Discerning God’s answer to prayer
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Romans 8:28
Devotional text: 2 Corinthians 12:9
Last week, we looked at scripture that concerned just how God does answer our prayers. Previously, we learned that God always answers our prayers. God’s answer may be yes, maybe no and maybe to patiently wait awhile.
When God says “no,” it is to keep us from doing something that will turn out wrong or even dangerous for us. We may not understand at the moment what is wrong about our prayer, but in the long run we surely will.
His answer may also be a “no” because the timing is not right. If our request is one that will be good for us and not harmful to others, sometimes the request is too soon. It might be that there are somethings we need to learn first. It may also mean that in God’s will for our lives there is something better yet to come.
God does many times give answer to our prayers right away, especially when we need help in our daily lives. Think of those times when you have been in true need of something. Most of the time, God will answer our prayer right away, saving us from danger or other troubles.
In the previous column, we looked at the nature of God’s glory and majesty. We learned that God is not a magical being who will fill our requests if we just know the magic formula of how to pray. No one can tell God what to do. However, our God is full of compassion and love for us and wants for us that which is best.
We find these helpful verses in James 1:6-8: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
James tells us to have faith in God when we make our requests to him. We should not doubt that God hears our prayers, nor should we doubt in God.
The truth is, God has helped many people out of tough circumstances. Just read the stories of Lot, Abram or Joseph found in Genesis. There are so many more throughout the Bible. We find that God’s answer always depends on God’s mercy.
Psalm 143:11 puts it this way: “For the sake of your name, O Lord, revive me. In your righteousness, bring my soul out of trouble.” In this prayer, we are recognizing God and his righteousness. Similar to The Lord’s Prayer, when we say, “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we recognize God’s will and righteousness.
Another scripture that refers to God’s answer of “not yet,” can be found in Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good to those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.” Sometimes what we pray about doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction or we are confused by what is happening in our lives. However, God who is always on our side, will work everything out for our good, if we just have faith and be patient.
Sometimes when we pray to God, his answer is not “yes” or “no” and not even “wait.” It’s more like his answer to Paul, who asked the Lord to remove “the thorn from his flesh” three times.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we learn about the thorn in Paul’s flesh and his request to God. In verse 9, we find God’s answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me … For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We don’t really know what the “thorn in Paul’s flesh” actually was. However, his “thorn in the flesh” did not stop him from doing mighty works in the name of the Lord. He started new churches in his travels. He was imprisoned and sang psalms and hymns of joy. His joyful activity of thanking the Lord in all circumstances brought others to believe in Christ.
Paul also told us through his letter to the Philippians in 4:12-13: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned to be content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.”
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul was not saying to give thanks to God “for” all circumstances, but “in” all circumstances. We certainly may not be thankful for the circumstances we sometimes find ourselves in, but we can be thankful that God is with us, ready and willing to help us.
Paul went through joyful times as well as difficult times. Yet, he continued to joyfully serve the Lord, even with a “thorn in his flesh.” God’s grace was sufficient for him, and God’s grace is sufficient for us.
So, we find that sometimes God answers us right away, sometimes he is silent on the matter, which leads us to think about our request. Is God saying “no” for some reason? Is our request for good, or is it harmful to us or others? Sometimes we must wait for God’s perfect timing for his answer, and sometimes we come to realize, like Paul, that God’s grace is sufficient to see us through our life. Paul was not less of a man because God did not take away his “thorn.”
The thing is, God is good all the time. Even in times of pain and suffering, God is with us and God is good to us. Be trusting. Let your faith grow. Be open to God’s surprises as he showers us with his love and mercy.
Will God answer your prayers? The answer is yes. Always.