Summary: There is no such thing as "unanswered" prayer, but God sometimes responds in ways we don’t expect.
“5 Answers to Prayer” -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
(Note: The outline for this message came from an article in the Christian Reader Jan/Feb 02 issue)
We pray, and God answers. Every time. But sometimes we wonder if God is really listening. We may feel like the Verizon guy, wandering around asking, “Can You hear me now?” God hears, and responds…but His answers are much wiser than our prayers. Here are 5 ways God replies when we pray:
Answer #1: “No, I love you too much.”
A soldier once complained to me, “Chaplain, I prayed and God didn’t answer.” My comeback: “Yes He did--He said ‘No’!” There is no such thing as “unanswered” prayer. Sometimes we ask for the wrong things. There are many thirsty people panting after the wrong kind of water.
C.S. Lewis recognized that if had God given him everything he’d asked for, his life would have been a mess! The most loving answer God can sometimes give is “No.” to our requests. “Father knows best”--He knows exactly what we need and He has our best interests in mind.
Why then does God allow suffering? When someone we know is sick or injured, isn’t it God’s will that they be well? Life is a mystery, and God isn’t obligated to explain His purpose (plus we may not be capable of understanding the reasons)…but it’s comforting to know there is a “why”, there are reasons for God’s negative response…and we can assume His “no” is motivated by love and a far greater grasp of life than we’ll have this side of eternity.
When the Apostle Paul compared life on earth to life in Heaven…he concluded that life with God “is better by far” (Phil 1:23). We often see death as life’s greatest loss, when it is life’s greatest gain and victory, a promotion to glory. Paul also had a negative response to a prayer. You’d think God would say “yes” to anything Paul wanted! We don’t know the specifics, but Paul had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” (II Cor 12), which he prayed repeatedly about, asking God to remove to no avail (I think it was probably his mother-in-law!). God responded, not by giving Paul an explanation, but a promise: “My grace is sufficient for you.” This strengthened Paul’s faith and gave him hope. God may want to build our character and compassion for others through hardship.
King Hezekiah asked for more life when God told him he was about to die, and God agreed…and the king lived to regret his request! We should assume that God is not withholding anything good from us. When He says “no” it’s because He loves us too much. If we’re wise, we’ll want God’s will, not ours.
Answer #2: “Yes, but you’ll have to wait.”
Nobody likes being put on hold. Thankfully Heaven doesn’t have voice mail that is re-routed endlessly:
”Press 1 for health concerns; press 2 for financial difficulties; press 3 for decisions; press 4 for help in temptation …Your prayer is important to us, however all our angels are busy at the present time; please stay on the line and the next available angel will respond to your prayer request….Our computers show that you have already prayed once today. Please try again tomorrow.”
We can call on God anytime with the assurance that He hears us immediately…but He doesn’t always respond right away. Yet God’s timing is perfect. The Bible says that all of time is in His hand. Faith means trusting God even when our sense of timing disagrees with His. God may appear slow but He’s never late. The problem is that we’re impatient. We’re in a hurry, but God isn’t. A favorite prayer of many is: “God give me patience, and I want it right now.”
Have you ever been separated from a loved one? Many times in my military career I was torn apart from my family by “unaccompanied deployments”. The days seemed to go on forever. My longest separation was when I was sent to Korea for a year with the 2nd Infantry Division, the longest year of my life. Yet in spite of the hardship, my wife and I grew closer and we learned a lot about coping with loss. By having to wait, I was led to write my doctoral thesis on the unique stresses of separations. I then conducted seminars for soldiers facing separations and was able to effectively counsel families…all thanks to my having to wait.
Answer #3: “Yes, but not what you expected.”
We pray to the God of the unexpected. In the Army, officers regularly fill out a form called an “Officer Assignment Preference Sheet,” then forward it to their “branch manager”. The form is nicknamed the “dream sheet” because getting what you want is often a pipe dream. I always believed that God, not the Personnel Branch of the Pentagon, decided where I should go. I viewed each assignment as orders from Above, even when I was sent somewhere I wasn’t wild about. I’ve been told that one thing is necessary for surviving in the Army--a high tolerance of uncertainty. This also holds true for the Christian life. Things may not go as we anticipate, but nothing is accidental! Prayer gives us confidence to leave the results with God. Those who see God’s hand in everything can best leave everything in God’s hand. Unfortunately, “we often reject the good that God offers us because, at the moment, we expected some other good.”