Let’s get to it—do you ever pray and pray and pray and get no answer, and then you try to figure out why and some people tell you to repent because God can’t hear you? Or to wait? Or that silence means ‘no’? Or that you’re not praying in God’s will but for your selfish desires? Or you don’t have faith?
Psalm 66:18: If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear. (NRSV)
James 1:6: But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (ESV)
And so on.
So what happens to us in the interim while we run through the mental and pragmatic gamut of all the verses, all the reasons? I can tell you that for me, there is a bubbling magma of anxiety that culminates into the panics of What did I do? How do I fix it?
Or even Why doesn’t God care? How do I get His attention? Is this what dads are like, even Divine ones?
While I am very fortunate to have a father in my stepdad, I grew up in a very traumatic situation before he came along in my later years. People say—I don’t know who people are, but you know, people—that our interactions with our earthly parents form our image or impression of God. I still wrestle trying to believe God isn’t judgmental, violent, arrogant, or a hater of women.
When I pray, I forget that ‘God has sent the Spirit of his Son into [my] [heart], crying, “Abba! Father!”‘ (Galatians 4:6), and that this grace initiated by God whereby I am now his child—not of my own accord, but an act created out of His deep, parental love for me—allows me to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace, that [I] may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16, NKJV).
There has never been a time when one of my children came to me and were turned away, but the type of help varies according to their need. I may use what wisdom I have to incorporate what that child might need to learn about financial responsibility, immediate gratification, etc. There may be a principle that needs to be understood.
But how do they know which one? How do they know how to interpret me when I answer?
Two essential things—I will and do answer, and I am clear about what I mean.
Why would God have such a confusing interaction in an era where He seems so far removed from us? When all the supernatural charis or divine presence seems flat or unreal, like a story our ancestors told us, which gets less and less vivid in each retelling?
I will tell you, just because the experience doesn’t match the Scripture doesn’t mean the words are vacant—it just means the experience is wrong.
Paul writes, ‘What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also’ (I Corinthians 14:15, ESV).
So we know how to pray. And why:
‘The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (I Corinthians 2:14, ESV).
But what about fretting about prayer or answers to prayer? Paul addresses this too. He writes, ‘…I do not… examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts…’ (I Corinthians 4:3-5, NRSV).
Several things are observed here. First, Paul says that ignorance of his spiritual condition or error is not an excuse for its existence; however, it is God who examines him, not himself. When we fret over unanswered prayers or why God seems distant, in our anxiety, we attribute the silence to one of the many reasons Scriptures gives or we naively listen to careless, misplaced advice of confidants. But Paul says to wait, that God Himself will tell you. We have the Holy Spirit for this reason—He is our counselor, our friend, our seal of adoption. Yeah, that may seem nutty to unbelievers, but so what?
I Corinthians 2:11 says, ‘For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God’ (NIV). In this, we can be confident because 1) we know we are children of God, 2) we know we can approach Him boldly, regardless of what we’ve done or don’t understand, and 3) we have direct communion with our Abba.
It takes time, especially if you’ve had less-than-ideal earthly teaching of what fathers are and do, to develop trust in God. It’s not easy to learn to communicate through an entirely new way—imagine expecting yourself to learn a new language in a day and then becoming mad or anxious because you were deficient.
The goal is to make that time to learn it, to understand the tangible entity that is God because of the completed work of Jesus Christ. You don’t become close to anyone by just driving by their house once a week. That’s just weird. You must invite them into your own home, converse with them, spend time listening, and being listened to. In this way, friends become like family, and in God’s case, are family.
While waiting on God to tell me why He was so slow to provide or why my experience appears contradictory to ‘And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us’ (I John 5:14, ESV) or ‘If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ (John 15:7, ESV) I have to remember He does hear me. He has heard, and I can have peace knowing that He knows I’m waiting.
God is gentle and kind, full of mercy. If at the end of your waiting there is for you an error or condition to be lifted, do not fret, do not be anxious. Friends, ‘there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1, NIV)—you can rest knowing your Lord and your Abba will not punish you but will restore you. God will come. He’s promised.
Quiet yourselves. Don’t let any voice, human or otherwise, speak into those doubtful, scared places in the mind and heart that make you afraid that God has forgotten you, or is on some other side of a veil where you cannot go. That veil has been ripped in two. You can come. He will come. He hears you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God, and anything that says otherwise is a lie.
In the meantime?
‘Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation’ (Habukkuk 3:17-18, ESV).
Over time we learn to be content. We understand this by developing such a deep trust in God that no outside circumstances or gales can penetrate the security we have in who God is, and that He exists. Waiting becomes part of our nature, quietness, a practice by which we cling to Him.
This isn’t a mental convincing, though it’s part of it. Something happens to you, and the scales fall off your eyes. The presence of God is no different to you than your own self, your child, your mother. But it takes time, and He knows that.
You just have to know that.