God’s many answers to prayer

God’s many answers to prayer

by Deacon Christine Maddux

My vocation attracts many prayer requests.  Some even think that as a minister I have a special prayer pipeline to God – not true!  While my prayer list is long, it is a privilege to pray for each person on it and every one of the matters weighing on them.  How good it is to later hear, “Our prayers were answered!”  

This might mean something major occurred — an illness passed, a job was found, a relationship was restored; or something lesser — a lost item was recovered, a car repair was minor.  But when someone says “Our prayers were answered” they always mean that God answered “yes”, and the outcome we prayed for materialized.  In those cases, it is a great pleasure to “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15).  

But the rest of that Bible verse says, “weep with those who weep”, and there are plenty of those outcomes, too.  We do not always get the answer we pray for; instead, the disease progresses, unemployment drags on, the wandering child remains distant.  Although painful, these, too, are answers to prayer: the “not yet” or “no” variety. What are we to make of those answers?  Does God not hear us? Does He not care? Can He not do what we are asking Him to do?  

When these common questions arise, we can draw understanding and hope from the Bible.  There we find real people with real problems who received many different answers to their prayers, all recorded to reinforce our faith, give us strength for our situation, and grow our relationship with God. 

We see God’s merciful “yes” answers in many miraculous cures delivered through Jesus (the One who really does have the special prayer pipeline to God the Father, and through whom we therefore make our prayer requests).  For example, a father asked Jesus to revive his dead daughter, and He did (Matthew 9:18, 25); two blind men asked Jesus for sight, and it was granted (Matthew 20:30-34); a mother asked Jesus to free her daughter from a demon, and it occurred “that very hour” (Matthew 15:22-28).  

We also see many examples of God’s “yes” answers to prayer that seemed like “no”, but were actually “not yet.”  Hannah prayed for a child for years before her son Samuel was finally born (1 Samuel 1:1-20).  David’s rescue came only after he “waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).  The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for generations, yet God “heard them crying out,” was “concerned about their suffering” and freed them from bondage in due time (Exodus 3:7-8).

We see from such examples that God does hear prayer, He does care, and He can easily do whatever we ask.  So, why might His “no” remain “no”?  Though the apostle Paul prayed repeatedly for release from the “thorn” in his flesh, God denied his request in order to show that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  And although Jesus Christ himself prayed fervently to be spared the cross, He humbly accepted “no” as the Father’s unimpeachable will, for the salvation of all mankind (Luke 22:42). 

In those cases of “no”, and in our own, God builds a person’s faith while accomplishing his purpose. His “no” can be perplexing, challenging, or even heartbreaking, but we will find that his grace truly is sufficient for us, day by day. And so we continue to pray – we ask, and rejoice or weep together — trusting that God will love, sustain and shape us through whatever kind of answer we receive.  

The Rev. Christine Maddux is a deacon at Christ Anglican Church in Cashiers, and lives in Sapphire.  Send your questions and comments to her at: aclmaddux@mac.com.

Originally published in the Crossroads Chronicle, July 15, 2020.