For half my life, I prayed for a husband and child of my own. For half my life, God gave me singleness and other people’s children to care for. I wondered if God and I spoke different languages.
However looking back, those “unanswered” prayers produced some of the greatest stories of my life. The rear view mirror gives us the best glimpse of the way God works.
In 2001, there was an 11 year old girl in downtown LA who I mentored for seven years. When she was 15, I watched her bravely give up a child for adoption to a couple who could not conceive:
That baby, now eleven, has a different life because of her sacrifice. And it was through our connection that his life was transformed.
In 2003, there was a girl in Kenya who I sponsored through Compassion International. After seven years of sponsorship, I got to go to Kenya to meet her.
I was blown away by what God had done through our relationship. This two minute clip tells the story best:
That “girl” is now twenty four years old. She has a husband and a child of her own, and we are Facebook friends.
Finally in 2009, there was another Compassion child I sponsored from Haiti who traveled two days just to meet me. I was in Port Au Prince on a mission trip, and she arrived in a white dress- looking like she was dressed for a wedding. Little did I know it was a foreshadowing of things to come.
After she left, that same night, the handsome gentleman on the right got down on his knee in front of the mission team and proposed to me. And I realized that you can have children and then get married. Because there are children all over the world for us to have. They live in inner cities and third world countries and they pray every day for people to come into their lives. I believe God is listening to those prayers.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul prays three times for God to remove a thorn from his life. Instead of answering Paul’s prayer, God showed Paul how to live with his thorn. He responds:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I might have said “But I didn’t pray for power. I prayed for thorn removal.” However that wasn’t Paul’s response. Paul took God’s non-answer to his prayer as his answer, and changed his trajectory:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9 – 10)
It’s a verse that has been quoted thousands of times and has inspired millions of lives. Maybe part of why Paul went through this trial was so he could write it.
Sometimes God withholds what we want so he can give us what others need. And we are the better for it. Our lives become bigger than us.
Without a doubt, Jesus Christ modeled this most eloquently. Knowing the excruciating journey to the cross that lay ahead, he cried out in Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.”
His prayer was met with silence. His response to that silence was his prayer:
“Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42)
With so many pointing to answered prayer as a sign of God’s favor, it may seem strange to say that unanswered prayer could be a sign of greater favor still. Yet the evidence is there.
Using Jesus as an example, CS Lewis writes,
“He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, was least comforted by God, at His greatest need.”
Because of this staggering truth, Lewis pushes against equating answered prayer with God’s favor. Instead he goes on to reflect:
“If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.”
Maybe our unanswered prayers can be viewed as God’s greatest answers, for they leave room for us to rise up and answer his call.
To view a 3 minute interview with Zondervan on the mystery of unanswered prayer, check out this link:
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