Last week was a rough one for our school community. We said farewell for now, though not forever, to two of our school dads: one who God took home after a protracted illness, one so suddenly we’re still recovering from the shock. So far this semester, I’ve been writing on praying powerful prayers, our school theme for the year. God has used life to teach us a lot about prayer as a community, hasn’t He- growing and molding, shaping and forming our hearts and our characters as He takes us through a grievous yet glorious year. I’m praying you’re using this time to latch on to Him and to each other as a community of believers. There’s way too much polarization and dissension already in the world.
Last week, I began visiting with you about what it means when we say God doesn’t answer our prayers- of course, He does; it just may not be the answer we want. It may be “no,” or “not yet,” or, even more difficult to understand, “I’m doing something you can’t understand, but I’m really hoping you’ll trust Me that I love you.” I want to talk more about that in the context of “unanswered prayers.”
You’ve heard me say this before: Life is about, in part, preparing you for eternity. Life makes so much more sense when we realize that Heaven, as we commonly think about it, is just an amazing way station. We are created to live and work and play in the New Jerusalem, a restored Heaven and Earth at the end of time. The last two chapters of Revelation tell us that. As followers of Jesus, our lives in the here and now are to be a mission, to draw others to Christ, to cultivate and create a culture that glorifies God and shows other people how things can and will be when Christ returns, and to prepare us for that future life. Those are the purposes, the great “whys.” You have to be able to get up on the balcony, to zoom out and look at your present circumstances and all of life, not only from a current perspective, but also from an eternal one. Everything always looks horrible if we’re always standing in the weeds looking at the pressures, the stress, and the dailyness of life. You have to see with better eyes than that. The Holy Spirit gives you better eyes. God’s Word gives you a better story. And, prayer is what gets you on the balcony- asking the Lord, through the Holy Spirit’s eyes, to provide you with that eternal perspective.
With all this in mind, it makes a whole lot more sense to us when we hear that God cares more about us, our eternal character, and our heart than simply answering our prayer requests as we’ve prayed them. If the purpose of life is His glory and our good, those things often transcend what we wish to be done in any given moment. This is actually really good news, however, because it means that God loves you and wants our hearts, rather than just to be our waiter or genie. God wants a relationship with you. That’s amazingly more powerful and profound, not to mention everlasting, than whatever it is we think we want at the moment, even if it seems really good to us at the time and actually is good, like praying recovery or good health for someone we love.
Because God wants a relationship with us, He wants us to seek after Him. On some level, you can’t have a real relationship with anyone you don’t pursue. In this life, it means making plans to get together, calling them, connecting with them, checking on them. It’s the same way with God, and we do it through prayer. Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”
God wants us to seek after Him, to pursue Him like a friend, so we can have a relationship with Him. But, that’s not our nature. Like Adam and Eve, our nature is to run from God, and avoid Him, not to pursue Him. The way He teaches you to seek after Him is to seek after Him: to require you to be persistent in your prayer, to keep asking, not to answer right away.
I was a lawyer for about six months when I realized it wasn’t for me, not the right career. Every Sunday night before I went to work, I would get a knot in my stomach, dreading Monday. Every day, I prayed for the Lord to lead me into something else. I got the same answer: silence. For. Ten. Long. Years. Ten years of crying out, of knotted Sunday stomachs, of walking in and giving my all Monday through Friday, of trying to be the best I could be for the glory of a God who, for all I knew, had me there forever. So much of who I am, so much of how I love Jesus, so much of the depth of my relationship with God, is tied up in that season of silence.
If God always gave what you asked immediately when you asked it, you wouldn’t seek after him. He wouldn’t be your friend. Plus, you would miss out on the opportunities He has to develop you along the way.
Living in this world, when times get hard, and they do, persistently seeking after when horrible things happen, or when daily hard things happen over horribly long periods of time, is the name of the game. God trains your heart now, so that you will be ready then, because He loves you.
It’s that simple, and really, really hard.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.