When we last met, we addressed things that hinder our prayers from being answered. Today we are going to address what our response should be, towards God, when He answers our prayer differently than what we asked for. This would include when He gives us a "NO" answer, for certainly none of us ever pray for a "NO" answer.
Few things shock the believer's spiritual system more than a 'no' answer from God, especially when we were so certain the answer would be yes. Doubts muscle their way into our heart; -- our faith may begins to sag and the devil, always the opportunist, whispers in our ear, "Hath God really said?" That moment is precarious for the believer.
So what do we do when we receive a 'no' or a 'wait' answer from God? Let me begin with an illustration.
On February 1, 2003, a tragic accident occurred in the U.S. program. In the skies over Texas, as the Space Shuttle Colombia was approaching its landing, a light flashed and twisted metal rained across the countryside. Behind those images, are the faces of the crew. The Colombia Commander was Rick Husband, one of several in that crew that were Christians. Commander Husband's wife, Evelyn, in her book, High Calling, makes some very astonishing observations that proceed out of their faith in God.
A month or so ago, my mother-in-law was reading this book, and thought I might want to use the illustration I am about to tell you. I quote from page 233 of her book.
"In one of my e-mails to Rick in space I told him that Laura (that's their daughter) was praying for the most perfect landing ever." She goes on to say, "people have said that our prayers were not answered, that God didn't listen, and although God didn't answer our prayers the way I wanted because I would rather Rick still be here with us, God answered our prayer another way.
"In the days after Rick's death I talked with Laura about her prayer. 'Daddy did have a perfect landing,' I said. He landed right in the presence of Jesus. His landing in Florida could not have been perfect. It could have been outstanding or excellent but not perfect. When he stepped foot into heaven, that was his perfect landing. He landed in God's holy presence, and I know that for now he is saving our place in heaven."
She continues to say, "those are trite, shallow words - something a grieving widow grabs onto for comfort; they are words of truth, God's truth, and I'll cling to them for the rest of my life."
I know that some of you have been pleading with God for years about various issues. And you have the perception that God is still silent. You have been asking God to save your spouse, or repair your relationship with a prodigal child, or heal you past, or restore your marriage, or bring physical healing.
Perhaps you even wonder in times of reflection, "Am I the problem?" Or is there something I should have done that would have received a 'yes' answer? Is God mad at me? Is it because I don't have enough faith? Do my prayers even matter? And maybe, if we are brutally honest, sometimes we are filled with resentment. We see other people have their prayers answered, or other people who don't even know the Lord don't face the same problems you face. And in desperation, you cry out, "It's not fair."
Those are real feelings, and real emotions, and there are times when it is all you can do to keep you composure. On the inside there is a flood of emotions and questions.
Now, I am not going to give you some formula that will let you know how God will respond in various, yet specific, situations. I am not even sure that I am capable of shedding any light on this sometimes troubling issue. Yet, I must try. God's Word is not devoid of at least some information on this perplexing matter. But, it is with caution that I even approach this question.
I believe it is possible to look into the letter of every Biblical verse that addresses this subject and still come away not having helped those who are, at this very moment, in a crisis or some great struggle. If at the same time, I do not extend compassion while expositing the letter of the Word, I may have only served to add to the burdens they are already bearing. But, neither can I water down the full intent of the Word while I am trying to bring comfort and show compassion. I want to answer some of these questions by looking first at what is likely the oldest book in the Bible.
WHAT IS PROBABLY THE OLDEST BOOK IN THE BIBLE?
The Book of Job.
It is my opinion, and it's only an opinion, that Job the man, and the book that bears his name, predates the Jewish exodus from Egypt. The reasons I say that are:
o The nation of Israel is never mentioned in the book.
o Yahweh, the most common Jewish name for God is only mentioned once.
All other references to God are using Eloah, or its plural Elohim, and Shaddai.
The reason these two thought indicate that he lived prior to the exodus, becomes important when you consider where Job lived.
WHERE WAS JOB FROM?
Job 1:1 begins, "There was a man from the land of Uz, whose name was Job,….."
