Answers to Prayer: No, Yes, and Not Yet

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“Hey Colton, I bet you asked if you could have a sword, didn’t you?” I said.

At that, Colton’s scowl melted into a dejected frown, and his shoulders slumped toward the floor. “Yeah, I did. But Jesus wouldn’t let me have one. He said I’d be too dangerous.” ~ Heaven Is for Real

Heaven is for real, and that means when a toddler visiting Heaven asks Jesus for a real sword, Jesus says no. When Colton told me this, I had to wonder if Jesus knew a sword-wielding toddler would be too dangerous to himself – or to others.

This negative response in Heaven came after Colton had gotten another no answer when he asked the angels to sing “We Will, We Will Rock You” as they escorted him to Jesus. And then there was the issue of his sister hugging him – when being hugged by a girl wasn’t this little guy’s favorite thing.

We may think of Heaven as a place where we get everything we want, where we always get our way. But that wouldn’t be real. Heaven is a good and perfect place, but sometimes what we think we want, at least here on earth, doesn’t meet heaven’s good-and-perfect criteria.

Sometimes Jesus says no.

When I’m honest with myself and really look at what’s happening, I realize that most of the time when I get a no answer to my prayers, I’m praying for easy. On those days when I ask God to make my life easy, I tend to hear lots of nos as the challenges roll in.

No is not my favorite answer, for sure. But I’ve lived long enough now and have had enough glimpses of God’s bigger plan for my life that I can see God at work in many of those negative answers. I have to agree with the message in Garth Brooks’ song “One of God’s Greatest Gifts Is Unanswered Prayers.”

Sometimes God says no, sometimes He says yes, and I can handle both of those answers. But let me tell you what’s harder for me than no. It’s when God says, “Wait.” It’s the “not yet” answers that are hardest for me. The wait answers. The answers that seem like no answer at all for a long time.

I am, by nature, a let’s-get-things-done kind of guy. Let’s go. Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen. For me, waiting is difficult.

So I tend to ask God, “If You want this, and surely You do, why not now? Why can’t you make it happen today?”

Then God whispers something like this to me: You’re a parent. You know how this works.

If my three-year-old son were to have asked me for a sharp sword, there’s no way I would have given it to him. I would know he couldn’t handle it yet.

Right now I’m struggling with another stage of life as a parent. I have a teenager who will soon turn sixteen. Almost every parent knows what that means: “Dad, can I have the keys?”

Fortunately there are some laws in our society I really appreciate during this stage. One of them is that before someone sits behind the wheel of a moving vehicle he or she has to pass a test that hopefully demonstrates that person can operate the vehicle carefully, safely, and courteously – and come back home to Mom and Dad in one piece. Until teenagers are ready, that law helps us parents say, “You have to wait.”

To teenagers eager to drive and have the freedom to go where they please, that wait can seem like an eternity. But for their sake especially, and for other people’s sakes too, a parent can’t let kids drive until they’re ready. So they have to wait. And grow. And learn. And eventually they get their driver’s license.

Then, after sixteen, life continues, and they keep growing and maturing. For me, there was a growing period before I was ready to become a husband. I needed to wait and add some more knowledge and maturity to my lifetime collection. Then, after marriage, there was another growing period before I was ready to become a father. Those gifts I now enjoy, my marriage and my children, God gave to me. But I had to wait until he knew I was ready for them.

In the book of Genesis, we watch a young man named Joseph grow and gain maturity. Joseph had an incredible gift of seeing and interpreting dreams. But like most teenagers, when he first discovered the gift, he wasn’t mature enough to handle it. His arrogance caused him to boast to his brothers and even to his parents that he’d had a dream that said one day they would bow down to him.

Well, that arrogance led to a lot of awful events in Joseph’s life: Betrayal. Slavery. A dungeon. Then, after a long wait, the second-highest position in Egypt.

Finally, seventeen years after that first dream he’d boasted about, it came true: Joseph’s brothers bowed before him asking for food.

If an immature person had been in that place, he could have gloated over his brothers’ forced humility. He could have mocked them, punished them. Instead, this is what Joseph said about his brothers selling him into slavery:

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. – Genesis 50:20

It’s almost like he was saying, “I needed to grow up, and God used the difficulties you caused me to suffer to make that happen. Those difficulties brought me to this point where I am mature enough to handle the dream God gave me.”

Now, I’m not saying immaturity is the only reason God gives us not-yet answers to our prayers. But in my life, it’s been a big reason why I’ve had to wait. I see that now, after the growing has been done, the waiting is over, and the prayer has been answered.

Could there be some answer to your prayer where the obstacle to yes is a growth issue? Here are two truths to remember if a growth issue is causing you to have to wait:

First, God will know when you’re ready – before you know. And second, if you ask Him to grow you so you can be ready, He’s pretty good at that too.

What can God say yes to tomorrow if you grow today?

I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. – Psalm 40:1

Excerpted from with permission from Heaven Changes Everything by Todd & Sonja Burpo, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2012.

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Your Turn

Are you frustrated waiting for answers to prayer? Isn’t that the most difficult answer?! Have you considered that God is stretching and growing you as you wait on Him and His perfect answers to prayer? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Todd Burpo

Todd Burpo is pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan, a volunteer fireman, and he works with a garage door company. He and his wife, Sonja, have four children: Colton, Cassie, Colby, and a very special sister Colton met in heaven, yet to be named. Todd graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University in 1991 summa cum laude with a BA in Theology. He was ordained in 1994.

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