When our older daughter was growing up, her friends started having their ears pierced, so naturally she wanted hers done. We told her she could have that for her 12th birthday present. Now why we made that condition, I have no remembrance since it was a long time ago. She may have asked more times but always had that limit; however, the time finally come and her desire was fulfilled. Our younger daughter is four years younger, and after a while she wanted the same thing, so got the same promise.
As I was thinking about prayer this morning and some prayers I’ve prayed for a long time, this memory came to mind. God often grants our prayers but puts us in a holding time first, for which He does not give us a reason. I’ve found though that we can learn tremendously more about God and ourselves during that time. Just as people hope for a cure to devastating diseases, so we long for an immediate answer to our prayers. Much research is done and one thing leads to another until finally one day two events come together to cause a cure to be found, we anticipate. In the same way, sometimes God orchestrates events so that our prayers are answered, but this may take much patience on our part.
As we pray and don’t see answers, we begin to see whether our motives are pure or selfish. Do I want this situation for my own convenience, or is it actually something that God desires also? Will it help or hinder someone else? Why do I desire this particular answer? Am I willing to wait for it if it doesn’t come quickly? Will I allow God to work in my life to make me more like the image of Christ, or do I continue to want my own way? What fruit of the Spirit am I lacking that God may impart to me during this time?
Galatians 5:22-24 tells us: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Perhaps this is what God wants to do within us while we wait. Are we willing for Him to do that?
We also learn whether or not we truly trust God during waiting times. Will we continue to believe He is able to answer our prayers, or do we give up on Him? Do we persist in our faith, knowing without any doubt that our Father is loving and faithful, far more than we will ever understand? Do we continually rely on these qualities in Him, no matter what our circumstances seem to be? Will we be obedient to what God tells us to do in the meanwhile?
Probably always, God will demonstrate more of Himself to us in a holding time. As we grow more dependent, He manifests Himself to us – that is He shows us more of His character so that we begin to know Him better. John 14:21 says, “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him” (The Message*).
As we grow spiritually, we learn to love God more, to trust Him to plan good for us (see Jeremiah 29:11), to become obedient to do as He says, and to do that quickly without hesitation. While I’m not there yet, I’ve come a long way from when I was a teenager and read the following verses, believing them with a strong, child-like faith.
John 14:12-14 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (emphasis mine).
John 15:7-8 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (emphasis mine).
John 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (emphasis mine).
As I said, when I was a teen I believed these verses with a child-like faith; when that prayer was not answered after much heart-felt pleading, I allowed this to distance my heart from my Father, more or less spiritually running away from home. I continued to act the part of a faithful child on the outside but inside I felt betrayed and dismayed. I could not understand why God did not keep His word to me. Now this particular prayer involved someone else believing in Jesus as their Savior, and God will not make anyone a robot. Even if it means their eternity in hell, God will not go against Himself when He gave us a free will to accept or reject Him. I did not understand that at the time and was sincere in my desire for the other person. I could not say now if my prayer also had some selfish interest in the answer. But this was to be a life-long lesson to me. It took many years after that division, but I was God’s child and He continued to woo me back to whole-heartedness with Himself. My Father did not give up on me.
You notice that I underlined some of the above phrases; that’s because I think they are vital to the verse. Some of these are conditions but two are results. John 14:12 mentions we must have faith in Jesus. That is not the faith of salvation but rather the faith of totally trusting that God’s word is true, without any doubt. Oh, how hard that is to gain when our circumstances look unfavorable! That’s when we must look to God and depend upon His faithfulness while keeping our eyes from dwelling on our situation – in other words, living by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We do not deny our circumstances but realize that God is mightier than they are.
John 15:7-8 gives two conditions and one result: Jesus says we must keep on putting Him first in our lives; even when we are busy, our spirits can be praying and thinking about spiritual issues (see Romans 8:26-27). Also, we must keep on studying the Bible. That’s not just reading a few verses, but thinking about Scripture and how it applies to our lives, asking the Holy Spirit to show us all we need to understand from God’s Word. Our Father promises that when we do these things, He will bring about the result of us being witnesses of Him and thus bearing fruit for eternal glory.
