{guest post} when God doesn’t give you what you asked for

If you don’t know my friend Ally Vesterfelt, you need to. She is genuine and passionate, and a beautifully honest writer. She’s also the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine, one of my favorite corners of the Internet. I appreciate the ways Ally embraces the “grit” in life and invites God to meet her there.

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This last year I prayed big.

It started because I read a book by Mark Batterson called The Circle Maker. The thought of praying the way he prayed (persistently, for specific things) had never really occurred to me.

Usually, I liked to keep my prayers small and manageable.

I didn’t want it to seem like I was being greedy or anything.

But when I read Batterson’s book I started to see how praying for things I actually wanted (regardless if they were big or small) wasn’t being selfish, it was just being honest — and being honest was what prayer was really about, a dynamic, authentic conversation with God.

So my prayers went from being really “spiritual” all the time to sometimes not-so-much.

I would pray for things like a second bookshelf to house my growing collection. I would pray for warm weather for an outdoor picnic with my husband. I would pray for friendship with a person in a similar stage of life.

Maybe that sounds elementary, but for me it was ground-breaking.

Shocking, actually.

I would pray for a specific need to be met by a specific day, and sure enough, it would be. Or I would pray for something that wasn’t a need, that was just a luxury, and many times I would get the gift I had asked for.

But there was one prayer I prayed that wasn’t answered.

Granted, it was a big prayer. A little far-fetched even. One of those that, when you write it down, you think to yourself: I’d like to see you take on this one, God.

The request had to do with a specific financial debt I owed. I wanted it to be paid off by the end of the year.

So I wrote down the prayer and the specific number, just as I had been doing before. I started making payments whenever I had extra cash, or money left over in a particular budget. For a while, I was really vigilant about it. I prayed about it every day, and the energy to conquer the debt consumed my mind.

But after a few months the prayer slipped to the back of my journal, and while I did occasionally pray that the debt would be paid by the date I had set, I didn’t think about it with nearly the conviction I had when I first started.

So when the end of the year came, and the debt wasn’t paid off, I cringed a little.

Not because God hadn’t given me what I had asked for, but because He had reminded me that,

while He is a God who hears me and cares about what I want, he has something as much to teach me by saying “no” as he does by saying “yes.”

I know this, but sometimes I live like I don’t know it.

In fact, sometimes I think this is what kept me from praying “big” prayers in the first place. I was worried that if I didn’t say it right, or if my heart wasn’t in exactly the right place, I would never get what I asked for.

And when I act like prayer is about getting what I ask for, I miss the point altogether.

It’s okay to want something (even admit we want it) and still not have it.

The second thing I learned was that, when it comes to what I have and what I don’t have, I am a co-creator with God. God has more resources than I do, more grace, more wisdom, and far more patience — but I can’t expect Him to answer prayers I am not willing to answer myself.

I have to be willing to make the sacrifices, fork over the cash, go visit the friend, reach out to the person in need, stay up all night working —

All the while praying for God to fill in the gaps.

Many times in my life God has answered prayers i didn’t know how to pray, or that I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years. Other times I have begged him for things, laid everything on the line, and he has said “no,” or worse, been silent.

There is no reward/payoff system, no formula we can use to make prayer “work,” for us, to help get us what we want.

But I think that’s actually the point I’m trying to make.

That prayer is its own reward, and that as my prayers change, I change with them.

And for now that is enough.

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Allison is a writer, managing editor of Prodigal Magazine and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Darrell. You can follow her daily on Twitter or Facebook.

How do you handle God’s “no”s or silences?


10 Responses to “{guest post} when God doesn’t give you what you asked for”
  1. Love these words. Seeking to pray when most seek to sulk and fret is the way to live. Prayer is a privilege and a gift. Blessings.

  2. Linda Stoll says:

    Oh I hear you, Amy!

    I love that we get to choose how we’ll respond when the answer is ‘no’ or ‘wait’ or ‘hang on a second!’ Maybe He’s just gently waiting for our faith to stretch a bit wider, to teach us some sort of truth that we’d never learn any other way …


  3. Thank you for sharing, Ally. I love hearing your heart.

    Plus: now I want to read that book!

  4. Makeda says:

    I’m taking on the Circle Maker Prayer Challenge this year for Lent and if I’m honest I’m a little nervous about it. I went through a huge crisis of faith last year over an unanswered big prayer that truly only God can work out. It shook me at a level that truly surprised me and while my relationship with God ultimately survived I’m not sure my heart is ready to pray that big again especially since my prayer remains unanswered. And just for kicks and giggles I sense Him asking me to pray about it again as part of this challenge. I feel like the father of the demon possessed boy who said to Jesus, I believe help my unbelief. My heart literally hurts thinking about having to pray about this again but somewhere deep in me is a flicker of hope that still believes and I will try to fan that flame as I pray. Thank you for your words. I will look to go deeper with the Father and try to keep my focus there and not as much on the outcome of the prayer.

    • Makeda — thank you for sharing so honestly. I can tell this is really close to your heart. A few years ago a friend was telling me a story about how she really wanted something. She would even lay awake at night crying about it sometimes, but God continued to remain silent. She said bitterness had been growing in her heart for a long time because she couldn’t figure out how God could know she wanted something but not give it to her. Then one day she was hanging out with her dad, and it just occurred to her — her dad would do anything to give her the thing she wanted. Sometimes he doesn’t have the resources, but if he did have them, he would give up everything to make her happy. “If my earthly father would go to these lengths to give me what I wanted,” she told me, “and my heavenly father has infinite resources… God must have a reason for NOT giving me this thing I want. Maybe he’s trying to teach me something.”

      I hope you feel the love of your father as you go into this season of prayer, and that you’re able to learn what he is teaching. Those lessons are the best gift we can have.


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