One of the most troubling questions I heard repeatedly as a pastor was, “Why didn’t God answer my prayers?”
Try out this metaphor: suppose a man, we’ll call him Bob, comes to me and asks me to help him find a job. No problem; we begin networking together—agencies, friends, etc. But then I discover that over the years he’s had trouble keeping jobs. As I probe the issue, I find Bob has a particular addiction that has caused him to underperform at work. Now imagine that he actually admits this and allows me to work with him on this problem and we find an issue in his childhood, say, an abusive father, which caused Bob years of shame and inferiority. Now suppose we connect Bob with a phenomenal counselor who begins the work of unraveling the thread of ignominy woven through his life. And so we begin reweaving the fabric along with the tough work of forgiveness. But we still haven’t found Bob a job because though the job is the urgent problem, it’s not the real problem.
Now make it more complicated. Suppose before I meet Bob, his uncle Frank in Peoria emails me and asks me to help his nephew in Cincinnati with some money from our church’s benevolence fund. The uncle doesn’t know about the other aspects of Bob’s life; he only knows that the bank is about to foreclose on his nephew’s home and that foreclosure is the real problem.
Now let’s make it even more convoluted. Suppose Bob isn’t really that interested in dealing with his addiction issue; he says he just needs a freakin’ job. His Uncle Frank in Peoria is not up to speed with any of this. And what if Uncle Frank is not even really emotionally invested in all this; he’s just doing his job as an uncle and asking for financial aid for his nephew.
Answering the Uncle Frank’s request gets tricky...not to mention Bob’s.
Okay, so the metaphor isn’t clean, but imagine being God. And what if eighty-seven other people applied for the particular job that we finally found for Bob who is still struggling through his addiction? And those eighty-seven lives intersect with thousands of other lives in intricate ways that affect the course of their lives. Now imagine someone one hundred years from who will be affected in some way if Bob gets that job and not their grandfather who therefore had to move to Cleveland for work but oddly enough met a man there who helped him surrender his life to God. If the butterfly effect in chaos theory has any credibility, it sure makes all of this extremely magnificently and beautifully complex.
And don’t forget to mix in the element of faith; Jesus did say that some things happened as to the degree of our faith. Can’t get around that; just can’t blame everything on it. Been there, done that. Drives you crazy.
Oh yeah, don’t forget the spiritual warfare component as well.
I’m just saying it gets very complicated in how prayers are answered. And if the best we can believe is that regardless of a prayer not being answered as we thought it should, God is good, then that’s good. And also that God has a job that sucks.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus taught his disciples “to pray and not become discouraged” LUKE 18:1
Maybe there are a lot of moving parts to manage first…and more than we know is actually going on behind the scenes. After all, Jesus did say his Father was always working.
Just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean we don’t pray…and listen.
One last thing I’ve learned about prayer: a person with poor hearing talks louder.
Dave Workman | The Elemental Group
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