“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: 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 what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15 NIV
Jesus tells us that God hears us… and answers us.
But does he?
Let’s be honest. When we don’t get our prayers answered, we either doubt our technique or our God.
But could it be that it’s not that he doesn’t answer? He just might not answer the way we want.
Evangelist and author Luis Paulo says that God answers our prayers in one of five ways. And we see this in Jesus.
1. I thought you’d never ask.
Sometimes it’s as if he’s waiting on us. We see Jesus do this when a woman reaches out to Jesus to heal her from what the scriptures refer to as “an issue of blood.” She doesn’t even ask. She just reaches out and touches him having faith that this would be enough to help her. It turns out it was just what was needed. Jesus stops traffic and turns to find her, commending her faith and verifying her healing.
There are times I’ve been at my wit’s end with problem-solving, and finally, I stop and pray. It’s almost as if I can sense God saying, “It’s about time.” Sometimes the problem is resolved, but often the peace that comes over me is overwhelming. Out of the peace comes clarity… which breeds solutions. I wonder how long I missed out because I hadn’t asked yet?
2. Yes, and here’s more!
I’m always struck by the small detail in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus is handed a sack lunch that the disciples seemingly stole from a kid (thus originating the age-old bullying phrase “give me your lunch money”), and then he turns it into enough to feed 5,000 people. This is what gets the headlines. Jesus feeds 5,000 people! Which probably was more like 15,000 since they usually only counted the men. But the detail lost in the fine print is the phrase “and the disciples collected the leftovers – 12 baskets full.” All kinds of symbolism here regarding the 12 disciples, the 12 tribes of Israel, etc. But the main point is sometimes, with Jesus, our requests turn into a yes… with leftovers!
A few times in our church’s history, I remember praying for a few baptisms only to see hundreds. Or asking for a couple of volunteers and finding dozens showed up. God seems to know what the task requires.
3. Yes, but not the way you thought.
Because Jesus sees things from a different perspective, he knows our greatest needs. When a group of men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, they hoped for Jesus to heal his physical ailment. Jesus forgave his sins. He knew the bigger issue in this man’s life was with his soul, not just his body. That being said, he then goes on to help him walk again. But certainly not exactly how these men thought this day would go.
Another time, Jesus walks by a paraplegic, who, day in and day out, would rest by the pool of Bethsaida. A place that was thought to have healing power. Jesus asked one question “Do you want to get well?” The man’s reply implied he had no idea who Jesus was. His request was for someone to help him into the healing pool. Jesus met his need… but in a different way… he just told him to get up and walk.
Have you ever had those moments? I’ve prayed for my kids to have friends at school, only to see them be a friend to those in need. Not what I prayed for… probably should have been… but God had another idea. My mom used to pray for God to make ends meet, and he did…. But not through an anonymous check in the mail, but rather through my dad being able to always fix our cars. After years of this, my dad started saying, “The Lord will provide.”
4. Not at this time.
Sometimes Jesus’ response was a matter of timing. His own mother wants him to save the day at a wedding, to which Jesus replies, “its not time yet.” But then He goes ahead and does it. I’ve always wondered about that. Was “the time” 15 minutes from now? But clearly, Jesus has His own timetable.
Another time the masses cry out to Him, “just show us a sign.” Jesus says “No,” partly because he knows their wicked hearts… and partly because the sign they need is to see the resurrection. This will come in time.
We prayed for land and a building for our church for years. Every time we’d get close, the city would shut us down. I found myself getting so frustrated with God. After all, we’re trying to do a good thing here! Years later, after we saw God say yes to this prayer, it was clear that he had been protecting us from smaller dreams. When he finally said “Yes,” it was clear that for years he had been saying “right idea, just not the right time.” More to come on that one.
5. No, because I love you too much.
While Jesus was on the cross, the mockers cried out to him, “If you are God then come down off that cross.” Of course, they are sarcastic in their claims, but Jesus, in his compassion for the world, knows that he could come down and make their jaws drop. He’d save his “dignity,” but they’d lose their souls. In this case, his answer is, “No, because I love you too much.”
And perhaps the greatest example of this was the answer Jesus received from the Father in the Garden. “Will you take this cup from me?” And the answer was “no.” because I love you… and THEM… too much.
“We should pray by fixing our mind upon some pressing need, desiring it with all earnestness, and then exercise faith and confidence toward God in the matter, never doubting that we have been heard. St. Bernard said, “Dear brothers, you should never doubt your prayer, thinking that it might have been in vain, for I tell you truly that before you have uttered the words, the prayer is already recorded in heaven. Therefore you should confidently expect from God one of two things: either that your prayer will be granted, or that if it is not granted, the granting of it would not be good for you.” Martin Luther Devotional Classics, p. 117
And if quoting Martin Luther isn’t enough, can I quote Garth Brooks? “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” Mic drop.
I can have confidence that because of Jesus, God hears me when I pray, and he answers in a way that is best for me.
Today’s prayer: Father, may I see how you are answering my prayers.