I used to love Garth Brooks. I guess I still do. One of my favorites of his was “Unanswered Prayers.” It’s the bittersweet story of a guy who prayed and prayed in his youth that the Lord would allow one particular girl to be his for the rest of his life. Things didn’t work out that way, and he meets his old gal with his current wife at a party. He’s now glad God didn’t answer his prayer back then as he prayed it, because otherwise he wouldn’t have the wife he has now.
That’s a really sweet song, and I really like it, but unanswered prayer is rarely that sweet. Most of the time, it is really, really rough. Prayers seemingly met with God’s silence can be agonizing, bitter, painful, and harsh. It can be confusing, particularly given Christ’s admonition that, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24). Sometimes, maybe often, we ask, we believe, we think we’re praying powerful prayers, and we still don’t receive. God doesn’t seem to answer. Unanswered prayer, or prayer that appears to be unanswered, is a big deal, worth two parts in any discussion on prayer.
The truth is, God always answers our prayer, as He promises to do. Sometimes it’s not the answer we want. Sometimes the answer to our prayer is “no.” “No” is an answer to prayer, just like “yes” is. So is, “yes, but not yet.” We forget that, although we as parents should know it better than anyone. Is there anything you delayed in giving your children, like a cell phone (I pray, for their sakes, the answer to that question is “yes”)? Or, if they’re too young for a cell phone (bless you, if you think they are, then they are) did you always give them that really nasty candy on the bottom row at the grocery store every time they asked? If you delayed in giving the cell phone, did your kids ask you more than once? Mine probably asked me 275,000 times, and I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating. I am convinced my kids thought I was the slowest, dimmest, or meanest parent ever. What the heck was I up to, taking so long, or saying “no”? The awesome thing is, now they’re in college, they totally get it. They are really grateful I didn’t give them a cell phone, or almost anything, the first time they asked. With some things they wanted, they’re now very grateful we never gave them at all. Now they even realize that the waiting itself, whatever it was for, was a gift. But, they didn’t have the maturity or the understanding back then. So, they thought I was dim. Or mean. Or out to make things harder for them.
We don’t know everything God knows. Sometimes we ask for things that aren’t good for us, or may be good but aren’t the absolute best thing for us. God is governing the entire universe. I don’t live in a vacuum. The things that happen to me affect everyone else.
I have a friend whose college-aged daughter was in a car wreck summer before last. She suffered horrible brain injuries, and eventually died. Her mom, her school community, and all of us were praying like crazy for her to live, for God to perform a miracle. At almost that same moment, other families elsewhere were praying for organ donors so their family members could live. Sometime later, I read a Facebook post from a mom writing about her near-fatal struggle with cystic fibrosis. She was praising God for answering her prayers, rejoicing that she would now live to raise her four-year-old daughter. What was God’s healing provision for that mom? The new lungs she received from a donor. My friend later told us that young mom had her daughter’s lungs, which she had donated the day her daughter died.
God could only say “yes” to one of those prayers, right? And, that’s just one facet of that whole interrelationship. What about the children, and the grandchildren of that young mom, people who might never otherwise have been born, but who are obviously being raised in a legacy of faith? What are God’s plans for them? What are God’s plans for my friend? What about you and me, who now know that story of compassion and love and will forever be changed by it? It gives me a headache just thinking about it. Only God can answer these questions with his perfect wisdom; I can’t. I’m glad I don’t have to. That’s where the trust comes in.
God is in the process of weaving a huge story involving all of mankind, at the same time He’s hearing your prayer. Your prayer is one tiny loop in a beautiful tapestry the size of the National Mall. He answers your prayer in accordance with weaving that amazing story, a story that is incredibly intricate and complex, and that we can’t even begin to understand.
Pastor and writer Tim Keller says that God always answers our prayers in the way we would pray them if we knew everything God knows. First Corinthians says we see through a glass dimly, but one day we will see face to face.
God knows, and He loves. God feels, and He weaves. And, He answers.