We’ve all experienced it. We’ve prayed for something that we really needed or desperately desired, and we never got it. We’ve asked for a certain pain to be removed from our lives, but it never goes away. We’ve called out to God month after month, and it’s like he’s not even there.
Now, we know he’s there. We know God is all-knowing and that he hears our every cry and prayer. But when our diagnosis gets worse, when Mr. Right turns out to be Mr. Wrong, when we get turned down for another job, when the pregnancy test is once again negative, when God answers our requests with no, it sure feels like he doesn’t care about our struggles and desires.
What should we do when God tells us no? How should we continue in life without holding a grudge against our Creator? Well, Jesus provides the perfect example of how we ought to live.
Jesus’ Perfect Example
I know what you’re thinking: Of course, Jesus was able to perfectly handle whatever hardships he had to deal with while he was on earth. He’s God, so he’s inherently perfect. Yes, it’s true that Jesus was and is fully God and that he is completely holy, righteous, and without sin. But Jesus was also fully human. He was God in human flesh, and he experienced all the same trials and temptations that we face on a daily basis.1 There is one particular instance where Jesus had to face something so terrible that we can barely imagine what he must have felt like.
In Mark 14, we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with his closest friends—Peter, James, and John. He claims to be “very sorrowful, even to death,” and he asks his friends to remain with him and pray (Mark 14:34). He then goes a little further into the garden, falling onto his knees and crying to God, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36a).
This moment in Jesus’ earthly life is mere hours before he would be forcibly taken by religious leaders, wrongfully convicted in a sham trial, beaten and flogged by Roman soldiers, and nailed to a cross, where he would die a very slow, humiliating, and excruciating death. Not only was Jesus about to endure unimaginable physical pain and suffering, he would also have to endure the burning wrath of the Father as he took all our sins upon himself that fateful afternoon.
But this was the only way—the only way for sinners to be saved. And Jesus knew this. Of course, this fact wasn’t going to make Jesus’s physical pain any more manageable or his emotional anguish any easier. Yet, when he knew the answer to his pleas would be no, he didn’t run away from his responsibility, he didn’t grumble against his Father’s plan, he didn’t do anything that would ease his pain and “knock the edge off.” Jesus simply responds, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36b).
In these nine short words, Jesus does three things that we ought to imitate and practice when God says no to us.
Remember God’s Character
Seeing as Jesus has been with God the Father since before the dawn of time, he knew God’s character pretty well. He knew God was omniscient and wise, always knowing what is right and best. He knew God was holy and just, without sin and intolerant of evildoing. He knew God was patient and sovereign, in control of everything and acting on his timetable, not anyone else’s. He knew God was faithful and true, able to be trusted even in the darkest of times. He knew God was omnipotent and mighty, victorious over the enemy. There is no doubt that Jesus was aware of these truths about the character of God while he was on his knees in the garden.
We ought to do this same thing. When God says no, we must cling to these attributes of his as well as others: e.g., his love, mercy, grace, goodness, omnipresence, and inability to change or make mistakes. By remembering and rehearsing God’s character, we are reminding ourselves that our God is not malicious or cruel. He is not mean or unfeeling. God loves us more than we can fathom, and we can be certain that he is saying no for good reason.
Trust God’s Will
Yes, Jesus would suffer and die on the cross, but not because God is some sadistic despot who desired to abuse his only begotten Son. On the contrary, Jesus’ sacrifice was for a specific and glorious purpose: the salvation of many souls.2 This had been planned and ordained since the beginning. God knew that human beings—his precious creations made in his image3—would fall short of his righteousness and glory and that the only way we could be made righteous and holy would be for him to come down to earth to live the life we cannot live and die the death we deserve so that we may be forgiven of our sins and live with him for eternity.4 This is the will of God, and Jesus trusted it.
Just as God had a plan for Jesus’ life, He has a plan for our lives as well. God’s will for your life, my life, and the lives of every other person who follows and believes in him is our sanctification.5 Every day, God is making us more and more holy, transforming us to look more and more like him.6 Sometimes this process means God has to say no to our prayers. But, like Jesus, we must trust God’s will, knowing and believing that everything God is doing (or not doing) in our lives is for our ultimate good.7
Obey God’s Word
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus remembered God’s character and trusted God’s will. In doing these two things, he could only have one response: obedience. After he prayed to the Father, Jesus rose to his feet and obeyed God’s will. He let the chief priests and scribes arrest him in the dark of night even though he had done no wrong. He endured the torture and abuse of Roman soldiers without saying a word. And he humbled himself to die on the cross, all in an act of obedience to the Lord. Jesus didn’t allow his pain, discomfort, weariness, or discouragement lure him into disobedient rebellion. He obeyed God and, in doing so, provided salvation for mankind.
When God tells us no, it can be difficult to continue to obey him. He certainly seems to not be doing anything for us. Why would we do anything for him? But God has done something for us. Through Jesus, he has allowed wretched, depraved sinners to come to him for forgiveness, to be welcomed into his family, and to enjoy life everlasting. We have done nothing at all to deserve this. We have received these gifts purely because of the Lord’s grace and unmerited favor.8 God loves us and we ought to demonstrate our love for him through obedience,9 remembering his character and trusting his will. If Jesus could obey God by dying on a Roman cross, surely we can obey his Word, despite any pain, discomfort, weariness, or discouragement we are going through.
It is not uncommon for God to answer our pleas and prayers with a no. Whether you’re praying for favorable test results or against a hereditary disease, for a spouse to show up or against the dissolution of your marriage, for a new job offer or for a way out of your current career, for your children to turn to the Lord or against infertility, it can be easy for us to become angry and heartbroken when God doesn’t seem to come through.
What can we do when God says no? We can follow Jesus’s example. We can remember God’s character and recall that God loves us and cares for us abundantly. We can trust God’s will, believing that he is sanctifying us through our circumstances. We can obey God’s Word out of our own love for him. And we can look forward to a future resurrection. On the third day after Jesus died on the cross, he was raised to life. As he ascended to heaven, he promised his followers that he would come back one day to resurrect them and usher in a new earth—an earth with no more sin, no more pain, no more sadness, no more anger, no more heartbreak, no more discouragement, and no more no’s.10 Jesus is coming back to resurrect you and me—to transform us into glory that we may be forever satisfied in him.
When God says no, hope in him.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
Reflection and Application
- What has God said no to in your life? What prayers of yours have gone unanswered?
- Remember God’s Character: How has God shown his love to you? How has he blessed you? What attributes of God have you observed in your life?
- Trust God’s Will: According to Scripture, what is God’s will for your life? Why can you trust that God’s will is good?
- Obey God’s Word: How can you obey God despite your unanswered prayers? What commands in Scripture have you neglected lately? What sins do you need to repent from?
- Jesus is coming again soon! What do you look forward to most in the new creation? How can the promise of resurrection give you hope for today?
1 Hebrews 4:15.
2 Luke 19:10.
3 Genesis 1:26-27.
4 Romans 3:23; John 3:16.
5 1 Thessalonians 4:3.
6 2 Corinthians 3:18.
7 Romans 8:28.
8 Ephesians 2:8-9.
9 John 14:15.
10 Revelation 21:1-4.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Tristany lives in sunny central Florida. She has a master's degree in biblical exposition from Liberty University, and she works as a database manager for a local Christian nonprofit. She is an avid reader, amateur photographer, and self-proclaimed theology nerd. She loves flowers, oldies music, and going to Disney World. Tristany has a passion for encouraging women to know and love the Word of God, and she writes about the Bible and theology regularly at tristanycorgan.com.