When God’s Answer is No
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell
Last month while speaking in North Carolina, I borrowed a car and made a pilgrimage of sorts. Turning down North Fork Road, I parked on the side and got out for a magnificent view of the Blue Ridge mountains. This was the very spot where I had poured out my twenty-something heart to God in prayer – hoping His will would be the same as my will:
“God, all I want to do is marry Paul and live the rest of my days in these beautiful mountains. We could build a log house right here on his land and raise our children in the country. I will even teach Bible studies for my church if You want me to. But please, please, please answer this prayer and I will spend the rest of my life serving You here in North Carolina! Amen.”
While I didn’t exactly view God as a cosmic Santa Claus who ponied up with the loot after reviewing my list of gimmies, I was close. Hadn’t I waited for this godly man before falling in love? Hadn’t I finished college and worked for several years while volunteering as a church youth leader? Hadn’t I prayed for God to guide and direct me?
Yes to all of the above. So I was confident that My Plan would work out for my own version of ‘happily ever after.’
God did answer my prayer that day.
He said No.
In fact, He said No to all of it: Paul, the mountains, the log house, the kids, the country life, and North Carolina.
And I was crushed.
I believe that God answers every heartfelt prayer either Yes, No or Wait. I love it when I get a Yes answer and can mark the date in my prayer notebook. It’s a lot harder to get a Wait answer, but it reminds me to continually bring those concerns and people before Him with prayers of hope.
No answers are another thing entirely. There is finality and a reality that must be faced. Dreams die, bringing pain and confusion as companions in the aftermath. I felt all those things initially when God said No to me back in my twenties.
But I mustered courage to move forward with my life, believing the promise that “No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84.11)
I moved to Boston for a seminary degree. Journalism work took me to Chicago and Thailand. Then I served as a missions pastor in San Francisco, traveling around the world twice before I was thirty. I married Mike, moved to Seattle and began raising children. North Carolina seemed very far away, and in the meantime, life held many surprises and challenges.
Today I live near a Connecticut city, not in the Carolina countryside. Mike and I are about to celebrate our 31st anniversary with our six kids and brilliant grandgirl. Yes, I do teach Bible studies, but I also speak to many people across the country through my Encouraging Words speaking ministry. And, grace upon grace, my eleventh book was just published.
My life looks nothing like the one I prayed for so long ago.
I’m confident that one of the reasons God said No to that prayer in the mountains was that, for me, that particular vision was too small. To grant those desires would have allowed me to settle for what was comfortable, rather than take risks and follow God into some challenging and ‘impossible’ situations.
My world didn’t end when God answered my prayers with No. Instead, those losses opened me up to be filled with other people and new experiences.
Has God said No or Wait to one of the deepest desires of your heart? Do you find yourself uttering only ‘safe’ prayers?
May I encourage you to keep praying the desires of your heart and laying bold requests before His throne of grace. But always, always, conclude with the biblical mandate “Thy will be done.”
God answers every heartfelt prayer in His way and in His timing. For our good.
Then I drove back into my life, understanding anew that No can indeed be a good answer.
under the mercy, Cindy