“God has answered 90% of my prayers,” Noah declared recently at dinner. “Really?” I asked. “So how do you know?” I pictured an Excel spreadsheet with lots of columns and check marks. “I just sort of keep track of it,” Noah answered. “I just know.”
“Well I wish he’d answer 90% of my prayers,” Rowan said. “I get like 10% answered.”
I laughed out loud at that – Rowan can be a bit glass-half-empty. Like his mother. I assured Rowan that God has answered more than 10% of his prayers. It was more likely he wasn’t paying close attention and missed some of the answers along the way.
I reminded the kids that sometimes it seems like God doesn’t answer our prayers because the answers come later than we expected. “And sometimes,” I added, “God doesn’t give us exactly what we ask for because he has other, maybe better plans for us. Or because he has our best interests at heart, and knows that what we are praying for isn’t really good or right for us.”
“Yeah,” Noah agreed, “like the time I prayed for a wheelbarrow of candy. That was one of the ones God didn’t answer.”
“What? You prayed for a wheelbarrow of candy?” Rowan looked impressed by Noah’s prayer boldness. I could see the wheels turning.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us to ask God for what we need, assuring us that if we keep seeking, we will find, and if we keep knocking, the door will be opened (7:7). He also tells us that just as parents wouldn’t give their children a stone instead of bread, or a snake instead of fish, God gives only good gifts to his children.
I’d argue the opposite is implied in that passage, too. God knows what’s good for us, and like a protective parent, he tries to keep us from harm. He knows what lies ahead, what’s around the next bend. And he knows what will help us grow.
I know from personal experience that God uses the in-between waiting periods, the times when it feels like our prayers are going unanswered, to grow us closer to him. He also uses those periods to teach us something important about ourselves.
Believe me, I was not gracious or patient during the six years I waited for my first book to find a publishing home. I was obstinate and crabby and downright belligerent at times. But slowly during that period, I learned about the sins of envy and idolatry and how they impacted my relationship with God. And in that time, difficult as it was, I also learned to trust God more than I ever have before.
In the moment, I certainly didn’t recognize that period as a good gift from God, but that’s exactly what it turned out to be.
Questions for Reflection:
Can you think of a time in your life when it seemed like God didn’t answer your prayers? Is there something you learned from that experience? How did that strengthen or perhaps cause a bump in your relationship with God?
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