Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Waiting on an Answer to Prayer

Has there ever been something in your life you seem to have been praying for forever and nothing has happened yet?  I am not talking about those times when God said "No."  I am talking about those times where there just seems to be some kind of silent waiting and yearning for God to move in either direction.  Usually we know how we want God to move, but by the end we just want God to do something, even if just to give us a negative answer or move us in a different direction.  Other times we just want to give up.  We feel as though we prayed and toiled as much as we can to where we take the mindset that if God were going to act, He would have acted by now.  I am writing today to encourage you.  God, for what we will ultimately understand as for very good reasons, sometimes makes us wait.  For as long as God waits to answer is how long we should pray for something. 
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 'yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.' " Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? "  Luke 18:1-7 NKJV
God has many reasons for His timing on when He answers us, and those reasons usually become evident when the answer finally does come.  When it does, though, it is important that we should act. 
When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net." And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  Luke 5:4-6 NKJV
I know that this example may not specifically involve prayer, but it beautifully illustrates the point I am making.  Peter (then called Simon) was directed by Jesus to launch out into the deep and cast out their nets.  Peter reminds Jesus that they have toiled all night and caught nothing.  How many of us have been in this same position?  We try and try and try and pray and pray and pray and nothing happens.  Often our trying is out of frustration trying to goad God into acting and we learn that acting in our own strength is a lot of work with very little reward.  Peter had given up on fishing just as we often give up on whatever it is what we are asking for, but then the Lord speaks.  It is at this point in our lives when that answer finally comes and often we are asked to do the same thing we were trying to do.  We may even remind God that we already tried that.  Of course, the difference is that now God is telling us to do it and when God tells us to do something He is going to work it out.  Peter acted in faith and found tremendous success, more than he was even prepared for or hoped for.  The same can be for our lives when we act when the Lord tells us to act. 

Sometimes when waiting for an answer, we must consider if the reason that God has not answered is because of us. 
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.  James 4:3 NKJV

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.  Psalm 66:18 NKJV
There are two reasons that are on us where the Lord may not be answering our prayer.  The first reason is that we are asking with the wrong heart.  We are asking for something for selfish reasons or refusing to submit to anything other than your own ideas.  Considering the first step in discipleship is to deny ourselves, it only makes sense that God will not answer selfish prayers.  This is not to say that any prayer for our self is a selfish prayer.  We are supposed to lay all our cares on God and if they are our cares then they have to do with our selves.  The difference is in asking God to provide you a job so that you can provide for your family (a good prayer) vs. asking God to win the lottery so you never have to work again (a bad prayer).  In other words, the kind of selfish prayer that James is talking about are things that we want that we really have no need for and things that only serve to satisfy the flesh we are to crucify. 

The other reason is if we hold unconfessed sin in our hearts.  If we are living a life of sin, God does not want to hear anything other than confession and to work in our hearts for repentance.  The very reason you have a care to prayer for could be that God is trying to get your attention.  He is certainly not going to remove it until it serves its purpose.  Even in the Lord's prayer, there is a plea for forgiveness.  It is an essential part of prayer and if neglected can result in God not hearing your prayer.  Confession is a wonderful thing.  It is a cleansing experience as you pour your heart out before God.  It is only acknowledging what He already knows and it clears the air removing that barrier between yourself and God.  Confession is not for God's sake, but for ours and when we neglect that as part of our prayer we only hurt ourselves. 

If the reason is not something in our own hearts, then God's delay are for His own purposes.  There is much evidence of this in Scripture. First there was Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.  By the time God answered his prayer, he thought they were too old to have children.  But this was about timing.  God had very special plans for their child and prevented Elizabeth from having a child until the timing was right for John to be born.  Sometimes God waits because it is simply not time.  I know for me, I wanted to be moved out of our condo and closer to my job before last Winter.  God knew that we would use that time to pay off our credit cards and that this Winter would be mild.  I may not have understood at the time, I may have even "disagreed" with God, but God knew best and our waiting was much to our benefit.  We must trust God with not just the right answer, but the right time for that answer. 

Another reason is that God wants the answer that glorifies Him.  Jesus healed many people who suffered with whatever ailment they had for a very long time.  Whether it be the man who was blind from birth or the woman who was bleeding for twelve years.  I am sure they pleaded with God during their time of calamity for healing.  I am sure they were desperate (we know the woman was), yet God was waiting until Jesus came to heal them.  God did so to make them an example that would glorify God and add proof that Jesus was Messiah.  What they suffered for that time was nothing compared to the honor of being recorded in eternal Word of God.  They never gave up hope that God could heal them.  They may have been close, but in the end, they were able to muster up faith in Jesus and receive the healing they have desired for a very long time.

One other reason why God may delay His answer is a combination of His timing and our hearts.   Sometimes we are just not ready.  Of course if we are asking for it, we think we are ready and perhaps we even feel that calling tugging on our hearts.  Sometimes we know we are called by God into some great ministry or even to just be a husband or a father but we are still working in the world, unmarried, and/or childless.  This can go on for a very long time and it can discourage us.  We must not lose heart, though.  One example that comes to mind immediately is Moses.  Moses already felt a calling to be part of his people and perhaps even as a leader over them, yet when he first tried to act, he had to exile himself for decades being rejected by the Egyptians and his own people.  That time prepared Moses and his heart for the task God had for him.  Please understand that if you know God has called you to something and that something has not happened, what you must do is use that time to allow God to prepare you.  If God has called you, the time will come and what you should be doing is preparing. 

The point of this message is that we should not lose heart when we are waiting on God.  Do not give up praying and do not give up faith in God to answer.  Keep praying, keep pleading, keep preparing, and keep open and ready to accept and act on whatever answer God will give you.  If you are asking selfishly, the prayer should be to change your heart.  If you are asking while living in unconfessed sin, confess that sin to God and allow Him to first do that cleansing work in your heart.  Above all, if God has not answered, do not give up asking.  I know the wait can be long and I know at times it can be discouraging, but we can never give up.  Where would Moses have been if he just gave up?  Would the woman with the flow of blood have ever received her healing?  Would Peter have caught fish?  God promises to answer all of our prayers, never forget that, even as you wait. 
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have asked of Him.  1 John 5:14-15 NKJV

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