For you who have long prayed for God to move on your behalf, I want to deposit some encouragement with you in hope that your cries will not be silenced by spiritual fatigue. Perhaps, one of the most confounding elements of being a Jesus-follower is that we often find ourselves in the waiting room of unanswered prayers. Would it shock you if I testified that there are a handful of things for which I have been praying throughout the entire course of my nearly 25 years of being a Christian? These handful of petitions remain on my prayer list because there has been no definitive answer. The person has not been saved. The shadow has not been fully chased away. The victory has not yet emerged from the struggle. Not for one moment has Holy Spirit nudged me that it was time to cease from crying out to the Father about these yet unanswered prayers. Rest assured, there have been thousands of other cries that have come out from my spirit, through my lips, through the heavenlies and into the throneroom of God that have been speedily answered. Those are awesome moments when the King places an emphatic, “So be it!” on something that I have asked from Him. The reality is that prayer is less about getting things answered and more about entering into greater depths of knowing God. Sometimes, God will clearly meet the need or lift the burden in a timely fashion (according to our view of time). When He does not respond with the answer that we desire, He will supply a strengthening of our souls to endure whatever the burden is that we are carrying.
“On the day I called, You answered me; my strength of soul You increased.” – Psalm 138:3
The Psalmist testifies here of his occasion of receiving a speedy answer from the One to whom he has petitioned. He declares that God answered him on the very same day in which he cried. While this instant answer is not the guaranteed experience of every believer, it is undebatable that every time God answers, He answers someone who has cried out to Him. We never know when He might break through on our behalf. If there are delays, they are developmental delayswhich God has determined are more profitable to our souls than any speedy answer might be. He is producing something valuable in our waiting season. We do not despair in those delays, fearing that He may never respond. When today’s crying out is not clearly answered, we cry out again tomorrow…and then again as often as our need remains. Our crying out is the evidence of an abiding sense of our dependence and hope. The delays in answered prayer also reveal to us where we currently stand in our spiritual maturity. When our children did not get what they wanted as soon as they wanted it, their responses were indicators of where they were developmentally. If they pitched a fit, protested or pouted, we knew that they immature and did not have the big picture that we held as their parents. If they submitted and responded in honorable ways to our making them wait, we knew that they were growing up. It is no different with God the Father and His children. Sometimes His delays are intentional, with the only purpose being that we need to mature in our trust of His heart and our submission to Him.
Recall these others whose cries were met with God’s response to them:
Joseph in the dungeon, Moses in the desert, Elijah at Mount Carmel, Daniel in Babylon, Esther in the King’s court, Peter in the prison, Paul with his thorn, John on the isle of Patmos.
In each instance, there was the urgent plea from the one in need to the One who could meet the need. Joseph waited a long time before he went from the chains of Egypt to the palace of Egypt. Moses spent four decades while his life’s calling was on pause from Heaven. It took Moses that long to be sapped of his impulsive self-reliance before God could use him. Elijah was forced to watch the wicked prophets of Baal do their unholy thing on top of Mount Carmel before God powerfully answered his own prayers with Heaven’s fire. Daniel’s prayer life led to him booking a room in the Lion’s Den Inn. He spent the whole night in the presence of life-threatening circumstances before being released the next day. Esther fasted and prayed along with many other Jews before she risked her life by entering into the presence of the King of Persia uninvited. Not until he raised his welcoming scepter did she know her prayers were affirmed and her life spared. Peter thought he was a dead man in prison until the angel awakened him to supernaturally escape his cell and go free. Paul was told that his prayer for deliverance from his thorn would not be answered with anything more than the grace to live with it. God said no to his request and, instead, strengthened Paul’s soul to lean into all-sufficient grace while the thorn remained with him. John never got off the isle of Patmos. He was sentenced to live out his days there in isolation. In that isolation, the treasure of the Book of Revelation was given to him from Jesus.
You see, He always answers us. The question to be considered is whether or not we will praise Him when the answer is different than we had hoped. For me, this is one of the most essential elements of the Christian’s life of prayer: has prayer become the means to a deeper intimacy with God or is prayer merely a means to attempt to get God to do what we think we need Him to do? If it is the first, then even unanswered prayer can result in us loving, trusting and praising God more greatly. If it is the second, then we will find ourselves living on the edge of frustration, fear and bitterness because the Almighty did not act as we had hoped.
Father, grant wisdom today for all who are still in their season of waiting.