Have you prayed year after year for what seems like a God-honoring desire, only to hear silence from heaven? Perhaps you have cried out for;
- a pregnancy that delivers a healthy baby
- a rebellious child to surrender his life to Christ
- a godly husband or wife
- a healed marriage
- freedom from an addiction
- relief from chronic pain
- a loved one suffering from mental illness to be restored to a sound mind
- a wrong to be made right
- healing from past trauma
Welcome to a large throng of believers who groan and wait for God to make right what is wrong in our world. I have also persevered in prayer for a long season, yet God has chosen to answer differently than I had in mind. But, while my groaning and waiting continues, God has not been inactive. For though He has not brought the exact healing my family has asked for; He’s been doing something far greater-conforming us to the image of His Son.
Scripture records many accounts of healing. People possessed by demons were set free from bondage to Satan and began to follow Jesus. Lepers were made clean by Christ’s touch. The dead were raised to life; paralytics got up and walked. And yet, the healing of temporal bodies that would eventually die was not the real miracle Jesus had come to do. The reason Jesus came was to bring spiritual life to people’s deadened hearts.
The Gospel of Mark zooms in on Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who cried out for God to have mercy on him. Although many tried to silence him, Jesus called him near and asked this simple question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:46-52)
How would you answer Jesus’ question? What do you want God to do for you above anything else?
When Bartimaeus requested his sight; Jesus healed him, saying his faith had made him well. After that, “Bartimaeus began to follow Jesus” (Mark 10:46-52).
It’s easy to focus on the blind man’s restored eyesight and miss the bigger miracle of salvation. Bartimaeus had been granted faith to see his greater spiritual need, and his improved vision was simply an outward sign of his transformed heart. Yet, how often have we read this, (and similar accounts of healing) and quietly thought, “I wish Jesus had a miracle for me”? But could it be that, in fact, He does?
It’s tempting to focus our hopes and prayers on what we’re convinced will bring us happiness or relief now, while God always has our eternal joy in view. Thus, though times will inevitably come when we are unable to make any sense of life, we can rest in knowing that God lovingly ordains each circumstance to accomplish His good purposes for His children.
As I look back at my life, I thank God for clear answers to prayer that have strengthened my faith. He has graciously provided jobs, homes, protection, wisdom, friendships, finances, health, and much more. We have experienced His faithfulness in the midst of some challenging days and been grateful recipients of His kindness again and again.
And yet, truthfully, God hasn’t answered many of my prayers as quickly, or in the way that I hoped. Rather, He has allowed seasons of waiting, watching, and teaching me to trust His love. And it’s often been in the midst of unwanted waiting that God has shown me both my greater need and His undeserved mercies. Our Father wants us to trust that, even when He says no or not now; He is working in ways we cannot see- stretching our faith and teaching us to pray bigger, bolder prayers that will grow our love for Him and increase our eternal joy.
Like Bartimaeus; our prayers of faith are always initiated by God (Ephesians 1:4-5). He alone opens blind eyes to see Him, gives self-oriented hearts a desire to know Him, and grants faith leading to repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ. Then, graciously continuing His work in us, the Spirit uses trials and temptations to wean us from the pull of the world and further align our hearts toward our eternal home.
Jesus teaches his disciples to ask and they will receive. But James 4:3 provides two reasons we might not receive. First is because we don’t ask and, second, because we ask with wrong motives. In other words, when we pray for what God wants to give to us, we can be confident that we will receive it. So again, what do you want Jesus to do for you?
As God has been transforming my heart, He’s transformed my prayers as well.
- God, please give me a love for your Word
- Grant me an undivided heart that I may fear your name
- Lord, sanctify me by your truth
- Jesus, help me to reflect gospel truth and grace to my husband
- Holy Spirit, show me my sin
- Father, whatever it takes, please save my children
- Lord, help me love what you love and hate what You hate
- God, please use my children’s trials to grow their love for you
- Father of mercies, save my grandchildren and use their lives to bear witness to Your love and faithfulness in the dark days ahead
God has already answered many of these prayers beyond what I could have imagined. Yet, while these miracles of grace stand as eternal memorials of God’s faithfulness, I can’t deny that He has often answered in ways I neither expected nor wanted. In fact, at times, the circumstances of life can leave us with more questions than answers!
