There is a good chance that one of the reasons we don’t see more of our prayers answered is because we give up on them too early. Prayer is an exercise that is intended to stretch our faith as much as it is a vehicle to accomplish God’s will on earth. As such it isn’t meant to function like a genie granting three wishes–often it doesn’t happen right away. Spoiled by fast food, fast trak passes at Disneyland and Instant Google searches we give up way too easily. There are potentially prayers we have abandoned that were on the verge of being answered when we quit. God will accomplish His work through another, but who knows if you weren’t called to pray for such a time as this!
Luke’s gospel opens up with God answering a prayer. In the first Word from heaven since the prophet Malachi and Nehemiah had ministered four hundred years previously, the Angel Gabriel told a man named Zacharias that his prayer had been heard. He and his wife were going to have a baby. The crazy thing is that this was a prayer they had been praying for a loooooong time. Zacharias and Elizabeth were “advanced in age” (they were super old) and had probably been praying that prayer since they were first married. In that culture everything hinged on having children and their infertility would have been a bitter pill to swallow. In time, added to their infertility, there was the reality that Elizabeth’s body was no longer even able to handle a pregnancy. Most would have given up years ago. They kept praying. And one day their prayers were answered. They would rock a baby bjorn and a walker at the same time!
F.B. Meyer captures the emotion that would have marked that moment, “It must have been like hearing news that a ship, long over due and almost despaired of, has suddenly made harbor.” The angel Gabriel told them, “Your prayer has been heard.” And by that he meant God had heard every prayer, going all the way back to their first year of marriage and beyond. The reality is that God hears every prayer. Scripture presents them to us as rising to heaven like incense from a golden bowl that is before the Throne. Matthew Henry once said that, “Prayers of faith are filed in heaven and are not forgotten.” They are all heard and will be answered in God’s perfect time.
The difficulty for us is that we operate on MST (Me Standard Time) and we need to need to learn to set our spiritual clocks to God’s time zone. His timing is perfect. And we need to have our eyes opened up to the fact that even if we don’t see a prayer answered in our day or our lifetime that doesn’t mean God won’t act. There could be prayers that are answered long after we ceased to pray, forgot that we have prayed or even after we have left the earth and gone to heaven. We also need to remember that “no” and “wait” are answers just as “yes” is. Zacharias had persisted in praying through decades and decades that must have felt like he was hitting a wall, but faith lingered in his heart and he pressed on.
Why would God do this? Why would he put them through all that? I don’t know. I can speculate that they grew in ways they never would have had they not had to live a lifetime of faith in a child they felt God wanted them to have. Additionally, by waiting until there was no possibility of conception, humanly speaking, there would be no doubt God had performed a miracle. The story also illustrates how God is accustomed to do exceeding abundantly above all that we could ask or think–that’s how He rolls. Whatever the reason, I guarantee you that when they held baby John in their arms all the waiting and praying and trusting was worth it. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”
What have you given up praying for because it didn’t seem like anything was happening? Don’t give up. As a homework assignment–yes, I am about to assign you homework off of a blog post–read Luke 11:5-10. Then grab a dictionary and look up the word importunity because that is the word in vs. 8 the KJV uses instead of persistence. It is a much cooler word too. Hopefully this will open your to see the tenacious way that God wants you to pray.