Word Alive! - Reflections on Bible
 

unanswered prayers
by Dr. Paulson Pulikkottil


  Prayers are not always answered immediately. This may be a bit uncomfortable statement in age that is after fastfood and everything instant. Someone said that God responds to prayer in three ways: the first is an immediate answer "yes"; the second is a definite "no"; and third is "wait." Sometime we may have to wait for months or even years for prayers to be answered. However, nobody wants to wait. It would be easier to quit on a need than wait for the prayer to be answered but the Bible has a different perspective on waiting for our prayers to be heard.

The Bible says in Isaiah 40:31,
"but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

The word translated "waiting for" is a very common Hebrew word and there is no special meaning to it. However, the historical context of this prophetic oracle gives it a very special significance. This is addressed to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. A group of people who had lost their homes, their land and their temple. They were a group of people who were going through a time of testing, which was very heavy on their faith. They needed proof that their God is still living and is able to save as he did in the times past.

The military defeat, and the losses of all sort has raised a few serious questions. These questions have divided their community as well. There were some exiles led by their prophets who believed that their God is still able to redeem them. They wanted an immediate end to the exile and wanted to go home, because they believed that their God is able to save. He is still powerful. Their mistake was that they thought a God who is mighty will not demand patience. Prophet Jeremiah had to struggle with this problem. He wrote a letter to the exiles and asked them not to think that they will return immediately. In his letter found in Jer. 29 he advises them to settle down in Babylon, to plant vineyars, to build houses, to give their daughters in marriage and to take wives for their sons. In other words, to have long term plans for their life in exile! He advised them so not because Yahweh has given them up, but he knew that it will take another seventy years for Yahweh to bring them back to their land. So he advised them to take it as it is. However people were not willing to wait. They went after prophets who prophesied an immediate return. This unrest lead to rebellion which was duly suppressed by the Babylonians. According to Babylonian sources, thousands of people were killed as the Babylonian suppressed the rebellions led by these prophets of impatience. It was their faith that God is going to act soon that led them to this misery. God is able to deliver us; but he has his own time.

On the other extreme is the group of exiles we find in the book of Ezekiel. Especially chapter 14. These exiles are well settled. They have come to terms with the reality. They had come to terms with their thinking that Yahweh is defeated, his temple is destroyed, Bel and Nebo the gods of the Babylonians have won the victory. There is no point in following a God who is defeated. So there is no point in hoping for a return. So they decided to follow gods that were available. They gave up Yahweh who as far as they are concerned has turned his face against them.

This passage in Isaiah gives here another alternative— wait for the LORD. In this waiting there is faith, but it also implies patience. This is a life style that is marked with confidence and patience. Living with a heavy baggage of apparently unaswered prayers must be time of 'waitng for the Lord", a patient anticipation for the mighty arm of the Lord to be revealed.

The message of the Bible is clear. God is always powerful and there is no limit to his knowledge and power. However, he has his time and his ways as well. God knows better than anyone. The patient waiting for God to answer our prayers is founded on this basis.

The heroes of faith in the Bible are people who exhibited tremendous sense of patience. The book of James (5:11) mentions Job who though in time of pain and abuse did not give up his hope. He was not willing to give up at the advice of his wife nor when his friends condemned him. He was willing to wait and his patience was rewarded. The one who composed the beautiful Psalm 123 is another example of this patient waiting.

To thee I lift up my eyes, O thou who art enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he have mercy upon us.
(Psalm 123:1-2)

The Psalmist is willing to wait on till God shows mercy upon him.

The passage from Isaiah not only demands a patient expectation but also promises that this waiting is a useful spiritual exercise. They who wait upon the Lord with hope and confidence in his mercy is surely going to be strengthened. The period of waiting and the increased confidence that the answered prayer would bring is certainly a boost to faith.

The Bible talks about how the suffering and pain that would accompany while answer to prayer is delayed can turn out to be a blessing. In the book of Romans it is an elevator to a higher degree of spirituality.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

During this waiting the Christian grows from one degree of godliness to another tillhe reaches the perfection in Christ. This is what makes the psalmist say, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes." that it was good for him to be in trouble"— Psalm 119:71. This waiting is a time of learning.

Those who heeded the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah waited for the Lord; those who heeded the words of the prophets of impatience ended up in the gallows and those who worked out their ways never returned to their land of promise. Those who waited for the Lord had to wait seventy long years but some of them and their descendents returned to the land of promise to build their city and temple and reinstate the worship of God. While they waited there they were purified in their thoughts and percieved their God in a fresh way. They studied the Law of God and were renewed individually and as a people. They turned out to be the fresh shoots of the people of God. Ezra and Nehemiah were among them.

It is even more difficult to wait upon the Lord now in this fast moving world. The demands of modern life needs quick fix solutions. Quick fix solutions may stay in place for a while or may last long. One thing is certain those who go for these are certainly to miss the power of God. They may a get a double promotion from a human point of view but miss important spiritual lessons that determine the quality of their walk with God.


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