The location of the land of Uz is unknown, but most believe it to be south and east of Israel today. In biblical times, it would probably be located in what was known as the land of Edom. This is just north of the Arabian desert.
We are given some biblical indication that this is the approximate area for Job. A moment ago, we read that Job was from the land of Uz.
Lamentations 4:21 (NIV) helps us:
21 Rejoice and be glad, O Daughter of Edom, you who live in the land of Uz.
Look at this map to see where the nation of Edom was located. In addition to Edom, you see kingdoms of Ammon and Moab.
WHERE DOES THE NAME EDOM COME FROM?
Edom was another name given to Esau, the brother of Jacob.
FROM WHOM DID THE AMMONITES AND THE MOABITES DESCEND FROM?
Let me show you a chart showing the lineage of Abraham. Moab and Ammon were grandsons of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. From the verse we read in Lamentations 4, we saw that Edom was linked to the land of Uz. This gives us the general area for the land of Uz. We gain more help on its location when looking at Job's three comforters.
WHAT WERE THE NAMES OF THESE THREE?
o Eliphaz - the Temanite
o Bildad - the Shuhite
o Zophar - Naamathite
The location of the Temanites can be pinned down quite easily. On the map, we know where the city of Teman was located. It's about 20-25 miles east of Petra. But the magnificent carvings in the limestone canyons of Petra would not have been there by the time of Job. The Nabateans came along many centuries later.
The location of the homelands of the other two comforters of Job are not as easily pinpointed. Bildad was a Shuhite. So, who are the Shuhites?
Look again at the lineage of Abraham. After his wife, Sarah, died, Abraham took another wife, named Keturah. Abraham had six sons by Keturah. The Shuhites are the descendants of the last son - Shuah.
Genesis 25:5-6 tell us that when all of his sons by Keturah were old enough, he sent them away to the east. It says he "sent them away from his son Isaac." To be sent to the east meant east of the Jordan and the Red Sea. It could have meant as far east as what is Iraq today.
Another interesting point in this connection between Job and Shuah (Shuhites), is found in the meaning of the word "Shuah." It means "wealth." This further adds to our picture of Job being a very wealthy man, blessed of God who was surrounded by wealthy friends. These three wealthy men came to visit Job when the Lord began to test him.
The third of Job's comforters - Zophar, the Naamathite - is the least known. We are not given any clues as to where the Naamathites lived. We also don't know who they descended from. Considering where the Job, Eliphaz and Bildad lived, I think we can assume Zophar was from this area as well.
As the Israelites came close to the end of wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, their migration, some 4-6 million people, would have taken them through this land where Job and his friends lived. And yet, they are not ever mentioned in the book of Job. I think the Exodus out of Egypt occurred after the time of Job. And we must also consider the fact that Job never mentions:
o Jewish rites and religious ceremonies
o The Jewish manners and customs.
o The priesthood
o The festival, fasts, and Sabbaths
o Anything commanded in the Law of Moses
Now let's leave our History and Geography lesson and return to the subject at hand concerning God's answers to our prayers. As to how we, as children of God, should respond when our prayers are answered differently than what we asked, I believe this book of Job will be relevant and timely for us to consider.
This book is the unfolding drama in the life of a man who felt life and God were unfair. I think, if we are honest, we can at times identify with Job. He couldn't understand his situation, any more than we in our situation, and it seemed as if God was totally unresponsive to his prayers.
One day life was rocking along and Job was experiencing great prosperity. He was well-respected, had a good family and his health was good. Then, in one day, he lost 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 5,000 oxen, 500 donkeys, and then all of his servants were killed. The crowning blow was that all 10 of his kids were killed in a freak accident. In a brief moment, Job also lost his health, and his entire body from the bottom on his feet to the top of his head was covered in boils. Over night, one of the most wealthy, well-respected, and righteous men on earth was reduced to nothing.
So devastating were these circumstances that his wife's only advice for Job was to "curse God and die." Unbeknownst to Job, all of this had come about as a result of a conversation in heaven between God and Satan. He is sent reeling and the entire book of Job is about how he processes through his suffering, pain, and unanswered prayers.
