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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Lyford

Can You Accept the Holy "No"?

Do you remember a time when your parents told you “no” and you were furious? A trip down memory lane to your teen years will likely yield a story. Looking back now, you can see their wisdom, but you also vividly remember how angry, frustrated, and upset you were with them. Now we chuckle at how young and foolish we were, and we can see that our parents said “no” in loving wisdom that we did not yet possess. Not only that, they were also seeking our ultimate good.

Sometimes our heavenly Father says “no” to us. We ask for good things, right things, justice, healing, etc., and yet sometimes His answer to our desperate prayers is a holy “no.” He asks us to trust Him even when we cannot understand why the answer is “no.”

Years ago, I sat around my dining room table, crying, praying, and serving food to offer comfort to a troubled friend. Our small group Bible study sought answers to address the brokenness in her life. We wanted so badly to assure her that this good thing that she was praying for would indeed happen; we just need to wait for the Lord to bring it to pass. We could not, for God had not promised it. Yet we questioned….how could this NOT be the Lord’s will? This is so right and good, Lord. Don’t You see?

What about your prayers today?

  • What if your prayer for physical healing for your loved one is met with a holy "no"?

  • What if your labor at your local church doesn't yield the fruit you expect?

  • What if you never reconcile with that family member and live out your days in a strained relationship and awkward holiday gatherings?

  • What if you never get married and spend your life single?

  • What if your wayward child that you raised to know the Lord never turns back to Him in your lifetime?

Even If

To those questions and a thousand more, we say in faith “Even if,” just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in the book of Daniel. In obedience to God, they defied King Nebuchadnezzar knowing their decision would likely lead to their deaths. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) We know in this story, the LORD delivered those faithful men.

But what about our situations?

Can he? Yes.

Will He? We don’t know.

But even if He doesn’t, He is still good and we will still obey and serve Him all our days. As the Scripture says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) God is in the heavens and we are not.

We need to remember our place under His authority and sovereign rule.

Know Your Place

My brother-in-law has a service dog for blindness. Service dogs are highly trained and must always obey their master. Their master could fall into dire circumstances, even death, if the dog does not obey. When staying in their home, one of the commands I have heard my brother-in-law often repeat to his service dog is, “Find your place.” And the dog dutifully trudges off to lie down in his “place.”

We need to know our place, dear Christian.

He is God. And I am not.

He is Creator. I am a created being.

He is all-knowing. I am limited in knowledge.

He is holy. I am imperfect.

Know His Person

Whenever He says “no” to one thing, He does so out of His holiness. His holiness means He cannot sin or make evil decisions. When our prayers receive a holy “no” that means there is a better “yes” that we will see one day. This requires resolute trust in the character of our God. Paul David Tripp describes this kind of trust in his book Broken Down House. Tripp gives this illustration about instructing his children when they resisted his wise rule:

“I would kneel down in front of them at eye level and say, ‘Please look at Daddy’s face. Do you know how much I love you? Do you know that your Daddy is not a mean, bad man? Do you know that I would never ask you to do anything that would hurt you or make you sick? I am sorry that you can’t understand why Daddy is asking you to do this….So I am going to ask you to do something – trust Daddy. When you walk down the hallway to do what Daddy has asked you to do, say to yourself, ‘My Daddy loves me. My Daddy would never ask me to do something bad. I am going to trust my Daddy and stop trying to be the Daddy of my Daddy.’
God does the same thing with you…”

Know His Promises

What can we cling to when God says "no"? What can we know for sure? It is important to study the Scriptures to clarify His promises now so that when that holy “no” comes, we are not destroyed by devastation but anchored in hope.

So, what has He promised? What can we know for certain when we receive a holy “no”?

  • He will never leave us or forsake us. Hebrews 13:5

  • He is not withholding good from us. Psalm 84:11

  • We will see His goodness in our lives. Psalm 27:13

  • His purpose will always succeed. Isaiah 46:10

  • He works out everything to conform to the purpose of His will. Ephesians 1:11

  • He will fulfill His purpose for us. Psalm 138:8

These promises and many more are littered throughout the Scriptures, declaring our Holy Father reigns over all things for His glory and our ultimate good.

So if the answer to your prayer is a holy “no,” trust Him because He is holy and He is good. We need to be on guard against subtle bitterness that can creep into our hearts when God doesn’t behave the way we think He should. To paraphrase Pastor John Onwuchekwa, beware of holding God hostage to promises He never made.

Let it go into the hands of the sovereign Ruler of all things. We bow the knee, just as Jesus did in the garden. “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.”

God help us to accept the holy “no.”


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