Answered prayers are so easy to recognize when the answer is ‘yes.’ But when God answers our longings with ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ we can easily fall victim to the idea that our prayers aren’t being answered, or worse, that God isn’t listening.
Recently, in the middle of evening prayer I found myself gripped with envy of the king in Psalm 21, whose prayers had been answered by God:
LORD, the king finds joy in your power;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you did not refuse the request of his lips.
~Psalm 21: 2-3
I was suddenly struck with the idea that my heart’s desire had not been granted; that my prayers had not been answered. In a fleeting moment of despair I agonized over each of my particular prayer requests which were still ‘pending.’ These prayers were not for material things or special favors; these ongoing prayers were for the return of lost sheep, and the righting of wrongs. Nevertheless, in that instant of awareness I sensed emptiness in my unanswered prayers and fought off jealousy for the king in his joy.
No sooner did I catch myself lamenting in self-pity than my eyes followed the Psalm as it continued:
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings;
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you;
you gave it to him,
length of days forever.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you confer upon him.
You make him the pattern of blessings forever,
you gladden him with the joy of your face.
~Psalm 21: 4-7
I was struck with a sudden inspiration that in freeing me from my sins and calling me to Himself, God had answered the deepest prayers of my heart with forgiveness and the hope of eternal life in His presence. In other words, I recognized that far beyond my repeated “wish list” prayers, God’s love had touched me in an eternal way. Suddenly none of the ‘pending’ prayers on my list seemed quite so important, or urgent. Rather I was moved to a profound gratitude for God’s endless love and a deeper longing for the crown of eternal life, and anticipation for the ultimate joy of seeing Him face to face.
It’s understandable that when I am caught up in the day to day struggles of the world, the types of prayers I offer to God are very much a pleading that our world will become a better place, our country a nation for life, and its people a holy people. Surrounded by the ongoing turmoil in our land, I can so easily relate to the sorrows of Job:
Is not life on earth a drudgery,
its days like those of a hireling?
Like a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for wages,
So I have been assigned months of futility,
and troubled nights have been counted off for me.
~Job 7: 1-3
When my eyes are fixed on God alone, my prayers and longings are for union with Him and eternal life. Trusting completely in His plans and designs, I may still plead for change (here and now) and beg relief from the oppression of the foe, but with a deep sense of peace in the truth that these Earthly struggles and trials are temporary. My relationship with Him is forever.