My flight to Uganda was booked for less than two weeks away. I sat in my room and counted the money in my wallet.
I was trying to get from Thailand to East Africa to continue my Christian volunteer work there. God had told me He would provide the money, but my present work didn’t bring in the kind of cash I needed for plane fare to the other side of the planet.
My friend Michael has a favorite saying for when God does something inexplicable in answer to prayer: It’s not odd, it’s God.
For some months, Michael and a few others of us have been working on a major new endeavor. One of the first things Michael and another partner did was map out the entire project. The plan looked terrific on paper—so simple, so straightforward, so sure. We soon found out, however, that God had a somewhat different plan and timetable. And part of His plan seems to be to teach us to depend more on Him as our all-wise CEO.
Why do some prayers take longer to be answered than others,and why do some seem to go unanswered?
It’s impossible for us to know for sure, and there are probably a number of factors that come into play. One thing we can be sure of is that God always hears our prayers, even though He doesn’t always answer them right away and not always in just the way we expect Him to. Sometimes He says “yes,” sometimes He says “no,” and sometimes He says “wait.”
I believe in prayer. I believe that it works, that it changes things for the better. But more than that, I believe that praying works in me, that it changes me for the better.
I’m a list person. I keep lists of all kinds of things, and two are related to prayer. One is a list of things I’m currently praying for. Some of those things are so much on my mind that I don’t even have to write them down, while others are needs that friends have asked me to pray for or situations that I have read about or seen on the news and felt moved to pray for. When anything seems to warrant more than a one-time prayer in passing, onto my list it goes.
About three thousand years ago, a wise man named Agur said, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand.”
Really? I used to think. Only four? Of course, he did pick four good ones.1
I recently considered some of the ways I benefit from prayer. I was especially reflecting on various aspects of stability and clarity—inner poise and grace—that prayer adds to my life. In keeping with Agur’s group of four, here are my top four gains.
When I sat down to write an article about prayer for this magazine, I heard a little inner voice say, “You can’t do that. You don’t pray enough!”
That set me back a bit, and I had to think about it. It’s certainly true that I don’t pray as much as I could and probably should. So instead of writing, I closed my laptop and went to the kitchen to prepare the dough and start slicing toppings for a pizza dinner. Meanwhile, I couldn’t shake that thought. Do I pray enough?
What may seem logical to you in a particular situation isn’t necessarily right, because you’re human and fallible. It also may not be the way I see it, because “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”1
You may be able to figure some things out and get some things right, but you’ll do much better if you learn to ask Me for My insight and solutions.
Question: You say that God can and wants to turn my personal weaknesses into strong points. I’ve prayed for that, but so far nothing has changed. Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?
Answer: It sounds like you expect God to work an overnight wonder in you, with nothing required of you beyond wanting and praying to do better. That’s not the way it works. God will do for you what only He can do, but He also expects you to do what you can. It takes both. Personal growth is a partnership.