I have prayed prayers, waited years, and never have been able to recognize empirically that they were answered. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect we all have put our concerns and needs before the Lord without seeing an identifiable answer.
But I believe the good Heavenly Father answers all the supplications, petitions, and intercessions of his faithful children. I believe it because the Bible affirms it, and I believe it because he has answered enough of my prayers to convince me of that truth.
Just this morning I asked the Lord about a subject. Within an hour’s time I had an answer. The answer was not a natural outflow of events. It came, atheists and skeptics might say, out of nowhere. But it actually came from heaven. Now that’s not a divine rule, as if he were a fast-food server working on a timer to get out the burger-answer to the drive-through
God has answered prayers time and time again. Sometimes we may not see it because of what does not happen. It’s become a worn saying, but still true, that sometimes he says no. But denials are a thing, whether it is our self-denial or God’s denial of our requests.
The zealous apostle Paul got denied his request to have his thorn in the flesh removed. In one sense, for him nothing changed. But in an even truer sense, the Lord’s answer did change things. It made Paul more sure that the Lord hears and answers prayer, and it also caused him to grow more dependent upon the Lord’s power.
The Lord Jesus’ experience was similar. In Gethsemane Garden, he prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from him—to put it bluntly, he prayed that he might not be required to die on the cross. The sacred text does not inform us that he received any sort of audible reply from the Father, such as was heard during his baptism or during his transfiguration. Lesser men might have concluded that God did not answer his prayer. But the Son of Man knew better.
When it comes to prayer, so many of us today are ignorant of God’s will or stubborn in our demands that the Creator relieve us of our adversities. We have lost a vision for how God uses suffering to produce good. For every Joseph ten thousand Esaus are selling their inheritance for soup because they can’t stand one minute more of feeling hunger. God forbid that I should feel any discomfort! How could he permit me to miss my morning coffee?!
Coddled kids make for lousy Christians. They have no idea how to ask according to the will of God, 1 John 5.14. Their idea of God’s will is health and wealth. They want the “desires of their heart” without taking delight in the Lord, Psalm 37.4. More Christians are dying in their recliners than Israelites ever died in the desert. The sense of entitlement is carried even into prayers.
God is probably swatting such prayers down faster than my grandfather used to swat mosquitoes. He scours the earth in search of one humble soul who will put his life on the line because he has already delivered it up in prayer. We play church while God wants someone to stand in the breach. May he give us time to know the difference.
God has not brought us into the desert in order to kill us, though he might do just that, if we refuse to figure out his purpose. When we do, our prayers will change. And then we’ll find them being answered, some of them in record time. For that, we can be thankful.