By Barbara Martin
How long do I keep asking?
Q: Do you ever stop praying a specific prayer when decades go by and it seems there is never the slightest sign that God is moving?
Anyone who has prayed for a sustained amount of time has likely experienced the disappointment of what seems to be unanswered prayer. Even David, in Psalm 13:1, says, “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
How many of us have prayed for sickness to be healed, our children to love the Lord, our spouse to love us well, our work to be satisfying, joy in our friendships, our church to be vibrant in worship, financial well-being for us and our children. This list could go on.
These are not bad things and yet it can become difficult for us to keep praying for these over and over when we don’t see answers — as we define them — to our prayers.
We can begin to question God or ourselves. Is God ignoring me or is my faith too small?
In his book “A Praying Life,” Paul Miller says “God takes everyone He loves through a desert. t is His cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden.” Equally important, he says, “You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear fresh water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.”
There have been seasons in my life that have felt like deserts. It seemed then that the story the Lord had for my life was very different than the one I had envisioned.
There was one particular season when my husband had a heart attack and needed open heart surgery; and that was after getting six stents put in his heart. While this was happening, another family member’s wife left him. Soon after that, another family member’s father died in a tragic accident.
I felt loneliness, sadness and, at times, despair. All of this was happening around me and I had no control over any of these outcomes other than bringing these over and over again to the Lord in prayer. I repeatedly asked the Lord for healing for my husband and healing for my family member’s marriage, but the Lord wasn’t finished with my story.
God’s design in the midst of this was to give me an invitation to come further up and further in to knowing Him.
During this time, I remember sitting in my living room early one morning with tears. I was at my limit. I was in a place of full recognition that I could not change any of this and the Lord gave me a wonderful gift.
He gave me a picture of a boat that I was trying to paddle, and it was going through some white water that was too rough for me to manage. He let me know that I was to get my oars out of the water; that He was controlling the boat. This was the picture I needed to see at this point. I couldn’t paddle hard enough or fast enough to control any of the struggles I was facing, but the Lord would do this.
My husband still had open-heart surgery and has had to deal with heart issues on a regular basis. My family member’s spouse did not come back. And the death of my family member’s father happened; the effects of that lasted for quite a while.
Paul Miller says, “To live in our Father’s story, remember these three things:
1. Don’t demand the story go your way. (In other words, surrender completely.)
2. Look for the Storyteller. Look for His hand, and then pray in the light of what you are seeing. (In other words, develop an eye for Jesus.)
3. Stay in the story. Don’t shut down when it doesn’t go your way.
Often, when it seems everything has gone wrong, it is more likely that you are still in the middle of the story. The Lord desires to grow our faith.
God does meet the needs of His people according to His love for them. God cares and nourishes, and He has in mind what is best for those that are His.
John Calvin wrote, “He sustains, nourishes and cares for everything He has made, even to the last sparrow…nothing takes place by chance.”
Here is what we know is true.
1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us — whatever we ask— we know that we have what we asked of Him.”
Prayer does make a difference. Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If what you are asking in prayer has not happened yet, don’t assume it can’t or won’t. Don’t give up. Don’t let cynicism slip in or let your heart harden. Be alert to see the story of which the Lord has allowed you to be a part.
Slow down, watch and be aware of the Lord speaking into the details of your life.
Barbara Martin, LPC, LMFT, clinical coordinator of the Counseling Center at Reformed Theological Seminary, has her own private practice at RTS.