The setting is all too familiar: a loved one falls ill, or is injured, or is otherwise in immediate risk of dying. The family turns to prayer. Other loved ones and friends join in petitioning God. It is hoped that “storming heaven” will cause the Lord to intervene and turn around the dire circumstances.
We pray because we trust the Lord to hear and answer our prayers. We pray because the Lord has taught us to pray. We pray because we trust Him, because we know He loves us and has the power and desire to do good things for us. We pray because we are mere creatures and He is the Creator; we the children and He our Father.
In several places and parables, the Lord Jesus teaches us about prayer, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer. He told us about the widow who pestered the unjust judge until he caved in and gave her justice. He told us about the friend, who went to another friend at night for some bread to feed a traveling friend who arrived late at his house, and the guy got his bread because he persisted. And He told us about the father who would not trick his son, say with a snake instead of a fish, and if an earthly father will do right by his child then, of course, God will do right by us.
The Lord Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to knock: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).”
Finally, Christ promises: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).”
We trust these promises as we pray. We count on these promises to result in prayers answered with “yes.”
And God says “no.” And the person dies.
What in heaven happened? Is God not to be trusted? Are we a bunch of fools for placing our faith in Him, for wasting our time in prayer?
What happened is that the person paid the price every human pays, because we come into the world under the curse of the first sinner, Adam. We all die.
God is to be trusted. We are not fools for placing our faith in Him, and we did not waste our time in prayer.
To show this, first we must cover a few things that folks often erroneously believe.
- “God punished him for a sin,” or, “This is a punishment to his family.” Wrong. God punished His Son on the cross and we have His promise: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
- “God needed her in heaven.” Wrong. One often hears parents telling their young children that grandma died because God needed another good cook in heaven. No, God needs nothing from us, including grandmas to cook for Him.
- “God saw that he would one day lose his faith, so He took him now so that would not happen.” Wrong. The Lord Jesus vows: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).”
That’s a good start, but this question fills the air: “Why does God let bad things happen?” When I had to bury a young mother of four who had been murdered, I needed to answer this as clearly as ever. I came up with this.
When our children hit the teenage years, because we love them and we don’t want anything bad to happen to them, and we don’t want them to do anything wrong, we lock them in the basement. That’s what love does, right? It protects at all costs.
While we long to protect our loved ones, taking away freedom is not love. We rear our children well, then we send them into the world. We hope for good things. We pray for them. But they are free, and the world is filled with accidents and evildoers and temptation and you-name-it, all of which might bring us down.
As it is with us, so it is with God. He loves us so thoroughly that He gives us lives in which we get to exercise freedom. Indeed, His love is so profound that if we don’t return His love, He still lets us live and enjoy life.
But He does not remove every obstacle, every possible bad thing from our path. If He did—if this were His job, to stop every last thing which is not good—He also would zap us when we gossip, and slap our hand when we put it where it does not belong, and on and on to where He would constantly be on our case, to where we would have no freedom at all.
He might as well lock us in a basement.
Freedom comes at great cost. This takes us directly to the Father’s gift of His Son, whom He did not keep locked up in heaven but sent Him to earth, into our very flesh, so that He could give up His life, so that not only might we take ours up again on the Last Day but also know the depths of the Father’s love now, every day, so that when things go horribly wrong we can remember that Christ has made all things perfectly right.
Recall this promise of Christ already quoted: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).” When God says “no” to our prayer, how can this promise be true?
When we pray, it is not our goal to get God’s will to line up with ours, but to get our will to be in agreement with His.
It is easy to glorify God when things go right. The player gets the winning hit and he points to heaven. The parents welcome the beautiful child and praise God for this gift. The farmer brings in the plentiful harvest and pauses to thank the Lord for the bounty.
It is challenging to glorify God when things go wrong. When the ball does not drop in. When the child miscarries. When drought chokes puny plants.
Yet, as children of the heavenly Father through faith in Christ, we are to glorify Him in bad times equal to the good ones. Why? Because we know that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven means that He is King over this creation, that He is Lord of the living and the dead, that He has the power to fulfill His final task, that of returning in glory.
When Jesus Christ will do this: “And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:39-40).”
Eternally living in the resurrection, we look forward to this wonderful life: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:1-4).”
When God says “no” to our prayers, He has the best “yes” in mind. Whether we live a day, or eighteen years, or one hundred, for the Christian this lovely promise is always true: “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).”
By grace through faith in Christ, we belong to the Lord. Not even death can snatch away the gift of eternal life, for Jesus Christ beat death with His resurrection from the grave.
May you be comforted and strengthened by these precious promises from the Word of God, all which are rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord be with you!