When God seems to return our prayers to us... unopened.
BY ELIZABETH ARIEL
I had just finished my trigonometry test, but I was concerned. My teacher never gave partial credit for problems, so missing one would be costly for my grade. Silently I prayed as I scanned the column of answers. One caught my eye. I quickly checked over my calculations for that problem and found a mistake. I fixed it just before the clanging of the bell.
That was over thirty years ago, but that memory stands out vividly in my mind. I was awed that the God who runs the universe could be moved by a teenager wanting help on a math test and stoop to answer that prayer. My sense of wonder was only heightened when I found out that He had led me to the only problem that I had wrong.
More than anything, I believe God wanted to show me His heart that day. He wants to answer prayer. He longs to be gracious to us. He wants to be known as the I AM who cares and listens. When Solomon built the temple, God told him that His eyes and heart would always be attentive to that place. We are His temple. God's eyes are always on us and His heart is continually tender toward us.
God wants this to be reflected in the way we approach Him. When Mary and Martha sent Jesus a message that Lazarus was sick, all they said was, "Lord, the one you love is sick." (John 11:3) They didn't even ask Him to come! They were so confident in His love that they believed that He would know who they were referring to, and what he needed. That's trust.
What would our prayers sound like if we approached God that way? "Abba, this child you love is hurting. I know you already know what to do, so I'm waiting here for you..." Such prayers create a sense of comfort, intimacy and a simple childlike trust – a trust that, as our Daddy, He will do everything - perfectly. They remove the angst and the desperate worry that can infect our prayers.
But sometimes prayer is not so simple. Sometimes we feel more like the widow continually pounding on the unjust judge's door, saying, "Give me justice against my adversary." (Luke 18:3) Jesus encourages us to press on in this way, "And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them: I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily." (verses 7 and 8)
This seems like a contradiction: God delays and yet gives justice speedily. The Israelites experienced this contradiction when they were slaves in Egypt. Generations of Hebrews lived through the 400 years of waiting for deliverance, but when God acted, He did it speedily. I picture God sitting on the edge of His throne, eagerly counting down the minutes. The very day the 400 years was completed, at the stroke of midnight, God brought them out. He didn't even wait till morning, once the 400 years were complete.
I had a "why" question that I asked God about for ten years. Then one day, while I was standing in front of the mirror blow, drying my hair, He swept in and gave me the answer. I've had other prayers that I have prayed for over a decade, and only now am I beginning to see the answers.
Answers sometimes delay because they require a shift in the heavens before our answer can manifest. Daniel prayed for twenty-one days before his answer came – and it wasn't because God was too busy to respond. He was busy – busy fighting the prince of Persia so that the message He had for Daniel could be delivered.
Every prayer breathed is precious to God. He stores them up. Revelation 5:8 says that God has "golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people." Our prayers are always fresh in heaven – even old ones – and He answers them according to His set times.
When the angel came to Zechariah to tell him that his prayers had been heard and he was going to have a son, Zechariah may have said to himself, "Whoa... I stopped praying that prayer 20 years ago when Elizabeth went through menopause. You've got to be joking!" Zechariah may have forgotten, but God remembered.
God wants us to persist, but He also wants us to come to Him with the simple trust of a child. The problem comes when those prayers prayed in simple trust run into a wall of silence, and then crash in disappointment. That's what happened to Mary and Martha. They had trusted so innately that they felt they didn’t need to verbalize that they wanted Him to come to heal their brother. The "bell" rang, but there was no answer. Lazarus was dead.
The key in situations like this is to understand that God is always thinking in much bigger terms than we are. He's thinking about faith that is purified until it becomes eternal gold. He's thinking about the glory and honor of His son in our lives. He's thinking thoughts that take in the scope of eternity, rather than just our little bubble of "reality."
"The key in situations like this is to understand that God is always thinking in much bigger terms than we are."
Mary and Martha now faced the hardest test of their lives. They had trusted His love and He had let them down. It was bad enough that their brother had died, but the "if you had been here," was the even harder thought to face. They knew He could have done something... but He hadn't.
Disappointment and pain are etched across this passage in the Bible. We've all been there. And, Jesus is still saying, "Didn't I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (verse 40) It's not over! The glory is still to come if we will continue to believe.
It's not over! The glory is still to come if we will continue to believe.
"And how bold and free we then become in His presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that He's listening. And if we're confident that He's listening, we know that what we've asked for is as good as ours." (1 John 5:14,15, The Message)