Unanswered Prayers

Last week I visited a lady who has been paralyzed from the waist down for more than eight months. There is absolutely no explanation for her sudden paralysis; she literally got up one morning, walked to the kitchen table to sit down, and couldn’t get back up a few minutes later. No warning. No signs at all. Nothing. She is a widow with only one sister and a part-time nurse to divide the majority of her care, housework, and cooking. Some days she’s in her bed until 11 am waiting for someone that can come and help her move from the bedroom to the couch. She told me through tears how she begs God, morning and night, to heal her legs. She, maybe like you or someone you love, is experiencing a season where her numerous requests to God have seemed to go unanswered.

Some of us have been praying about the same burden for a very long time. I understand; there have been times when my prayer life sounded like a bad country song stuck on repeat. You know, the one where your dog dies, you lose your wife and kids, someone steals your truck, and your best friend gets put in jail. Thankfully it hasn’t been quite that dire, but you get the point. Prolonged hardship with seemingly no answers is tough.

Why does this happen? Why would God delay an answer to our sincere prayers when we are in need? I think one answer lies in the story of Lazarus in John 11. In this account we are introduced to Lazarus, a man that was very ill, and his sisters Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick because, well, it had become pretty obvious that Jesus was in the business of healing people. Since they were close friends with Jesus, their assumption was that he would come right away. But what the Word says is puzzling: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (v.5-6). Wait. He loved them, so he stayed where he was? How does this make sense? Apparently Mary and Martha had a hard time understanding this, too. Both of them, upon Jesus’ arrival several days later, came to the same crushing conclusion: “If you [Jesus] had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Henry Blackaby in Experiencing God made a point that has shifted my thinking since the time I read it: Jesus delayed going to see Lazarus because he wanted Mary and Martha to know Him in a deeper way. You see, they had already experienced Jesus as healer. If he had come and healed Lazarus immediately, Mary and Martha wouldn’t have learned anything more about Jesus than they already knew. Instead, Jesus waited for several days so that He could reveal Himself as the resurrection and the life. (Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.)

Did this cause Mary and Martha confusion and grief during the wait time? Yes. Was it worth it to know Jesus in a more intimate way than ever before? Absolutely. The same is true for you and me.

If you’re currently feeling the weight of unanswered prayers or unmet expectations, be encouraged. Jesus’ delay will give you the opportunity to know Him in a more fulfilling way than ever before. Hang on, friend; It will be worth every temporary tear and frustration.

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