We tend to think God isn’t listening or that His arm is too short to answer our prayers. Actually, the problem is us…kind of.
If you have ever prayed, asked God for something, an answer, some direction, healing, anything; if you have prayed and God has not answered, raise you hand. Or click the like button. Something to show that you are with me on this.
I have prayed for years now, asking God what He has called me to this particular place for, what role I am supposed to be playing in the church, and I have heard nothing in response. Maybe you have prayed the exact same prayer. Or maybe your pray was more noble and it was a prayer for someone else. Perhaps you have been asking for a loved one to be healed of a long time illness. You could be asking God to send that special someone your way, or make something work out for you to take that next step in your job or school, or in life.
Chances are good that you have prayed a prayer like that, and you did not get an immediate response. The illness has not gone away. There is no special someone knocking on your door. You are still waiting for that door to open, still waiting to take that next step. Or like me, you are still waiting for God to give you some direction or indication of what you are supposed to do next.
This isn’t the point I’m driving at, but just so you know, you are not alone in your feelings of frustration.
Sometimes after I’ve been praying about these things, or someone prays for me concerning these issues, I wonder: why won’t God answer these prayers? Am I doing something wrong? Did I not say the “magic” word? Did we not say “and LORD Jesus” enough to make prayer charismatic enough? Did we need more oil on my forehead? I wonder these things because I don’t know what the hold up is. I can’t understand why God doesn’t just answer me, give me exactly what I was wanting.
While there are plenty of reasons why God doesn’t answer prayer, I was overwhelmed by something I found in the first few verses of the book of Joshua. It was something that had never occurred to me, but spoke directly to my frustration of unanswered prayers. It cleared away some of the questions about God not immediately answering prayer. Not everything, but some. Enough that I was brought to a place of humbleness and worship.
“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aid: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses…No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” – Joshua 1:1-3,5
It may not hit you over the head like it did for me. You probably haven’t been reading, ever so slowly, through the Old Testament like I have, so let me share some things.
Israel just came out of the desert, now standing on the doorstep of the Promised Land. They have been waiting over 40 years for this moment. Wait, did I say 40? No. Longer than that. Before they standing on the doorstep, they were living as slaves in Egypt. They were in bondage there, crying out to God for salvation for over 400 years. The desire to be free, to be their own people in their own land had been a national longing for almost 500 years.
Umm…that’s not right. Back up.
Before the nation of Israel was enslaved by the Egyptians, they were free and living in the land of Canaan. Though they were not nearly as large a nation then as they were in the beginning of Joshua, they had the promise of a permanent home lingering in their minds. It was a promise that was given to their forefathers, all the way back to Abraham, all the way back to Genesis 15. It was all the way back then that God promised to Abraham that he and his descendants would live in a “promised land” one day. That was currently occupied by other nations, but God was declaring that it would be home to the children of Abraham.
Over 700 years before Joshua and Israel are standing on the doorstep of that Promised Land!
It is hard for me to imagine a country with that much history. I live in Canada, and we are only celebrating our 150th birthday as a nation now. But Israel had been waiting and hoping, praying the same prayer over and over again, longing for God to give them what they wanted for over 700 years. And that leads me to the first thing we need to remember.
1. God Doesn’t Own A Watch, And That’s Okay
A prayer that isn’t answered immediately isn’t a sign of God not loving us, or not hearing us, or deeming our prayer as unworthy of answering. A prayer that isn’t answered in 700 years was not a sign that God had given up on Israel, but I am so quick to accuse of God of that when nothing happens two minutes after I say “Amen”.
We need to be reminded often that God does not follow our timetable. He is not bound to fit things into our schedule. He is God. He doesn’t own a watch. But his lack of a watch doesn’t mean that he will not do what he said he would. God’s lack of a watch doesn’t mean that He says things and never follows through. The lack of a watch only means that it will happen when He is ready. And when I say “when He is ready”, I mean when He wants to. God will fulfill all the things that He promises.
This is frustrating to hear. We are a microwave generation, with our 24 hour news cycle, instant coffee, and TV dinners. We want stuff done immediately. We demand everything yesterday, and the idea of waiting drives us crazy. But when God doesn’t instantly answer our prayers, we shouldn’t get so agitated.
If the answer isn’t immediate, it doesn’t mean that God is absent, or that He doesn’t care about you or your prayer. For those 700 years, all those people praying, God heard them. He was working on their answer. That idea may not give you instant comfort, and I get that, but it leads us right into the second thing we need to remember.
2. God Is A “Man” Of His Word
I put “Man” in quotation because we all know that God is not male, or of any gender, but that is the phrase. God does what He said He will do.
700 years later may seem like 700 years too long to wait, but that part isn’t up to us. 700 years later and God still makes good on His promises to someone that is long since dead. 700 years and God still holds to His word that He will give Abraham and his children a land to call their own, even if it takes 700 years to do it. Even if Abraham isn’t around to see it, God will be faithful. To those Israelites that were in Egypt, those that passed away before the Exodus led by Moses, God honoured their prayers and gave their children the freedom they prayed for. Why? Because God is a man of his word. God told Moses that He would lead Israel to the promise land, and now Joshua stands at the doorway, and God proves Himself faithful.
I can’t tell you the number of times that God has proven himself faithful. To say that it is over and over, that it has been a constant thing in my life would be to diminish what God has done. My wedding was an event of God’s faithfulness. Dates and venues, photographers and hotel rooms, money to pay for everything and getting days off work to do; everything fell into place perfectly. And each one of those things we sent up in anxious prayer, hoping for an immediate response. And each prayer was meet with the same answer, a quiet and sure “I will provide”.
Not everything happened right when we wanted to (God’s lack of a watch almost drove us crazy) but issue after issue, God proved that He was faithful, He was a man of his word. He answered every prayer in perfect ways, ways we had never dreamed of. He gave my wife and I a beautiful and memorable start to our life together.
I can’t say that your wedding will be like that. Maybe it will be. Or maybe it won’t be your wedding, but it will be an issue with bills. Perhaps God will, after years of asking for it, give you the job you have been hoping for. Maybe God will help science advance so much that the illness or sickness that won’t go away can be totally irradiated. I can’t say what you have been asking God for, but I can say this with absolute certainty.
What God says He will do, He will do.