1 O Lord, hear me as I pray;
pay attention to my groaning.
2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray to no one but you.
3 Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:1-3 NLT
If you have been a follower of Jesus for some time, you have probably dealt with the disappointment of delayed or unanswered prayer requests. You have probably wondered why God doesn’t seem to honor his various encouragements to ask expectantly. There are many passages in the Old and New Testament that speak to his willingness to grant our desires. Here are a few:
- Matthew 7:7-8 - "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
- Matthew 21:22 - "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
- John 14:13-14 - "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
- John 15:7 - "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
- John 16:23-24 - "In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."
- 1 John 5:14-15 - "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him."
- Psalm 37:4 - "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
What do you do when your situation doesn’t seem to resolve itself within the frame of these various passages? Many times we are encouraged by such endearments as “God is not a respecter of persons” which is meant to be interpreted as God is not constrained to answer in the specificity we request. Other times we are told “God is an on-time God” which is meant to be interpreted as God answers prayer according to his timing and not ours. Within the context of asking God, I have also heard the cliched reference to differentiating between “needs” and “wants”, the implication being that “needs” have greater priority than “wants”. People on the receiving end of this “advice” are made to feel somehow selfish for making (what others label) as discretionary or luxury requests. Some preachers cast aspersions of indictment by linking the absence of resolution to the “spiritual state” of the requestor. You are as successful in your petition as you are faithful and obedient. The absence of the former negates the presence of the latter. The more empathetic responses involve the acknowledgment of confusion and the encouragement to persevere or “wait upon the Lord”. This type of encouragement usually emanates from someone who has been down a similar road and has experienced some type of personal growth, even if the actual prayer request remains unanswered. I once heard a preacher summarize this approach by saying “sometimes when you ask God for a solution, he gives you a problem.”
I am sorry if you find yourself in a place of confusion and disappointment in expecting God to come through for you. It is a very difficult and frustrating place to be. You have more questions than answers. It may appear that your prayer is “bouncing off the ceiling” and not proceeding beyond that into God’s throne room. You may feel abandoned by God, misunderstood and patronized by the support around you. I have been where you are. I know all of these feelings to be true. Admission to this reality can seem to be a failure of faith. When I have been here, I have held on to three truths:
- God is with me. He may seem silent, but He promises in countless places within scripture to never leave me nor forsake me.
- God sees me. He formed me and takes full responsibility for my life. I am not an exception to his omniscience. If there is an exception, he ceases to be Almighty.
- God is constantly at work in my life doing SOMETHING, even though it is invisible to me.
The writer of Ecclesiastes summarizes the experiences of life this way (Ecclesiastes 9:11, The Message) :
I took another walk around the neighborhood and realized that on this earth as it is—
The race is not always to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor satisfaction to the wise,
Nor riches to the smart,
Nor grace to the learned.
Sooner or later bad luck hits us all.
So then how are we to expect God? We work using a quote attributed to Zig Ziglar – “expect the best, prepare for the worst.”. What we ask God for is the best outcome. If God does it as and when requested, how wonderful! If not, then we will find ourselves in a waiting room. The probability of the latter is sometimes much greater than that of the former. Preparation therefore means doing things ahead of time, for the wait. Do you have a daily quiet time? Do you spend time reading God’s word? Have you developed disciplines around solitude, prayer and tithing? If not establish those now, because they build the spiritual resources that are necessary to wait…and to handle disappointment. They create an ability to see WHAT God is actually doing in contrast to what you have asked.
Do you need some help with all of this? Reach out to us.