[And now, for something completely different from yesterday's fun and goofiness....]
If I were you, as soon as I detected that this is a post about unanswered prayer, I'd probably skip it. Is there anything new — and true — to say about unanswered prayer? It's hardly a fresh-minted topic. The saints of old, even the saints of very, very old (Genesis 15:3), would take a "been there, done that" view of the subject. The odds that I have anything new to say are slim to none.
Besides, as Spurgeon might say, if I did have anything new to say, it would probably be in error, anyway.
Nonetheless I share some of my own reflections, in the hopes that what gives me some comfort might do the same for you (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). But that depends in part on how similar you and I are.
If you are one of those people who naturally just loves prayer, and takes great comfort out of the act itself, you may not find much help here. Just being able to pray make you happy, encourages you, reassures you—no matter what does or doesn't come of it. God bless you, other things being equal; don't let me detain you.
But perhaps some of you have had crushing, specific needs for years. You are at the end of your resources, and beyond. If there's one more thing you can do, you haven't the faintest echo of the hint of a clue what it might be. But you have prayed. Oh yes, you have prayed, and you have prayed, and you have prayed. Specifically, fervently, earnestly, quoting Scripture, taking God's promises to Him as so many greater men of God have done in ages past (Numbers 14:13-20; 2 Samuel 7:18-29, etc.). You do not have, but it is not because you have not asked.
This one area—or these areas, or this cluster—does not seem to change. It doesn't budge. In fact, it may worsen. It is as if the situation taunts you, your faith, your powerless and ineffective prayers. "Prayer changes things," folks say. "Yes, right," you are tempted to snort. "It makes them worse."
The other day, as I drove to work in the early-morning darkness, I was bringing just such matters to the Lord. I was tired of hearing myself pray about them, and I told Him so. Not for the first time. I didn't even have anything new to say about them. When I began praying about them, years ago, they were urgent and vital needs. And now, years later, they are just as vital, just as urgent; in fact, more so. They need God's intervention; yet on that score, I haven't even seen a cloud the size of a man's hand.
So why does my heavenly Father seem so disinterested in needs that are vital, pressing, pivotal, and real? Why does He show no sign of care for something so horrendously momentous to me? Why is it as if He is asleep, as we rattle on about our screaming needs?
I put that very question to God.
Now, if that language shocks you, you might just review Psalm 13 in toto, the psalm Spurgeon almost called "the Howling Psalm, from the incessant repetition of the cry 'how long?'" You might look afresh as well Psalms 7:6 and 35:23 (Yahweh seems asleep?), 44:24; and even the prayers of the saints in glory, in Revelation 6:10, for starters. I concluded long ago that there is simply no point being disingenuous with God.
And as I prayed that morning, my mind ranged to the many things I often pray. And I reflected anew on them.
Every morning as I leave my house, my dear family, I feel an uneasy lurch, and I pray that God watch over them and protect them. And every time, hundreds of times, thousands of times, without exception, He has graciously said "Yes." Not so for many others in the broad world.
Every week (at least) I pray "Give us this day our daily bread." And every day, every week, for years and years without exception, God has said, "Yes." Not so for many others in the broad world.
Every week I pray that God will bless our pastor with a truthful, passionate word from the Word. And every week without exception, God has said "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.
Every time I have dug into Scripture to bring something to the pulpit myself, I have asked God to open it to me, and to guide my thinking, and to give me something of His truth to say. And every time, He has graciously stooped to say, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.
Thinking of our last two children, and some worrisome concerns that arose during pregnancy, I remember that I prayed for my wife Valerie's safety, and for God's kind hand on our babies. And in both those cases, God graciously said, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.
In all the thousands of miles our family has traveled together, and the thousands we've traveled apart, I've prayed for safety on land, in the air, at sea. And every time, without exception, God has said, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.
But most pivotally for me, thirty-four years ago next month, I prayed to God for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, that He would make me His own, to put His blood on me and forgive me all my sins. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit said, "Yes."
Those are some seriously whopping-big "Yeses."
So why do these other, undeniably critical unmet needs seem so much larger? It is because they are as yet unmet. Because I haven't yet seen what God is going to do in those situations, finally. Because I'm living in the not-yet.
But suppose any one of those yeses had been a no. Suddenly what seems like a small facet of my life would become THE overwhelming and all-absorbing throb of all existence to me. One phone call at work, lost employment, disaster, and suddenly the entire landscape of my world would alter.
Then that would become the need I felt most keenly, elbowing all else aside.
Am I saying that my ongoing crises aren't critical? No, I'm not; nor that yours are any less so.
What I am saying is that we characteristically forget that every critical, crying Not-yet is floating on a vast, billowing sea of Yes and Yes and Yes. If you are a Christian, reading this, God has said Yes to you far more often than He has said No; and you have every reason to believe that every No conceals a because I have a better idea. Behind our every prayer, our great Mediator, our Savior, our great High Priest the Lord Jesus Christ, pleads for us before the throne (Hebrews 7:25), adding His intercession to that of the blessed Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).
I am saying that we all, on occasion, make the most spoiled-rotten brat look like a Model Child, through our bursting, thunderous ingratitude. At the very least, I am saying that for myself.
Indeed, what I'm trying to say has already been said better than I could ever phrase it:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,I leave you with that, and with the wish that you all be with God's people in church this weekend, hearing His word, loving His people, and thanking Him for his literally innumerable mercies.
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.