Upon receiving disappointing results for her first school assessment, my dejected daughter came to ask me, “Why didn’t God answer my prayer and help me in my test?” I immediately shot up an emergency prayer to heaven for inspiration to help me satisfactorily simplify a theological enigma for my 7-year-old.
Since the beginning of this year (2020), my family has been diligently incorporating the daily creed of ‘Praying First for ALL Circumstances.’ Before sleeping each night, we take Communion, recite Psalms 23, 91, and The Lord’s Prayer, and then pray for one another. That’s why I knew I had some solid explaining to do for my little one’s ‘unanswered prayer’ conundrum.
My first attempt didn’t go down too well. “I think God answers all our prayers in His perfect way, but we’re the ones who see our requests as unanswered.” That only furrowed her brow further. So I resorted to the Sunday School teacher’s explanation, “When we ask God for something, His response can be either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘wait’.” That was somewhat easier for her to comprehend, even though perhaps difficult to accept.
When God says ‘Yes’
We know that God is not a genie and praying is not about getting what we want from Him, although we undoubtedly derive much joy and fulfilment when we do have our prayers answered. Derek Prince said, “For my part, I love to pray – and what’s more, I get what I pray for.” Jesus promised in John 16:24, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” When we ask in His Name and in His will, Father always answers, “Yes!” He just waits for us to ask in faith and to pray believing.
When God says ‘No’
Bill Hybels wrote, “If the request is wrong, God says, ‘no’. If the timing is wrong, God says, ‘slow’. If you’re wrong, God says, ‘grow’. God’s goodness is never compromised when the answer is just simply ‘no’. As God, He has every right to refuse our requests, and we’re assured that, in His infinite wisdom, He has all the right reasons to do so as well. What’s infinitely more important is our response to His decision.
David pleaded with God to save his child’s life when his sins of murder and adultery were being judged. He fasted and spent nights on the ground in sackcloth – but the child still died. How did David respond to the tragedy? By worshipping (2 Sam 12:20). Paul pleaded desperately for respite from his affliction. ‘Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. And Jesus said, “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak”.’ How did Paul respond? By boasting gladly about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power could flow through him (2 Cor 12:8-10).
When God says, ‘no’, it’s because there’s a bigger ‘yes’ to follow. Bill Johnson says, “Delayed answers to prayer are gaining interest.”
When God says ‘Wait’
For me, the hardest thing to receive is an answer from God to ‘wait’. Perhaps, because of my Asian upbringing, I’ve learned to accept a ‘no’ more easily, so it can be a struggle to be asked to wait. And sometimes, waiting can be flat-out heartbreaking. But I continually remind myself that my Heavenly Father knows what’s best and I submit to His will. After all, prayer is a relational journey with God that transforms us to become more like Him. If Jesus equated answered prayer to bearing much fruit in John 15:8, then a delayed answer to prayer is part of the pruning process.
In his book, ‘The Fire of Delayed Answers’, Bob Sorge wrote, ‘His purpose for the delay (of answering prayers) is to strengthen our faith, kindle our love to new depths of passion and maturity, and impart the heart and character of Christ to us – all in order to make us a more useful vessel.’
Beloved, we’re living in the season of the ‘beginning of sorrows’ that Jesus described in Matthew 24. With viral pestilences and natural disasters picking up speed all around us, more than ever, NOW is the time to lift up holy hands and to pray without doubt, fear, and offence. Not only is this the training ground for us to become overcomers, it’s also an open door to declare to the world that God is good and faithful. Perhaps this is also the time for us to invite the Spirit of the Fear of the Lord into our lives, families, and churches.
God, the Sovereign King, is seated on His Throne of Grace. Let us approach Him boldly to receive mercy and find the grace we need to help us in these perilous times.