Desires Unfulfilled: What to Do When God Says "No"

This is a guest post written by Christa Threlfall.

Something was wrong.

I couldn't yet pinpoint the problem, but I could feel the effects of it in my soul and see it in the way I treated my family. Impatience with my daughter for not immediately understanding her new math concept. Anger against my boys for having constant, messy needs. Frustration towards my husband over things which he had no control. Discouragement and despair over my daily goals and relationships. Why was I so low? I dug around in my mind a bit and came up with a few specific things over which I was especially disappointed.

Quite a few of my plans had been "derailed" over the past week in ways over which I had zero control. I kept finding myself blaming my impatience in parenting with the lie that, "If God had allowed my plans to happen, I wouldn't be feeling this way." To further complicate matters, I justified myself by reasoning, "The things I want are GOOD things! Why won't God fulfill my good desire?"


The Holy Spirit tossed the word "discontent" in my heart, but I threw it out, reasoning that the word didn't apply to my situation. Discontentment only applies to people who want material things such as clothes, houses, cars, and other earthly possessions. It doesn't apply when what I want is a good thing, a right thing even.

Does it?

What do you do when you want something that is good (maybe even Biblical), but you don't have it? Perhaps, as in my case, you've even had something in the works that failed for whatever reason. Here's how I walked through it:

1. Schedule an appointment.

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This particular appointment is specialized because it requires getting time alone with God. He's the only One who knows the contents of your heart and can reveal them to you. He's also the only One Who loves you enough to do it in the most tender way, yet direct enough to not beat around the bush in addressing the issue. (pro tip: He's pretty great about spur of the moment appointments and doesn't even mind if you bring kids into the session.)

2. Perform a heart check.

The very best way to find out what's in your heart is to ask questions. What? Ask myself questions? Yes. It's incredibly easy to fool yourself and believe lies ("The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9), so make sure you really dig with your questions and give truthful answers. Every situation is unique, so perhaps some of these questions won't apply to you, but here are some I've asked myself recently:

  1. Will this _______ (fill in the blank with whatever you're wanting) fulfill me/solve my problem?
  2. If yes, how long will this fulfillment last? Be honest.
  3. Is my desire for ___________ disproportionate with my desire for God? Put simply, do I want ___ more than I want God?
  4. Is my desire for ______ adversely affecting my emotions? When I don't achieve/receive ______, do I become anxious, depressed, or mad?
  5. If I die without achieving/receiving _____, what will I lose? How will I view the way I pursued it?

3. Review the diagnosis.

In my case, the Spirit revealed this to me during the day while I was with my kids.
Here's what He revealed:

1. Although my desire was a good desire, it had grown out of proportion. How did I know?
It was the biggest thing in my mind and emotions. When it was taken away, it was all I could think about and created anxiety.

2. This desire could never fulfill me. I was believing the lie that it could. But when I took time to
actually think about this desire and let God search my heart, He revealed the truth that even if this were fulfilled in my life, it would never be enough. I had created a vacuum in my heart for
something that could never be fully satisfied. The honest truth is this: Unless Christ is all I need, I will never have all I need.

3. The question that truly revealed my wrong thinking and actions was question 5, "If I die without achieving/receiving ___, what will I lose? How will I view the way I pursued it?" I realized that if I came to the end of my life and never received this particular thing, the main problem would not be that I never received it, but in my sinful response.

4. At the very root, God revealed my heart of unbelief. I believed that I knew better than God. I knew what I needed more than God knew; He was just withholding it from me for some reason. This is wrong thinking and casts doubt on the many Scriptures in which God promises that He always provides our needs. "For the Lord God is a sun and shield the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11

4. Respond to the diagnosis.

My prayer time happened while I was in the kitchen making dinner and was neither long nor completely undistracted. However, the result was the same. God revealed my heart and I responded in faith and repentance. Repenting my sin of believing that this desire fulfilled could satisfy me. Repenting my sin of anxiety over not achieving it. And believing God's Word that He can change a heart of unbelief to one of faith and trust.

As God would have it, my husband came home soon after my dinner making + prayer time expedition, so I shared how God had convicted me and my response. (All of this happened during the final dinner preparations while also fielding questions from our kiddos, so if you're imagining a quiet date-night-like-scene, you might need to tweak your mental picture.)

So what was the result of my scheduled appointment, heart check, diagnosis review, and response?

God granted peace.

God's not lying when He gives this promise:
"You keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because He trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3

The state of unrest was gone because I gave it to the Lord. Instead of leaning on my own understanding ("My way is best! God needs to give me my desire!"), He helped me to trust in Him. And my trusting resulted in a heart of peace.

Does this sound simplistic? I actually complicated the matter. Things would have been a lot simpler had I trusted God's plan from the beginning.

I come back to my original question:
What do you do when you want something that is good (maybe even Biblical), but you don't have it?

Trust God. 
Trust the One Who knows your heart and all the desires in it. 

Maybe He gave you that desire because He wants to fill it? 
Trust Him with the timing. 

Maybe it's a desire that will remain unmet? 
Trust Him with your hurting heart. 

There is no one who can better care for your heart than the One Who gave it to you.

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Guest post written by Christa Threlfall. Christa is mama to 4 littles and wife to her best friend (who currently serves as an assistant pastor and PhD student). She spends her time homeschooling, cooking all the food, training for another half marathon, and serving at her local church. Her passion is to abide in Christ & dwell richly in His Word. You can find her online at BrownSugarToast.comInstagram and Facebook.