“God, please . . .”
“How long, Lord?”
“Make it clear, Jesus. No, even clearer . . .”
I don’t know if you’re like me, but a good percentage of my prayers start with words like that. Sometimes it seems like God isn’t listening or isn’t answering our prayers at all. At times like that, we turn to God’s Word (always a safe bet). God gives us plenty of examples of how he works and answers prayers in the Bible, and these can serve to give us patience and assurance of his promises and his grace. Here are a few:
• Daniel: Sometimes God says, “Yes.”
Daniel was part of the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites, and through God’s grace he had risen to prominence in the kingdom (first of the Babylonians and then subsequently the Medes) and was highly respected. This made Daniel a target and eventually got him thrown into a lions’ den. His crime? Praying to God. King Darius, backed into a corner of his own creation, gave the order to throw Daniel to the lions. But as he did so, he said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6:16). Hmm . . . sounds like a prayer. Sounds like a tentative belief in a God whom Darius didn’t quite know yet. And the next morning, he went with anguish to check in on Daniel, who was miraculously not dead. Daniel said, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions” (Daniel 6:22).
God said yes. Daniel prayed. King Darius prayed. And God said yes. God showed his power, and the story ends with King Darius issuing a decree that every part of his kingdom should fear and respect Daniel’s God. Darius said,
“For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth” (Daniel 6:26,27).
Wow. Huge words from someone in power admitting an even greater power. And God used that “yes” answer to bring about a massive conversion in that time.
• Paul: Sometimes God says, “No.”
The apostle and eloquent speaker Paul, who received visions and revelations straight from the Lord, had a problem—a “thorn in the flesh” as he called it. We don’t know if this was a physical struggle or a mental one, but we do know that he prayed several times to the Lord to take it away. And we know that God has the power to answer that prayer with a yes. But he didn’t. He said no.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8,9).
God said no. But he didn’t just follow it up with, “Sorry, not sorry” or, “Too bad for you.” He said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God might say no to us, even if we pray for really good things . . . release of pain, justice in the world, blessings on our businesses, healing for a friend or spouse or child . . . but God might say, “No, my grace is sufficient for you.” We will probably not understand it at the time, but he assures us that his power is made perfect in our weakness, and we know that he is full of grace and that he pours that out on us.
• Abraham: Sometimes God says, “Yes, but wait.”
Father Abraham . . . had no sons. God had promised him sons. God had promised that he would make Abraham into a great nation, that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And Abraham believed. But then came the waiting. Twenty-five years of waiting. Abraham was 100 years old, and his wife was a laughable 90. But God had said yes. And God kept his promise. Not on Abraham’s time line, and surely not on the time line of Sarah’s womb. But God kept his promise. He answered Abraham’s prayer on his own time line.
Sometimes it seems like we have prayed the same prayer for years. And we wonder why God isn’t answering it. But he is. Maybe he is saying no like he did for Paul, because his grace is sufficient. Or maybe he’s saying, “Yes, but wait” like he did for Abraham. Our time line is not God’s time line. We live in a world of instant gratification, so much so that we leave a bad review if our Amazon purchases don’t arrive in two days or less. Are we as impatient with our Lord as we are with Jeff Bezos? In the times when we are waiting on an answer to prayer, Abraham’s life shows us that we can rest on God’s promises, on God’s time line.
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:14).
• Elijah: Sometimes God says, “I have a better plan.”
Elijah was a prophet living in a time of severe persecution under the horrific reign of King Ahab and his somehow even slightly more horrific wife, Queen Jezebel (let’s just say they had a lot in common on their eharmony profiles). In the book of 1 Kings, Elijah fled for his life under threat; he was overwhelmed, and he prayed to the Lord to end his life:
“‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life’” (1 Kings 19:4).
Elijah was spent. He wanted to die. He thought he knew what was best for his life, which was not to be alive at all. But God had a better plan; the “angel of the Lord” (a manifestation of God himself) came to give Elijah sustenance, showed Elijah his power, spoke to him and assured him that he was not alone, and gave him strength to continue his ministry and train up another prophet to take his place. And not only did God not end Elijah’s life right then and there like Elijah had prayed; later on in the story, God took Elijah up to heaven without ever experiencing death at all.
“Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared . . . and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11).
God said, “I have a better plan. Watch this.” An ending that Elijah would never have imagined, would never have planned for himself, would never have prayed for. God thinks way outside the box. God has better plans.
We don’t know the big picture. God does. We don’t know why evil men seem to rise to power and prosper. God is working. We don’t know why the people of God are persecuted. God is working. We don’t understand why we go through such pain and suffering. God is working. We don’t see a reason for the conflicts and the injustice. God is still working.
We know that God cares about our struggles on earth, but he cares even more about our eternity, and he will do whatever it takes to make sure we get to spend eternity with him. He knows that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). God is working.