I think we can learn how to respond to God during difficulties by looking at how Job responded. I think we can glean some helpful insights as we watch Job wrestle with his circumstances.
It is important to remember that Job was a man just like you and me. We sometimes think of him as larger than life. But in the book you see him confused, angry, resentful, depressed, and struggling to get answers. Sounds like some of the same emotions we struggle with.
In the middle of the book, Job is having a ongoing debate with three of his friends. The thesis they present to Job is that bad things don't happen to good people. Therefore, Job, you must have done something wrong, or God wouldn't be punishing you with these devastating circumstances.
Job isn't really sure how to explain things either, but he knows his life has been righteous and his heart has been pure. In fact, in Job 1, God describes Job as the most blameless and upright man on planet earth. In the middle of this attack from his 3 so-called friends, Job makes some astounding statements that provide hope and help for others going through difficulties and times of unanswered prayer.
Let's observe what we can learn.
1. Affirm what you know to be true about God
Job 19:25 NKJV
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
There is much that Job doesn't understand, but he rock-solid sure that his redeemer lives. Sometimes, our suffering, or the droughts we have in prayer, cause us to have a distorted view of the Father.
My first instruction for you who are wondering where God is or what He is up to in your life, is to cling to your personal relationship with Christ. Don't let Satan rob you of that. Take the words of Job and speak them forcefully back in the face of the devil. Tell him that no matter what he does to you, you know that your Redeemer lives.
You and I need to underline the word "MY." In some ways Job was totally unprepared for this attack but in other ways, this statement here shows he had been preparing all his life.
The word "redeemer" is a fascinating Hebrew word. The Hebrew word is "go'el." (GO-el) This is a word used to represent the closest male relative, who assumed the responsibility to come to the aid of a family member in trouble. Thus, this Hebrew word is usually understood by the two-word phrase, kinsman-redeemer.
This is a huge statement. He is referring to the Lord as his closest male relative. And even though these were unbelievably difficult times, Job was clinging tenaciously to his relationship with the Lord. As you, like Job, go deep in your daily relationship with the Lord, you will find strength to persevere and hang on even when your prayers are not answered.
So, the first response to the way God answers our prayers is to "affirm what you know to be true about God." He is your Living God and as your Kinsman Redeemer, He is your closest blood relative who comes to your aid in times of trouble.
2. Don't mistake silence for absence
In Job 34:29 (NIV), Elihu, one of Job's counselors, say,...
29 But if he (God) remains silent, who can condemn him? If he hides his face, who can see him? Yet he is over man and nation alike,
In our American society, that has nearly instant-everything, we want a God that is instantly responsive to our prayers. We think of God as One who gives us what we desire and sees to it that we live a happy and comfortable life.
But God is absolutely sovereign. We need to be more concerned about His glory than we are to our comfort. Through a lot of the book of Job, God is silent. But He had all things under control, even when it appeared that He didn't.
3. God is not obligated to explain Himself
When God finally does speak in Chapter 38, He does not answer all of Job's questions. God could have said, "Job, I'm really sorry about what happened, you have endured a lot of unfair trials, but I am really proud of you for the way you hung it there." God says nothing of the kind. His reply consists of more questions than answers. God doesn't explain - He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway.
Then He takes Job through a long list of questions about the universe and how it operates. It is as if God is saying to Job, "Until you know a little more about the universe, don't tell me how to run it." "I don't answer to you."
Our liberation from pain and trauma in any situation is a question of God's SOVEREIGNTY.
OK, NOW, WHAT DOES THIS MAGNIFICENT WORD, SOVEREIGNTY, MEAN?
It means that God has the freedom to do whatever He desires. He answers to no one. Romans 11:34-35 tells us, "Who has been His advisor….that God should repay him?" He is bound only by His own character. In other words, if freedom from a situation that produces pain is part of His master plan, then the individual will be rescued. If not, God has another purpose for the life of that person which is guaranteed to bring Him the most glory. Period.
