Jesus says (in Mark 11:24) “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” We pray (granted, with varying amounts of faith) and nothing happens . . . or it goes the other way.
But what if some of those unanswered prayers were actually answered? What if we want the answer to be what WE want so badly, we miss His answer? Or the answer is “NO” for now but “YES” in the long run or to the prayer we should have uttered.
Eighteenth-century Scottish theologian P.T. Forsyth said, “We shall come one day to a heaven where we shall gratefully know that some of God’s great refusals were sometimes the true answers to our truest prayer.” Sometimes, our prayers are answered but we lack the eyes to see it. God sees the deeper intent of our prayers and responds to the greater need, which over time solves our spoken need. For example, we ask for healing, he might give us greater compassion. We know little of the ways and timing of God. We can’t fathom a timeless God who could have answered a prayer yesterday when we didn’t utter it until today. Or a prayer we utter today and we won’t see His answer until Heaven.
The toughest ones, at least for me, are the direct refusals. I pray for a “yes,” He answers, “No.” I’m learning there’s a common denominator to these prayers . . . it’s a hesitation before I ask. A little lump in my throat. A pause that signals I’m about to ask for something outside of His will. If I can honestly then say, “Father, I trust you. You know what I want . . . You know what I want to ask You for . . . but please just give me what I need instead. I know You love me and You know far better than I what’s best here. So I’m asking You to change what I want to match up with what You want me to have.” I get a strong sense of peace and release when I do that.
Louie Giglio says that how we see God may shape our lives more than anything else. Do you believe God is good, all the time? Do you believe God has your best interest at heart, no matter how your prayer is answered? With that kind of faith, it’s easier to trust Him when He says, “No.”
I’ll end this with a truth: I don’t know how to square up unanswered prayer with Jesus’ words. It’s a mystery of God only to be fully understood in Heaven. 1 Corinthians 13:12 promises …
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
God’s love isn’t a mystery. It’s abundant and available. Knowing I’m loved by an all-good, totally loving, fully just, timeless God gives me what I need to keep on believing till the day when it’ll all be fully known. In the meantime, I’ll quote Sonny from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:
“It will all work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, it’s not the end.”
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