Prayer is interesting and unpredictable. It can be as simple as asking the Lord to help you remember where you placed your keys. I’ve done that more times than I’d like to admit. It can also be hard and frustrating, especially regarding those big prayers, the ones that have to do with our loved ones and their futures. We may go through times of frustration, filled with the temptation to give up. We cry out with those common laments, “How long, O Lord?” “Why?” These are the hardest prayers because they require me to keep coming back, to keep offering up my desires, to keep submitting my will to the Father and wait. At the first offering, I know what I want and I tell God. But over time, when I don’t see the answer I want, I’m faced with a choice. Do I quit praying about it? Do I adjust? I’m left pondering in my frustration and finitude. I thought I knew what to ask for. I thought I knew what was best in this situation. I thought my will aligned with the Lord’s. Using my own fractured wisdom, I may end up praying through a list of choices. ‘A’ would be great, and that’s what I spend a lot of time on. But then ‘A’ is not happening, so I go to ‘B’. ‘B’ is ok, not my first choice, but something that is still acceptable. I can pray my way into accepting it. But over time, ‘B’ becomes more and more unlikely. ‘C’? Not really, Lord. I would rather not, but perhaps, if too much time goes by, I could get used to it.
Maybe I’m the only one who prays like this, but I suspect not. In the Bible we have a picture of some who prayed for a long time but we don’t ever get an inside look at the daily struggle. Take Isaac and Rebekah for example. In Genesis 25:21 we learn that Isaac prays for his wife who is barren. The very next sentence says that the Lord grants his prayer. But it isn’t until verse 26 that we learn how long he had prayed. Twenty years! Have you ever noticed that? I didn’t until maybe the tenth time I’d read it. What did Isaac go through during those twenty years? How did his prayers change? What did they sound like? Did he start out with option ‘A’ and then move down the line to ‘B’ and ‘C’? Did he ever stop praying for a time? He had witnessed his father’s faithfulness and heard his prayers. He saw God provide the ram for that fateful sacrifice and his wife had been the undeniable answer to the prayers of Abraham’s servant. Isaac must have been confused. He knew the promise God had made to Abraham and his seed. He, not Ishmael, was the chosen seed. But then, after 20 long years, God answers. And with twins. Twins with a promise. Rebekah doesn’t just carry the weight of two children but the weight of two nations. Did Isaac have that option on his prayer list?
In Luke chapter 1 we learn of another couple. Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was also barren and they also prayed. For many many years they prayed until they were both advanced in years and the physical evidence of their bodies made their dream impossible. What were those years of prayers like? Did they start out dreaming of a large family and a future filled with grandchildren? Luke tells us they were righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments. They may have thought it was a sure thing. But as the years went by perhaps they went from asking for ‘A’ to asking for ‘B’. Then they may have switched to ‘C’ but after more time, realized it wasn’t going to happen. Surely they had stopped praying, right? But in Luke 1:13 we hear the angel proclaim to Zechariah that his prayer has been heard and Elizabeth will bear a son. And not just any son. She will bear the one who will prepare a people for the coming of the Lord. What?! This is not what he expected. This option probably never entered into his prayer vocabulary during those silent years. Zechariah responds with unbelief and bears the consequence of months of muteness followed by a flood of Spirit filled prophecy after John is born.
What we expect is not always how God answers. But we know from Jesus’ own words that we are to keep asking, to keep seeking and knocking. When God’s children ask him for bread he will not give them a stone. If they ask for a fish he will not give them a serpent. God never lies to us and he never tricks us. He means to give us good things. But those things are not always ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’. Sometimes he makes us wait a long time for ‘D’. What is ‘D’? None of the above. And ‘D’ is always far more abundantly beyond all that we can ask or think.
“God will either give you what you ask, or something far better.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne