A little less than a year ago, I was supposed to leave home for college. I had been sick for months and, deep down, I knew I wasn’t well enough to go. I sat in the living room with my parents, and we made the hard decision together through tears. I stayed, though my heart longed more than anything to go.
I remember laying my head down on the couch and crying, “God, I don’t know how to bear it.” It was the raw and honest prayer of my heart. I was so lonely. For years I had prayed for biblical friendships and God had withheld them. In my mind, college was supposed to be the place I found these friends, but now God was withholding college, too. I found myself wondering why he would give others these good gifts but continually withhold them from me.
Perhaps you have offered up a similar cry to the Lord. Perhaps even now your heart aches for something good that God has chosen not to give. It can become so easy to question his goodness when we pray continually for something good, and yet our hands remain empty. Ironically, empty hands can feel like the heaviest of burdens.
But what if empty hands were never meant to be a burden at all? What if our hands remain empty because God wants to fill them with something sweeter in his time? Perhaps God’s heart as he withholds is infinitely kinder than we are prone to believe.
As we consider the heart of God more carefully together, it is my prayer that we would learn to view the hand that withholds as beautiful, merciful, and unfailingly good.
He Is Not Stingy
For a long time, I subconsciously held an unbiblical view of God’s heart toward us. If you had asked me, I would have told you I believed in God’s sovereignty and goodness in all things, but deep down I believed that God was selfish and stingy when he didn’t fulfill my desires. How wrong I was! I’m ashamed now that I ever held such a low view of God’s heart, for Scripture tells us time and time again that we serve a God who gives. Consider the following passages from the book of Romans:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”Romans 8:31-32
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Romans 6:23
From these passages, we clearly see that our God is not stingy or selfish. He is, by nature, a generous God. In fact, giving is so central to his heart that he gave his only Son for us so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). Let that sink in. God gave us what was most precious to him. Could that same God now withhold good things from his children? No, that is not his nature. That is not his heart. God desires to give good gifts to his children and he welcomes our requests as a kind and patient father. Matthew 7:9-11 further illustrates his generous heart:
“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
We have a heavenly Father who is kind, not stingy. He does not give stones when we ask for bread. So we can trust that even when it feels like God is holding out on us, he is actually giving us the better thing.
He Knows Our Hearts
Not only is our Father generous, he is also relational. So often, when God withholds something good, it can feel as though he is distant and indifferent. “He is the God of heaven and earth, after all,” we might tell ourselves. “Why would he pay even the slightest attention to the desires of my heart? Surely, he is concerned with more important matters.” But the following passages tell a different story:
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.”Psalm 139:1-2
“O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.”Psalm 38:9
Dear friend, the God of heaven and earth knows us. He sees every desire, every sorrow, every fear, every longing. These passages do not point to a distant and indifferent God. Instead, they point to an intimate God. He holds our hearts in his hands as one who is familiar with them. And our hearts matter to him—he gave his Son to purchase them. What an undeserved gift!
Because God not only knows our hearts intimately, but also cares about them deeply, we can entrust them to his care. He knows how to distinguish between what we desire and what we need, between what we long for and what is truly life-giving. We should not be so foolish as to believe that we always desire what is best. God has plumbed the depths of our hearts and knows them more intimately than we ever could. We can trust him to sovereignly work for our good.
He Has a Right to Say “No”
I recently listened to a beautiful song by Sarah Sparks called “The Control Line,” which tells the story of her longing for a child while simultaneously praising the God who withholds. The following lines particularly stood out to me:
Some say that when You withhold, You are silent
But a valid answer is no, and I know my place before You
You are unchanging, I am the quickly fadingSarah Sparks, “The Control Line”
This truth can be painfully difficult to swallow because, the reality is, we don’t like to be told no. We are prideful beings by nature who like to believe we know what is best. But what if every “no” from the Father is really a vessel of mercy? What if he withholds what we desire because he intends to give us something better?
Sometimes God tells us no to demonstrate the splendor of his sovereignty. Looking back now, I feel so foolish for ever doubting God’s goodness during my season of sickness. I was able to attend college the following semester and, by his grace, God surrounded me with the kindest people I have ever known. These people became the true friends my heart longed for. Had things gone according to my own plan, I may never have met these people at all. It turns out God’s “no” in my life was really a means of grace. All along, he was working for my good.
Often, however, God withholds because he wants to fill our empty hands with the fruit of sanctification. He wants to humble us. He wants to teach us patience. He wants us to trust him. And though this process is often painful, it is also profoundly good. For when our Father withholds, it is because he wants us to take hold of that which is ultimately and eternally satisfying—himself. C. S. Lewis puts it this way in his essay, The Weight of Glory:
“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”1C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
So often, we set the bar of our desire too low. We fret away our days because God has withheld mud pies when, all along, he intended to give us the sea. Dear friends, let’s not fixate on the feeble joys of this world that fade when there is infinite joy to be had. Let’s trust that knowing God will be ultimately satisfying, the culminated fulfillment of every human longing that has ever stirred our hearts.
He Is Enough
Dear Christian, the hand that withholds is beautiful, merciful, and unfailingly good because it is this same hand that gave us Jesus. The Father’s hand is the most merciful of all, for with it he ordained the salvation of wretched sinners like you and me. He handed Christ the bitter cup which was drunk on our behalf so that we might be redeemed (Matthew 20:22).
So, when we are tempted to despair because God has withheld the seemingly good from us, may we turn our eyes to the cross. May we remember that God has already given us that which is most precious–eternal life through his Son. May we learn to boldly declare with the apostle Paul, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). All else must fade in the light of such glory.
I love these words from Psalm 16:
“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”Psalm 16:5-6
We must daily choose the Lord as our portion. We must daily choose to lay our desires and longings before him, trusting that he is enough. We must daily choose to orient our hearts as Job did when he said, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). For he is good when he gives, and he is good when he withholds.
Each time we look down at our hands and find them empty, may we choose to cherish the Giver more than all he has to give. May we view his heart rightly, for he is the giver of every good gift (James 1:17). May we view every “no” as a mercy from the God who works all things for good (Romans 8:28). And may we trust that Jesus is the one who truly satisfies every longing soul (Psalm 107:9). Oh Lord, may your grace be sufficient to satisfy our longing hearts (2 Corinthians 12:9). May you always be enough.
Further Application & Study
- Set aside some time to meditate on Psalm 16 and allow this passage to guide you in prayer. Ask the Lord to daily be your portion and your joy.
- What good things have you asked God for that he has chosen to withhold? Ask God to help you to trust his goodness even though your hands are empty. Ask him to fill your hands with the fruit of a sanctified heart.
- Are there any desires in your heart which you long for more than Jesus? Take some time to confess these desires to the Lord, then ask for sufficient grace to treasure Jesus above all else.
1 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2001), 26.
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Abigail Thompson is a student at Cedarville University studying professional writing and women’s ministry. She is passionate about words that point to her Savior and desires that her pen always be guided by his grace. You will often find Abigail on her front porch in the evenings, writing with her Bible open and her dog by her side. She loves sharing about biblical femininity, contentment, and the kindness of God as he works in her life. Her prayer is that her words might spur others on in their pursuit of Christ.