For instance, if He wants to deliver Daniel from the salivating jaws of hungry lions, or let James get decapitated, let Peter experience an angelic escort from prison, or permit thousands of Christians to be martyred in Roman coliseums, or allow His only Son, Jesus, to suffer the cruel death of crucifixion to satisfy His justice, He will!!
Will God get more glory out of a miraculous healing that baffles the doctors with their X-rays than can be realized out of the testimony of God's faithfulness and love and peace, in spite of the heartache of one's predicament? Only God knows. But He does know!!
I believe that it is possible for God to receive glory in either situation. How many have been brought into the Kingdom because a sinner has seen the radiance of the peace and love of God in a person's face, even though the Christian was obviously enduring great physical pain and much heartache.
A miracle has occurred in either situation -- whether in a dramatic, instantaneous healing or deliverance from a great difficulty or in providing great peace, hope, assurance and strength to take you through the difficulty.
4. You can rest assured that God is at work
Job 33:12-14 NKJV
12 Look, in this you are not righteous. I will answer you, for God is greater than man.
13 Why do you contend with Him? For He does not give an accounting of any of His words.
14 For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it.
God really does have a divine plan. He is a work accomplishing his purposes. It may not be in your time or mine, but he has not checked out to just let the world run its course. Even though Job couldn't see it, there was a great purpose being worked out. So, as you and I pray, we need to realize that there are spiritual battles being fought. From the book of Job, we learn that there is much more going on behind the scenes than what we might suspect or perceive.
Job felt the weight of God's absence but a look behind the curtain revealed that in one sense God had never been more present.
5. Be cautious not to distort your view of God
Pain, weariness, and lack of answers can be like those mirrors you would see at the state fair. It would make your legs look about 10 feet long or your whole body about two feet tall. It was you alright - just distorted.
The same is true about God. Sometimes when we pray and pray, we still see God, but now He seems uncaring, disinterested, far away, distorted.
6. Keep an eternal perspective
Job 19:25b-26 NKJV
25 ……He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God,
This is a very bold statement by Job. He didn't have the scriptures as we do. There wasn't a book in the Bible written yet. It is the hope of the final resurrection of the body from the grave. He is saying that though his skin is destroyed, there is coming a day, when, in his own flesh, he will see God. Job is saying, "God seems silent to me now. The heavens appear closed. I don't hear any answers from God. I call out and pray and nothings seems to happen. But I haven't lost hope. I am not relying on my feelings. I am relying on the truth that I know about God. And when all is said and done, when God sets his feet on the earth at the end of time, I will be there and see him face to face.
Keep eternity in mind.
1 Corinthians 15:19 NKJV
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
The Bible never trivializes or downplays human disappointment. In Job you have 41 chapters of anguish and unanswered prayer and have but one chapter on restoration. But there is a key word each of us need to remember. It's the word TEMPORARY.
2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
So, when you are tempted to give up, keep on praying. God has not abandoned you. When you don't understand, keep praying. Someday you will understand God's purposes. God always responds to our prayers with a view toward the eternal ramifications. For certain that takes faith to grasp.
Tuck this thought away. Never in eternity will we want to walk up to Jesus and say, "I surely wish you had answered my prayer differently." And by faith, we really have no reason to say it now.
This brings us to what may be the most significant point of all.
7. Trust in God's control and purposes for your life
WHAT IS THE FIRST THING WE MUST DO WHEN GOD ANSWERS DIFFERENTLY THAN WE EXPECTED?
We must be able to accept God's answer. Without a doubt, this is one of the hardest things to do sometimes.
Job 23:10 NKJV
10 But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
There it is, the bottom line. It's a matter of trust. I like Job's words - "He knows the way I take." Job's situation had not caught God off guard. Neither does ours. My prayer request did not surprise Him. He can be trusted. He is God.
How we react to tragedy and trials is our choice. We can choose to draw our water from the well that will never run dry. We can choose not to allow Satan to guide us into the snare of trying to evaluate the "fairness" of our particular set of circumstances, where we compare our lives with those around us.