In every believer’s life, the time will eventually come when we are faced with what Elisabeth Elliot calls “a contradiction in terms; God loves me; God let this awful thing happen to me.” How we respond at these moments will determine whether we allow a spirit of bitterness to take root, or rest in the hope of the gospel, remembering the seeming contradiction of the cross.
One of the blessings of aging is learning that things aren’t always as they seem. God wants to give His children so much more than we’ve asked for and to see that our biggest problem isn’t what we think it is. He longs for us to understand that an intimate relationship with Christ is the only thing that will bring everlasting peace and joy. And while long seasons of waiting can severely test our faith, causing us to lament; “How long, O Lord, how long?,” God promises to heal and restore what has been lost, and gives us songs to sing in the night while we wait.
This is the hour when faith blooms and our lives bear witness to the supremacy and worth of Christ. The truth is that, while our perceived needs and desires are often good and right, to gain more of Christ is so much better! The path God has ordained for us (which sometimes takes us where we never asked to go) is always meant to lead to greater intimacy with Him.
“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are those who wait for Him. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as He hears it, He answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:18-21.italics mine).
Faithful believers will usually see, in hindsight, the good fruit that God has wrought through the very trials and afflictions we pleaded He take away. Often, it’s through the hardest times (not the easy ones) that we learn life-giving truths that can only be gleaned during our brief afflictions of life.
But first, we need to understand that our biggest problem (by nature and choice) is that we are sinners guilty of rebellion against the Sovereign Lord, deserving of His eternal wrath and judgment. Not only that, but we are virtually blind to the depths of evil that lie in our hearts.
This means that, contrary to what we typically think; our greatest need isn’t to be saved from our most current problem or suffering, but from the self-destructing power of sin at work in us. God’s greatest gift was to meet our greatest need by providing a Savior, Jesus, who lived in perfect obedience to God’s Law. God mercifully met His own demands for justice by pouring out His wrath on His sinless Son. On the cross, death and sin were defeated, and three days later Jesus rose from the dead. For all who trust in our Savior’s death and resurrection, there is reconciliation with God and the hope of eternal life.
But God Gives us More
While we rightly rejoice in the Good News of our salvation, we tend to be less eager to re-enact Christ’s death and resurrection through our daily walk. We forget that we follow a Savior who suffered on our behalf to give us new life, and who calls us to suffer on His behalf to display the power of the gospel to a lost world. To experience the abundant life is first to carry a cross, as we wait for Christ to return and make all things right. But even as we wait, God wants to give us more. Our heavenly Father wants to:
- Delight us with growing communion with Him,
- Give us peace in the midst of our trials,
- Give us faith in the face of fear,
- Bring joy in the midst of grief,
- Encourage us with the fellowship of other believers,
- Use our brokenness to comfort and come alongside of others,
- Bring fruit out of what seems barren and unusable.
And isn’t this what we really want most of all? John Piper says, “God is always doing a thousand things we cannot see and do not know.” In the meantime, as we wait for His purposes to unfold, He invites us to pray, hope, and watch expectantly for Him to not only answer our prayers but show us the much more that He was doing all along.
Even as I continue to pray for God to answer prayers for earthly healing for loved ones, I can’t deny the many miracles of grace that He has done in our family through suffering. Healed marriages, hearts surrendered to Christ, sin forgiven, peace restored, hearts changed, idols demolished, love for God and His Word ignited, and bearing good fruit….are only some of the miracles that God has been doing while I’ve been waiting for Him to answer my prayers.
To be sure, one day God will heal every disease, bind up every wound, wipe away every tear, fulfill each unmet desire, and bring peace to our world. But I’m convinced these are not the things that will motivate our greatest praises to God. Rather, we will thank Him for the severe mercies He allowed to transform our selfish hearts and cultivate greater love for God and others. We will even give thanks for His refusals because then we will understand how God used our faithful waiting to exalt Christ, and point others to the hope of the gospel. Finally, we will see that God did, in fact, work all things for good for those who have loved Him.
Therefore, let us encourage one another to wait patiently, presenting our requests to God with thanksgiving, knowing that “He will yet fill our mouths with laughter and our lips with shouts of joy,” Job 8:21.
For the joy that’s set before us,