I'm a "pray about everything sort of person", from world affairs to asking for God to help me find a lost item or to find the best price on something we need to purchase. So, it should come as no surprise to you that when I knew we were going to London for my husband to speak at a conference, I asked God to make a way for me to see Paris, a long time dream of mine.
The way God answers some prayers that seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and leaves prayers that are of great eternal significance seemingly hanging out there in the air, is a great mystery to me. God gave me the desire of my heart to see Paris. Yet, there are prayers that I have prayed for decades, prayers that are life and death in light of eternity, that I've yet to see Him answer. I'm not close to having all of the answers about how, why, or when God answers prayer. But, I do have a few things that I believe He has taught me through the years.
In the life of a believer, especially one who "prays without ceasing", meaning that praying is a lifestyle, there are hundreds of requests being offered up to God from just one person. Sometimes those requests even contradict each other. For instance, let's say I prayed for God to do whatever it takes to make me what He wants me to be. Then God allows a very uncomfortable circumstance to arise in my life that makes me cling to Him with all that I have, so I pray for Him to stop this trial I'm in. The trial persists, and I become discouraged that God isn't answering my prayer. Oh, but He is! He's using the tool of suffering and contrary circumstance to shape me and mold me and make me more like Jesus. (I don't like this anymore than you do, in case you're thinking I don't resist suffering with all that is in me. Sometimes adversity is sent by satan, and we need to resist him and engage in spiritual warfare. Sometimes suffering is just part of it "raining on the just and unjust". Sometimes suffering is allowed by God for His purposes. I think in the life of a believer it's quite ok, even necessary, to ask God exactly which of these you're dealing with.)
So, is there anyway for me to make sense of what prayers God will answer? I guess my response would be both sort of and not really. The not really part is that God is sovereign and sees things we don't see, so we aren't always going to see or understand His ways that are so much higher than ours. At the same time, there is a "filtering system" for lack of a better word, that our prayers go though.
Filter number one - Is it God's will? Is it God's will for me to pray for the salvation of my child? Absolutely, without question. There are things we absolutely know, based on the Bible, that are God's will. Should I ask God for provision? Absolutely! A trip to Paris? I'm not arrogant enough to declare that it is God's will for me or anyone else to demand a trip to Paris, but it was a heart desire of mine that I knew I could present to Him, and trust Him with. If it hadn't happened, I might have been sad and disappointed, but certainly not angry, because I'm aware of the fact that there are other layers of "filters" that our prayers go through.
Filter number two - Is it God's timing? This is a hard one. God and I have butted heads more times than I can count when it comes to waiting on His timing. When I saw my oldest daughter crushed with longing for a baby, when she went through ten long years of infertility and three agonizing miscarriages, God and I had some heated discussions about what He was up to. (Yes, I think we can be gut wrenchingly honest with God. Read the Psalms of David if you doubt this.) Six and a half years ago, God declared that the right time had arrived, and our daughter gave birth to her first of two miracle babies. I argued with God again when my youngest daughter, who longed to be married and have a family, who set herself apart and "waited" in the old fashioned sense of that word, went through a broken engagement and other instances of thinking God had led her to the right one, only to have her heart broken. Last May, at age 32, God's timing and will intersected and she married a guy that truly is the desire of her heart fulfilled is so many ways. The problem with the timing of God is that it rarely lines up with our timing!
Filter number three - Is it beneficial for us? God's Word says that no good thing will He withheld from those who walk uprightly. I've seen that word good translated as beneficial. Sometimes what we want is just not the best thing for us. Parents can certainly understand this. It may not be the best thing for us ever, or it may not be the best thing for us at this time. Either way, God is a good Father, and He's not going to give us something harmful. (Unless, like the children of Israel who weren't satisfied with the manna that God provided for them to eat, insisted on meat and grumbled and complained until God relented. God sent them quail until they were so sick of quail that they vomited it up. Yes, it's not always a good thing when God gets to the point where He says, "have it your way!")
So, back to my prayer request to go to Paris. My oldest granddaughter and I had often talked about going to Paris someday. She was in Ghana with her mama, (our middle daughter), her baby brother, and another gal from our church. They flew from Ghana and met us in London, with our Bishop friend from Ghana, to attend the conference that my husband was speaking at. My daughter decided to surprise my granddaughter with a day trip from London to Paris on the Eurostar train. When my granddaughter told me, "guess what Nana? Mama's going to take me to Paris!" I tried to act shocked and surprised. "Wow!", I said, "Really?" When I added, "Guess what? Nana's going with you!", her voice did that thing that's hard to describe in words. "Nana!", she said, with a shaky voice that was a cross between a giggle and a cry. So, now that I think of it maybe it wasn't my prayer that God answered after all. Maybe it was the heart's desire of our beautiful twelve year old granddaughter. I guess that's another mystery I'll have to leave in God's hands.
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