To ask God "Why?", or "How come?" is not in itself wrong. But to fill our minds with these "whys" and "how comes", without a willingness to accept his answer, will not heal any wounds. Many of our prayer requests are the result of desperate situations. We are persuaded that if God does not act on our behalf, calamity will strike. There is nothing wrong with those prayers. For healing, protection from danger, financial relief, divine intervention in a home
or employment crisis, our Lord wants us to come to Him. The Lord Himself says, "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
Hebrews 4:16 tells us that the throne of grace is always there for us to draw near so "that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need."
But we must remember, God's options are not limited. Never is He forced to answer our petitions in only one way. When God answers our prayer differently from what we expected, or even wanted, it does not mean God is indifferent to us. It means that God knows more than each of us, His children, and is shaping a more beautiful and effective remedy for what ails us. He knows what we need, despite what we ask.
Prayer may be filled with faith, uttered with boldness, offered in obedience and overflowing with praise and confidence. But, after all is said, it is still up to Him.
Romans 8:26 (NAS)
the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us...
Unknown Confederate Soldier:
"I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked God for health that I might do greater things
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I Got nothing that I asked for,
But everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed."
Someone once said;
"Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get."
The Bible expresses the same idea in a slightly different way.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (RSV)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
God does not always answer our prayers in exactly the manner we might have desired. Neither does He always answer in the way that means the least discomfort. Consider Christ in the Garden. He prayed through the night for the Father's will. When the cross was the answer, He went to die in peace. He accepted the Father's answer. AND I AM SURE GLAD HE DID!!
The first, and possibly the most difficult, thing we must do when God answers differently than we expected, is to trust Him and accept His answer. And we will learn to trust Him if we come to really know Him. In fact, if you don't really know God, it will be difficult to trust.
From the perspective of the Word, we discover what God is really like, nstead of what He may appear to be. The more we understand His ways, the less we will question His responses. That doesn't mean we will know the "why" of every answer He gives. As we said earlier, God certainly is not obligated to explain His actions to us.
Any approach other than that of yielding to His sovereignty will leave us high and dry. Either we will drown in a pool of rationalized self-pity or become little monsters demanding that God serve us at our bidding. And that would be terribly sad, because these routes cause us to forfeit the privilege of seeing the fourth man in the furnace or cause us to relinquish the joy of seeing hungry lions get their mouths shut. Not only will we not see the instantaneous miraculous response by God that we had hoped for, but we will not know the daily strength He can and will provide as He walks by our side, and the courage He gives to take the next step.
At the end of the book of Job, God pours out his blessings on Job and restores wealth and health and family. But listen to some of Job's final words in the book before all of that restoration happened.
Job 42:2-3 NKJV
2 "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
3 You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
There are those times when we struggle with bitter conflicts or the desperate days and grueling nights of seeming darkness and distress. The following Scriptures are illustrative:
2 Timothy 2:3
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
This part of our day-to-day walk with the Lord stresses the unavoidable weariness, toil, and pain that is sometimes encountered along the way. Even Christ Himself did.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
The question arises: Is the life of unbroken peace, joy and prosperity, the life of health, happiness and successful affluence, spiritually superior to all others and the one that brings the most glory to God.
Don't get me wrong. I rejoice in the measure of faith that issues forth in miraculous healings. Such marvelous answers to prayer exalt our Lord and do show His triumph over the adversary. The demonstration of the supernatural in signs and wonders is scriptural, and they confound unbelief, stimulate faith in the hearts of God's people, and can serve to bring many souls to the Lord.
But I do not believe that the multitudes who are not healed, or delivered from poverty, must settle for second-class citizenship in the Kingdom. Nor does the one who is not healed need to suffer with a sense of spiritual inferiority. Neither must he or she settle back with an inner suspicion that they can only have God's second best, while others are healed and blessed with affluence.
Is it not possible for the great majority who remain financially limited or physically afflicted to make as great a contribution to the kingdom and bring as much joy to the heart of God, and win as great an eternal reward as those who have been favored with supernatural deliverances here and now.
I believe we must answer that question in the affirmative. See what we are told in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 in the Amplified Bible.
For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory - beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!
Since we consider and look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting.