Knowing God’s Will: Answered Prayer

While finding ‘this is God’s will’ in the Bible makes it easy to determine what God has for us, answered prayer can be a little more confusing at times. We’ve all heard that God answers in three ways: yes, no, and wait. Yes is pretty easy to identify. You ask. He does it. That’s a yes. But no and wait can be harder. It didn’t happen right now, so it could be an absolute no, or it could be ‘not right now’.

Elijah was a prophet that understood the power of prayer. He prayed and the skies refused to rain. He prayed again and it rained. James tells us “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (James 5:17-18) God answered Elijah’s prayer in a big, unmistakable way. The answer was a resounding yes!

Recently my oldest child started high school. We had a decision to make. She wanted to attend the nearby Christian high school, but the tuition for one month was more than the tuition for all three of my kids together at the school they were attending. I had no idea how we would afford it. We continued to look into other options, but she remained adamant on where she wanted to go although she would have submitted to any decision we made. So I began to pray that if it was God’s will for her to attend that school that God would provide, because I knew it wasn’t feasible on what we were currently making. Shortly after I started praying, the principal of the school my kids were all attending approached me and let me know that one of the teachers was retiring. I had a complete blonde moment and didn’t realize until much later that he was wanting me to apply for the job. Once it hit me though, I began to look into it. While I had been busy with my job as mom, I had let my teaching certification lapse. A few years earlier I had looked into getting it renewed and I needed so many credit hours that I would basically need to get my masters degree – something I neither had the time nor the money for. To my surprise, this time when I checked all that was required was my college transcripts, a fingerprint clearance, and a form. The way was paved and I took it. It didn’t take me long to realize that God had answered my prayer. He didn’t send us a large sum of money. He told me to go back to work.

Sometimes the answer is no – and there’s no denying it. Paul had a thorn in his flesh (though there is debate on what exactly it was). In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 he writes “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He asked for it to be removed, and God said, no. There was no doubt that this was the answer. Paul accepted the answer and used it to glorify God even though it wasn’t the answer he wanted.

I have a wonky heart. Sometimes it palpitates strangely or races and no one could tell me why it was happening. Every time I had tests done they said, “We don’t know what it is, but it probably won’t kill you.” Reassuring. My primary care doctor finally told me that if my heart rate got above 100 beats per minute for more than an hour to go to the emergency room. One night it did, so as I was sitting in the emergency room strapped to machines monitoring my heart I prayed that the doctors would clearly see what was going on. Immediately the verse that came to mind was “My grace is sufficient for you.” Being the submissive daughter I am I said, “Oh no, God! I know where that’s from! That’s what you told Paul when he asked for the thorn in his flesh to be removed! I don’t want that answer.” To which He responded, “My grace is sufficient for you.” It took me longer than it should have, but eventually I accepted His response. I knew the answer was no. Sure enough, the doctor came in. “We don’t know what it is, but it’s probably not going to kill you.” He suggested I see a cardiologist, but I knew something he didn’t. It wasn’t for me to know why I have these issues. All I needed to do was rest in the fact that in my weakness His power is made perfect.

Wait is so much harder. In fact, I think that one of the reasons we reject a ‘no’ answer so often is that we’re hoping it’s really a ‘wait’. From the outside it’s so much easier to see. Have you ever watched someone repeatedly throw themselves against a door that is locked (figuratively speaking)? God says no, but they keep forcing themselves at that door. Sometimes God allows them break through, and it always ends badly. They wonder why it didn’t work out, certain that God had only said ‘wait’.

There are times when God says ‘wait’. Again looking at Paul, we can see in his missionary journeys how often he wanted to go to someplace, but was prevented for a time. Later, he was allowed to go there, but it hadn’t been the right time before. In Romans 1:9b-10, he writes “without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” He wanted to go visit them, but was hindered. He prayed for it, but God said ‘wait’. We know that eventually Paul made it to Rome so it was simply not the right time – yet. But Paul didn’t keep pushing against the closed door. He continued to pray for the opportunity, but he followed where God led, and eventually God allowed him to go to Rome.

Right now, I’m in a situation that I don’t know if it is a ‘wait’ or a ‘no’. As I pursue being an author, one thing I have considered is trying to get an agent. When I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference last September I asked God to have an agent sit near me so that I could start a conversation that might lead to a business relationship or could guide me to someone who might be interested. God answered by allowing an agent to sit next to me in one of the classes I took. But instead of being an open door, she began talking to her friend about the authors she had talked to and how none of them can actually write. She was so condescending and mean-spirited that I knew I didn’t want to strike up a conversation with her. After I left she would switch her meanness to me, and I didn’t want to have an agent who I always suspected was talking about me behind my back. For now anyway, God’s answer is ‘no’, but it’s possible that in the future, He will give me that. However, I’m not going to push against something that for now isn’t His will. I will wait on Him – and if His answer remains no, I will follow Him in that, too.

Although answered prayers aren’t necessarily as cut and dried as seeing God’s will written in black-and-white, they can be a useful way of discerning what God has for us. The trouble is that often we consider prayer a last resort. If we would pray more fervently, more frequently, expecting God to answer, we might find that it’s not as difficult as we thought to know what His will is for our lives.  

“Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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