If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you know that I am currently studying the concept of prayer very deeply. The reason is that I’m such a weak pray-er, that I knew I needed to understand everything I could about prayer, and that I needed to learn how to apply it, so that I could pray, and do so effectively.
I’ve definitely learned a lot, and I have more to learn, I’m sure. I have started praying more than I used to, and I can SO tell a difference in every aspect of my life – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – whenever I have had a good prayer time. But I doubt that would surprise anyone who already has a decent prayer life…
My study today talked about delayed answers to prayers. It’s one of the hardest things about prayer, because it requires something that all of us need more of – patience. When we pray, a lot of times we feel like the need we are laying at God’s feet is an immediate need. Take my family’s recent experience with buying a house. We needed a little extra money in order to make it work. We didn’t feel like it would be right to borrow that from family, so we just prayed that God would provide it for us. We didn’t know how He would do it, but we decided that we would leave the “how” up to Him. We didn’t feel like we were being extremely selfish in our request – we had to have a place to live, and our lease was soon about to end on our condo. We needed a bigger place for the baby we have on the way, so we couldn’t just re-lease the condo…we had to move on. It was either buy a house or rent a house…it had to be something bigger. We decided that buying was the better financial move, so we moved and made an offer on a house. But it turned out we didn’t quite have enough money for the down payment, much less doctor’s bills (for the coming baby) and Christmas, which is just around the corner. So we prayed. We didn’t pray to be rich – just that God would help us by meeting our financial needs. He said that if we focused on His kingdom and His righteousness, that He would provide our daily needs, so we banked on that, and gave it up to Him.
The problem came when what we saw as an immediate need (our lender wanted to see the money for closing already in our account!) didn’t get met right away. We prayed for almost 2 weeks that God would provide this money by November 8th. Come November 7th, we still didn’t have enough money (although we had been given some money out of nowhere by family, who said they “felt led” to give it to us…awesome!). So on November 8th, we prayed about selling one of our cars. We felt like it was okay for us to do that, so we took it to a dealer and sold it. And on November 8th, we had all the money we needed to close on the house. It wasn’t the method we foresaw as God providing the money (we were kind of looking forward to a George Mueller-type miracle…), but the money was provided just the same.
Those 2 weeks that we prayed for that provision were pretty hard on us. We didn’t know if we were praying in God’s will, but we prayed all the same. We doubted some (okay…maybe a lot, at times…), but in the end God still provided. He still answered our prayer.
My study today talked about this kind of delay in prayer. It gave 2 examples of figures in the Bible who also faced unanswered prayers. The first was Zecharia and Elizabeth, in Luke 1:5-25. It says:
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(emphasis added)
If you continue reading in that chapter, you see this come to pass. Zechariah and Elizabeth were up there in years – chances are, they had already stopped praying for a child. They had obviously prayed for a child (the angel says “your prayer has been heard…”), but even when they didn’t receive an answer (or assumed the answer was “no”), they hadn’t grown bitter about – the passage says they “observ[ed] all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” They continued to abide in the Lord.
Another example mentioned in my study was Daniel, in Daniel 10:1-14:
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision. At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (emphasis added)
Daniel was shown that a great war was coming, and he was burdened over how this would affect his people. He prayed for this to be revealed, but it was 3 weeks before he received that revelation. Interestingly, the angel told him that “the prince of the Persian kingdom”, who I believe he meant was Satan and his evil forces, was the cause for the delay. But before that, he reassured Daniel that his words were heard “since the first day…” And throughout, Daniel kept the perspective that God was on high, sovereign over all. He also had chosen to abide in the Lord.
Both of these examples showed people who had chosen to abide in the Lord – to pray, give attention to Scriptural commandments, and to cleave to God. They willed themselves to abide in Him – their faith did not depend on the coming of the answer to their prayer. This kind of abiding is indicative a deep relationship with God – one with deep roots. And if you paid any attention in science class in school, you probably learned that plants with deep roots can endure long period of drought if necessary. Delayed answer to prayer helps us to develop these deep roots.
So once again, I learned that while I wait for God to answer my prayers, I should focus on abiding in Him – focusing on His kingdom and His righteousness – and let Him take care of the rest. If my roots are deep, I can withstand the drought.