…
B of C and Dr. Duane…. AMEN!
hagiography |ˌhagēˈägrəfē; ˌhāgē-|
the writing of the lives of saints.
• derogatory adulatory writing about another person.
• a biography idealizing its subject.
cuz i didn”t know 🙂