Prayer always makes a difference—even when God says "no"

Anne Woodcock | May 25th 2016

Sometimes our prayers seem to go unanswered. We’ve asked for things that have never happened. We’ve repeated the same requests over and over. We wonder if we’re praying for something wrong, or in the wrong way. We get disheartened. We give up. We conclude that prayer “doesn’t work”. We might not actually say so, but it reveals itself in our lack of praying.

Last week we saw that an antidote to prayerlessness is to remember that prayer isn’t operating a divine vending machine, but the way for us to grow in trust and love of our heavenly Father. For that reason, we can be confident of this:

Prayer makes a difference even when God says “no”

Prayer always makes a difference: that’s because whatever the outcome is when we have talked to God, it plays a part in our growing relationship with him—whether joy and thankfulness because of a request granted, or learning that his ways are not our ways when something we dearly want is denied, and yet still trusting that he always does what is best for us.

Paul knew what it’s like to ask God for something and not get it. Something unwelcome (and undefined) came into his life; he called it “a thorn in my flesh”. He says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12 v 8). The Lord didn’t do that! As a result, Paul learned that God was doing something so much better.

God’s plan at that point was for Paul’s life to be a vivid demonstration of the Lord’s power—so it had to be crystal clear that the power in Paul’s life didn’t come from Paul, but from God. Paul himself needed to be weak—suffering with his thorn in the flesh—so that everyone would know that it was Christ’s power working through him.

Paul made some astounding discoveries from this experience. He learned that God’s grace was everything he needed, that his weakness showcased God’s power, and that he was strongest when his weakness made him rely on God—all because God didn’t say yes to his request and take away the troublesome “thorn”. Prayer did make a difference—not to the “thorn”, but to Paul himself.

When we grasp that God’s ways are not always our ways—and that he still loves us, hears us and is at work for our best even when we don’t get what we want from him—we’re left with another question: How then can we possibly know what to ask God for?

Prayer makes a difference even when we don’t know what to ask for

For example, what should we pray for seriously sick people? That they will be healed? That they will grow in patient endurance in their suffering? That God will take them to glory? Which one of those things is best for them, or for their family, or for the church, or for the non-Christians around them? Which outcome will glorify God the most?

Bewildered yet?!

Sometimes we can see so many different ways that God could work in a situation, but we have no idea which one would work for the best.

God knows that this will happen; he has already provided a solution—the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 tells us that “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us” and he does it “in accordance with the will of God”.

The Spirit takes our longings—for God to be glorified, for Jesus to be displayed in our lives, for gospel truth to be proclaimed, for God’s people to grow in faith, love and maturity, for the church of Christ to be built—and he prays on our behalf for the precise outcome that will work out best God’s perfect will.

Wonderfully, the Spirit translates our wordless groanings into precise, God-honoring requests. Because of him, there is no situation where we cannot pray to God—not even when we cannot speak a single word to him!”

            (Real Prayer: Connecting with our heavenly Father)

We are liberated to come into the presence of our Father, confident that through the Spirit we can’t pray a wrong prayer.

This post is part of a series looking at the reasons Christians struggle to pray. Check out the previous three posts:
The lie you believe that stops you praying
What to remember when prayer feels like a chore
If God knows everything and can do anything—why pray?

Discover more in our Good Book Guide: Real Prayer: How to connect with our heavenly Father.

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Anne Woodcock

Anne is an editor at the Good Book Company and active in teaching the Bible to internationals, women and children. She is married to Pete, with two children.

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