Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When God Doesn't Answer

            Have you ever heard of God’s phone number? Believe it or not, it’s not the phone number that they show in the movie Bruce Almighty. Ironically, that number put many people in touch with churches and pastors, which is as close to God as you’re going to get by using a telephone, but obviously no one actually got God Himself. In actuality, God’s phone number is Jeremiah 33:3 which says “Call to me, and I will answer you and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (ESV) So there you have it; all that you have to do is call to God, and He will answer you.
            But what about those times that He doesn’t answer, or at least it seems like He doesn’t? If the Bible says that He will answer, it’s true that He will, but sometimes it seems like He never answers. What is happening in those cases? There are three options for what might be happening in cases like these. God could be answering but you don’t like the answer so you discard it, God could be answering but it is a way that you don’t recognize, or God could be delayed and He wants you to wait for it.
            The first option, that God is answering but we just don’t like the answer, is more common than many of us like to admit. Just one example of this happening is found in 1 Samuel 15:23. Saul knew what God had told him, but he simply didn’t like it. Instead of completely cleansing the land that he captured in a battle, he spared the best livestock and such for himself. In his rebuke of Saul, Samuel said, “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king." (ESV, italics added) You see, even back in ancient Israel when there were prophets that had a direct line to God, so to speak, people still ignored what God said when they didn’t like it, and guess what: people are no different today.
            The second possibility when it seems like God is not answering your prayers is that God is answering but in a way that we don’t recognize or understand. The Bible refers to the voice of God as a “still, small voice.” Perhaps you lead a life that is so noisy that you can’t hear God when He answers. Maybe, in connection with the first case, you are afraid that you won’t like God’s answer so you purposefully put yourself in a position where you will not hear it when it comes. No matter what the situation is, the problem here is not with God failing to answer but with you failing to hear it.
            The third case when God doesn’t appear to answer is that He is answering but it is delayed. In Daniel 10, Daniel recounts a story of how at one time he prayed but received no answer for three weeks. When God’s messenger arrives, he explains that he had been detained by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” a demon, for twenty-one days before Michael arrived to help him. In this case, God did answer but it wasn’t until three weeks after that Daniel received it. Most of us, in our microwave and drive-thru world, don’t want to wait three minutes let alone three weeks for anything. But according to this Bible story, sometimes we just need to wait for God’s answer.
            It is all good and well to tell someone that God always answers and that if they don’t get an answer it is their own fault, but what if you don’t recognize or hear God’s voice when He does speak? Of course you need to work at listening for God, but that’s not going to happen overnight. What are you supposed to do until then? I recently made the comment to one of my friends that “God doesn’t usually answer when I pray.” I was feeling sorry for myself at the moment and at least halfway meant what I said. My friend answered by saying that sometimes God answers, just not in the way that we wanted Him to answer. I agree with this statement, and yes perhaps this is my case sometimes, but I believe that I have more of a problem in the area of not understanding or recognizing what God is saying. So what am I supposed to do? My plan is to keep on praying and hoping that one day I’ll be able to hear God’s answers, but even if I never get there, I’ll continue to pray and to try to hear. The good news is that one day I will know exactly what God says and not have to wonder about it and worry that I heard incorrectly.

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