This week God quietly answered a very big prayer that I had been praying almost every day for several months. I thought it was impossible for God to provide exactly what I was praying for. As you can tell, I still have a lot of growing to do as a Christian.
Just to be clear, I did not doubt any doctrine about God being omnipotent. The problem was that I did not think the result that I was praying for could happen. With that said, here are four further thoughts on prayer.
First, you generally only count a “yes” from God as an answer to prayer.
If you are at all well instructed in the Christian faith, you know that God hears and answers every one of your prayers. He either says, “No,” “Not yet,” or “Yes.” However, most of us talk about prayer in a very different way, and our unreflective speech reveals what we actually believe. Reread the first line of my blog, “This week God quietly answered a very big prayer that I had been praying almost every day for several months.”
In heaven, you will remember, and revel in how wise God was to say “No.”
Probably everyone who read this sentence took it to mean that God said “Yes” and provided what I had prayed for. Probably no one read that first line and said to themselves, “Hmmm, I wonder how George knew that God had said “Not yet” or “No?” You see, you unconsciously only count a quick “Yes” from God as an answer to prayer. You unconsciously see the standard teaching about God answering every prayer, but sometimes He says “Not yet” and “No,” as “damage control” for the fact that God did not give you what you wanted.
Second, you have amnesia and memory all mixed up.
You remember the long list of “Nos” from God, but you have amnesia about the stupid, selfish, foolish and harmful things you asked for. I recall with embarrassment how my girlfriend of ten months broke up with me when I was in my final year of High School, and I then spent the next year or two praying that we would get back together again. At the time, I was bothered that God did not say “Yes” to my prayers.
However, for many decades now, I have been so deeply thankful that He said “No.” It has been far far better that I later met Louise, my wife for life. In heaven, you will remember, and revel in how wise God was to say “No.”
Third, you are often unaware of when God says “Yes.”
This is a different amnesia problem. This story is not a perfect illustration, but it points in the right direction. Luke 1:5-25 tells the story of how an angel appears to the Priest Zechariah and tells him that he is to be the father of John the Baptist. Verse 13b is very interesting, it says, “… your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (ESV).
The point is this. Zechariah and his wife are now very old. They probably stopped praying for a baby literally decades earlier. But here the angel shows up with a message from God that God has said “Yes’ to their prayers. In Zechariah and Elizabeth’s case, they probably remembered that they had prayed for a baby, but my point is that in Heaven you will be reminded of the many times that God answered your prayer with a “not yet,” only to answer it with a “Yes, now,” many years or decades later, long after you have forgotten ever praying the prayer. Once again, yet one more area of life you will recall and revel in when you are in the New Heaven and Earth.
Fourth, it is better to pray, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” than to not pray at all.
The quote is from Mark 9:22-24. In the story, a father asks Jesus to deliver his child from demonic possession. However, the Father, after making his “ask” adds, “if you can.” Jesus responds by saying to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The father immediately responds to Jesus by saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!” The older I get, the more comfort and hope I find in this story.
To go back to how the Lord provided in answer to my prayer, my prayer was like that of the father in Mark 9. There was a very clear need. It would help gospel ministry. I didn’t really believe that it could be answered with a “yes,” but I knew that it was right to pray for this. So I prayed with very little belief, only with obedience. I prayed, Lord please do this. I believe, help my unbelief.”
Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to pour out your heart to the Lord in prayer. He is always more ready to hear your prayer than you are to pray to Him. Please pray that I will be more prayerful, more obedient in prayer, and pray with greater faith.