Have You Ever Wondered Why God Won't Give You What You Want, Even If He Says He Will?


“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8)

What do those promises mean? Do they mean that everything you asked for, when you asked for it, the way you want it, you get? Well, your experience tells you, “I suppose it doesn’t mean that, because that doesn’t happen.”

That’s not a good way to decide what texts mean, but I don’t think it means that. That’s not my experience either. It doesn’t mean that textually, it shouldn’t mean that morally, and you wouldn’t want it to mean that if you could. I wonder if you believe that.

It shouldn’t mean that, because if you could, at your word, make God do something, you’d be God, wouldn’t you? “Everything I tell him to do, he does.” You’d be God. If you can boss God around, you’re God. That’s the first reason it shouldn’t mean that, because God is God and ought to be God, and therefore it’s right for God to be God and right for you not to be God. Woe is you if every prayer gets answered.

Secondly, you wouldn’t want it to mean that. Think about what happens to the person when the president finds out every one of his prayer gets answered. So, you’d be shipped off to Washington immediately. And your leaders tell you to pray about Iraq. But as soon as you pray that, somebody’s going to shoot you dead. Or somebody else is going to tell you to pray something else. “Pray this for Somalia.” “No, that’s not going to work. Pray this.” And on and on.

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Eventually, you would have to say, “Excuse me, I wasn’t designed to do this. Only God can run the world. I cannot run the world.”

Well then, we just better stop being so eager to be able to have all our prayers answered. You wouldn’t want it. I promise you. You’d be crushed in a minute or assassinated as soon as somebody found out everything you asked for came true. You don’t want that.

Now, all that’s irrelevant, because it’s not the text. I’m just telling you that, biblically, you don’t want to go there.

But what does the text mean? That’s the question. What does the text mean? So, not only should it not mean that everything you asked for you get, and you wouldn’t want it to mean that, but the text doesn’t mean that. That’s my third and final observation.

Do you ever feel your prayers are unanswered?

And the reason I say it is because it looks to me like Jesus is so carefully saying, “Now, if you as a father have a son who asks him for bread, would you give him a stone? No, you wouldn’t give him a stone. If he asks for a fish or an egg, would you give him a serpent? No, you won’t give him a serpent.”

But doesn’t that beckon us to ask this: What if the kid asks for a serpent? I think it’s unmistakably clear in this text that God would not give it to him. Fathers don’t give poisonous snakes to 3-year-olds. They don’t do it no matter what the kid is crying for in the pet shop. “Can I hold it? Can I hold the rattlesnake? It just makes such a cute noise. I like his teeth.” Parents have to respond, “You don’t understand. You don’t understand. The answer is no because I love you.”

God does not give bad, hurtful gifts — and I mean ultimately hurtful.

This tests our faith to the limit, doesn’t it? Because if you thought that what you’re getting after you prayed for this is better, you wouldn’t have prayed for that; you would have prayed for this. “I asked for healing. I asked for a job. I asked for a fixed marriage. If I wanted this, I would have asked for it. This is not what I wanted.”

This tries our faith to the limit, and my theology from every part of the Bible is: God only gives what is good for his children to his children. Period. No matter how painful it has been.

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And I’m deeply, deeply thankful for the stability that brings into our lives, and how many of you, having embraced that sovereign goodness and grace of God, have been enabled to weather some of the most horrific situations. I am so thankful.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship.

A version of this Op-Ed previously appeared on the website under the headline, “Why Won’t God Give Me What I Want?”

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Desiring God produces God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. Its mission is to produce and distribute resources that spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.