Will we always know how others are affected by our lives? No. How many have had someone in their younger lives mentor them and be a spiritual father or mother but later lose track of that person? That happened to me with one special friend; she was sent into my life for a reason and a season, as the saying goes. She moved many years ago, long before the time of inexpensive phone calls or email, and we eventually lost track of each other; but she was there when I needed her most and one day we will rejoice with each other in heaven.
John 16:24 tells us basically that when we learn to truly pray in faith and see those answers, we will have incomparable joy. What a result! We don’t pray for this joy but receive it as a result of the work God does in our lives as we draw close to Him. Perhaps this is one reason God delays answers to prayer – so that we will get continually closer to Him and becoming more like our Savior Jesus Christ.
Whatever your unanswered prayer may be, first of all ask yourself if God will be honored by the result and if you’re truly praying in faith. Then ask your loving Father to give you a Scripture to hold onto – a signpost that no matter what your eyes may see, you will know that you know that God will grant your request. Oh, how that helps us when we can read those verses back to God as an answer to our prayer. Not that we need to remind Him but rather ourselves of God’s faithfulness to fulfill what He has spoken. That doesn’t mean we pick a verse at random and say God will do this for me. No His Spirit leads us and plants that deep within our hearts so that it becomes a part of us that circumstances cannot uproot.
Let me encourage you to keep on persisting in faith and prayer, whether or not you see the result. We don’t necessarily need to keep on asking God for the same thing repeatedly, though we may. Jesus prayed three times before Calvary that if it was God’s will, He would not have to face the agony of the cross. When Jesus had His answer, the issue was settled. Paul also prayed three times for a certain thorn, or difficulty of some kind, to be taken from him. In both cases God said no but brought victory out of the situation. Because Jesus and Paul prayed three times, that does not mean we must do the same thing. God does not want us to write rules like this about how He will work in our lives or the way we live. Three prayers are not magic.
Sometimes God answers immediately with only one prayer; other times, we may pray many times. However, when we believe fully that God has said He will answer a prayer, we can start thanking Him for that answer. This builds up our faith much more than repeatedly begging God, and often our lack of faith is a real hindrance. We must stand firm against all assaults from Satan, the enemy of our souls. Ephesians 4:27 tells us Do not give the devil a foothold. Prayer can be a battle between righteousness and evil; we may be a warrior and not be aware of it. Let your courage and faith grow. God is always faithful.
Perhaps you think, well I’m just not there yet. That’s ok. If we are willing, God will always take us where He knows we need to go. All He asks of us is our willingness, and that can often be our battle. I’m a peace-lover. I do not like friction or strife and am not a competitive person. One lesson I’ve had to learn is that often we must fight spiritually for the answers to our prayers. John 10:10 states: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. In other words, Satan wants only to do things that harm us and those God calls to Himself. Jesus came to give us a true fullness of life, so that we have the Holy Spirit living within us and we no longer simply exist until our time of death comes. Yes, we often have to fight but we know God is the Victor and through Him, we win the war.
I’m reminded of the story of Oswald Chambers, a great servant of God and a man of faith that few others are. He prayed and saw God provide food for orphans; when there was nothing in the home, someone would bring milk and another brought bread. Multiple times this happened, as well as many other miracles God provided in answer to his faithful prayers. However, one answer was delayed a great many years – that of a loved one’s salvation. Rev. Oswald prayed daily for that man but never saw the answer. Nevertheless, on the day of his funeral, that man believed in Jesus to be his eternal Savior. God was faithful, even though the prayer wasn’t answered during his servant’s lifetime.
Hang on, stand firm, battle wisely; if God has led you to pray for a certain person or situation, then He will one day bring that answer. Your Father is always faithful. Ask and receive that your joy may be complete.
* THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved. All other Scripture is from the NIV.