This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Naji Abi-Hashem (from Lebanon. Naji now lives in the free west), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
My times are in your hands. (Psalm 31:15)
Have you ever wondered why God would not intervene in your most difficult situation only to find out afterwards that He did, but His timing was different from yours? How often we struggle to receive an immediate answer from the Lord only to thank Him later for not responding to our emergencies, according to our wishes.
This does not mean that God is removed from our particular situation, or does not care about our own despair. But He sees the needs differently, and therefore, plans special strategies to see us through. This does not necessarily mean resolving the critical situation immediately, but equipping us with confidence and power to endure it. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote once: 'Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, and accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.'
During the long years of turmoil and foreign wars on our beloved land, Lebanon, we diligently and earnestly longed for peace. We desperately wanted the severe troubles to end. A prominent Lebanese pastor later testified: 'For years we prayed for peace and for the end of war in our country and God did not seem to answer us. So we stopped praying for the troubles to end and instead started praying for courage, endurance, and strength. And God immediately answered!'
Beloved friend, although at times you may not fully understand, even when you cannot see God's hand, trust in His heart. For God is too wise to be mistaken, and He is too good to be unfair. He is definitely too omnipotent to be unable to be with you and relieve your despair.
A moment of introspection: In our lives, we remember to apply the earnest plea that we should not have anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we would make our requests known to God. (Philippian 4:6-7). We are, indeed, urged to pray and to communicate our needs, our desires and our anxieties or fears to our heavenly Father. In His eyes, we are more precious than we could imagine, through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. As practiced intercessors, we have learned the benefits of persistent, patient prayer. Brother Naji also describes "diligent and earnest" prayer for the pressing needs of the suffering Christians in Lebanon. He tells, "For years we prayed for peace and for the end of war in our country..." In their praying, they were patient, and trusting, and compassionate, and honoring toward God, but God did not answer their prayers--at least the requests in the prayers.
What keeps prayers from being answered? Isaiah 59:2 suggests that because of sin*, God does not hear one's prayer. Jeremiah 7:16 reveals God not hearing one's prayers in times of God's impending judgment on a situation being prayed for. James 1:5 exhorts us to pray with faith, harboring no doubts and not wavering in belief. The Psalmist echoes this view, saying that God places a contingency on answering prayer, as the Psalmist penned the words, "If I had cherished sin* in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." (Psalm 66:18) 2 Chronicles 7:14 likewise issues some provisos established at times by God, without the "If" of which occurring, He may not hear and act. Mark 11:25 presents an unforgiving heart toward someone, as standing in the way of prayer. These, and perhaps other references have a context to them, which may be helpful in understanding how God chooses to respond to intercessory prayer. Historically, there have been many, many examples of faithful Christians who have found that God does not always answer prayers, answers prayers with a different outcome than expected, or answers prayers--but in His own time. There is a wonderful print resource, entitled Dear God, Thank You For Not Answering My Prayer, authored by Arno Froese and Dieter Steiger (both men associated with the Midnight Call Ministry); copyright 2000, Midnight Call Ministries, ISBN 0-937422-51-7. The book asks the question: "Have you ever felt that because your prayers were not immediately answered that God was disregarding you?" It is an encouraging resource to help us get through the misbegotten sense that God doesn't care about what we're praying for.
But Naji says, too, that God sometimes will not give us what we request within the constraints of our own expected time frame. As he puts it, God cares about us, "But He sees the needs differently", and "this does not necessarily mean resolving the critical situation immediately". Two factors: God does not always give us what we ask for (Thank God for that), and God's timing is not our timing. In his own experience with prayer, openness to God's will is pivotal in praying effectively. He recounts having prayed for one outcome with persistence, but with no answer from God. When his and others' prayer was re-aligned with God's will, God answered "immediately". Sometimes, we get no answer from God, because we make the wrong requests. Prayer is a wonderful tool for communicating with our awesome God; both are hard to understand and difficult to see working; but we are encouraged to "trust in His heart. For God is too wise to be mistaken, and He is too good to be unfair. He is definitely too omnipotent to be unable to be with you and relieve your despair." Wise words borne of experience.
In James 5:10-11, we learn to pray with patience and endurance, as Job did, and secured the Lord's compassion and mercy. In Luke 11:5-10, we learn to pray persistently and to once more, bring our requests to God. In Luke 11:11-13, God's Word tells us that God will give a helper in prayer to us, will answer our requests, and will give what is beneficial or good to us who ask of Him. Keep praying, folks. Don't let unanswered prayer stymie you; perhaps make a new request which might lead you closer to God's will in the targeted situation. As the apostle Paul wrote, may it truly be that "as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses...by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise." (2 Corinthians 6:4,6-8a) As we draw near to the soon coming of Jesus Christ may we, too, be found faithful. May we be found steadfastly praying--communicating with our heavenly Father, and with prayers aligned perfectly with the Father's perfect will.
* Please note: In using references to sin, the writer means “unrepentant sin” (1 John 1:9-10). Romans 8:1 says that as believers, we no longer stand under condemnation [from Satan]; but unrepentant sin can erect a barrier to effective communication by way of prayer. Christ still calls each of us to confess our sins and to repent thereof.