A Haunting Question

27 08 2012

One of the hardest blows to our faith is not getting our prayers answered. We don’t hear about it at testimony times, but there are many prayers that go unanswered. What do we do then? There are times you will cry out to God to heal a loved one, and no healing comes. There are times you cry out to God to remove a burden you carry; but there is no removal. Paul besought the Lord three times for his burden to be removed but it wasn’t (II Corinthians 12:7-8). What has become of the so many thousands of our prayers? A haunting question. It has the sound of heavy iron doors creaking shut as we are on the outside looking in. It is a question we never vocalize lest our faith comes in question or we discourage others from prayer.

When I first came to Christ I would keep a prayer list of 3 columns. One column had the date of the request, the next had the request, and the next had the date of the answer. The method was far too simple and discouraged me from praying when I discovered the stark reality of unanswered prayer. “Just keep praying, keep believing, don’t give up”, is good advice, but it doesn’t address the obvious question. “Why was my legitimate, fervent prayer not answered?”

In II Corinthians 12:7, 8 Paul’s request for God to remove a physical infirmity (a “thorn”) was not answered. It was never removed. He even stopped making the request all together. Unanswered prayer happens more than we feel comfortable in admitting. I believe the truth behind unanswered prayer could bring you into a new dimension of faith. I want to introduce the term “other answered” prayer. This “other answered” prayer could result in pain, reversal of fortune, and shattered dreams. So what’s the deal? How can we reconcile this with, “ask and it shall be given seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7)? Perhaps that is the wrong question! Perhaps we need to ask, “Why does God give us “other answers” to our prayers? Perhaps this text gives us the reason for “other answered” prayer.

1. To guard against pride (II Corinthians 12:7)
If God gave us everything we ask for, we would become spoiled brats. He is much more interested in our godliness than our “wish list”. Two times Paul said “lest I should be exalted above measure”. So God chooses not to give us whatever we want, but gives us “other answered” prayer to teach “that our heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). His decisions about our “other answered” prayer requests are for our good.

2. To surrender to God’s sovereignty
“For this think I besought the Lord… and He said unto me” (II Corinthians 12:8.9). Then God revealed His “other answer” to prayer. We need to accept the fact that God could use any method He chooses to answer our prayer (even if it involves suffering). Our tendency is to get bitter at God, or cynical of prayer. We even despise testimony time when people only report answers to prayer. We seldom hear, “I praise the Lord that He never answered my prayer, yet gave me strength and grace to endure my pain”. Too bad.

3. To focus on His grace.
“My grace…My strength” (II Corinthians 12:9). Thorns make us weak. “Other answered” prayer keeps us weak. I prefer strength and wholeness, you do too. Leaving us weak is not cruel, but He knows that focusing on His grace is 10,000 times better than the answer we want. We will even get to the place where we thank God for our “other answered” prayer, even if we are left with weakness and infirmities.

Sometimes setbacks are stepping-stones. Sometimes “other answered” prayers are building blocks of faith. Sometimes our surrender to His will is more important than the words we pray.

2Co 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

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