Friday, September 23, 2011

When God Doesn't Answer

Have you ever asked God for something and he didn’t give it to you? Of course, you have. I encounter many authors. Most have been praying for years that God would help them get a publishing contract. There are couples who have been praying to have children. There are singles who long to meet the love of their life. There are people who pray for healing that doesn’t come. Whatever the need, they’ve prayed and questioned why God hasn’t met that need. Can’t he see how much pain it is causing? They’ve listened to the sermons on why God doesn’t answer and questioned whether they are asking for the wrong reason or if it is because of sin in their lives. They’ve knelt at the altar. They’ve cried themselves to sleep. They’ve spent hours in prayer and read their Bibles from cover to cover to find an answer. How long?

While asking out of lust or asking for something when our relationship with God isn’t where it should be can prevent us from receiving the fullness of God’s blessing, I highly doubt that is the reason God hasn’t answered in the situations I’ve described. Surely, if a person has spent this long asking God for something, God has had plenty of time to point out anything that might be preventing him from answering the person’s prayer or to tell the person that he is asking for something he shouldn’t be asking for. Even though people like to explain unanswered prayer away by saying that prayer is more about changing the petitioner than it is about persuading God, there comes a time when the petitioner doesn’t need to make changes in his life and yet God still doesn’t answer. That’s frustrating (believe me, I know), but it’s true all the same. Just look at Hannah. It wasn’t sin in her life that prevented her from having children and there was nothing wrong with her desire for children.

God looks on the heart, while man looks at the outward appearance. (I Samuel 16:7) We often think of that in terms of how we treat others or in our airs of goodness versus what God knows of us, but it is true of other things as well. Often, when we pray, we have this picture in our head of what life will be like when God grants us our request. That picture is based on what we believe about who we are and what we want to be. God looks at who he knows us to be and what he wants us to become. His picture looks very different. I would imagine that Hannah just wanted to be a mother. The Lord had bigger plans for her and her son. Samuel became God’s mouthpiece and anointed both King Saul and King David. Mothers are a dime a dozen. You can’t throw a stone without hitting one (and some of them need to be), but mothers like Hannah are very rare.

Unfortunately, Samuels are rare also. Just because God hasn’t given you a child yet doesn’t mean he is waiting to raise up a Samuel. It may be that he looks at you and knows that if he were to give you the thing you asked for you wouldn’t handle it well. Look at the number of people who get divorced. Approximately one-third (1/3) of the people who get married end up getting divorced. While the odds are pretty good that if you get married you’ll stay married, that figure tells us that 33% of the people who get married wished they’d never gotten married. Or to put it another way, 33% of the people who once thought they’d found the love of their life have decided that they were wrong. As painful as it is for a single person to go through life alone, such a person is better off than the person who goes through a divorce. By not giving a person what he asks for, God may be protecting that person from pain that he would experience if God gave him what he asked.

But it’s hardly as simple as that. God has the ability to change things. If we aren’t the kind of people who can handle what we’re asking for or if what we’re asking involves people who aren’t prepared, God has the ability to change them into the people they need to be. And that’s what we hope he is doing, but it takes time. God seldom reveals his time clock, but he knows when the time is right. His timing is perfect.

So what are we to do? If you’ve been asking the Lord for something for a long time and he has been silent, keep asking. Until he clearly tells you that he isn’t going to give you what you ask, keep asking. You recall how that David fasted before his son died, but afterward he went on about his business. But if the Lord has made it clear to you that he isn’t going to give you what you ask, give up. Whatever you do, don’t get ahead of the Lord. It may be that he will eventually give you what you ask, but wait for his timing or it may end in failure.