This week a friend sent a message reflecting on her spiritual journey over the past few years. For a long time she had been praying for a certain thing from God. It is a righteous and even noble request but so far God has not seen fit to answer her prayer. My friend commented that as she prayed for patience, she realized that for a long time she was not ready to receive the answer. Sometimes our prayers are delayed simply because we need to grow deeper in the Lord before God can say yes. For my friend that means trusting that God knows best and that his timing is always perfect.
Sometimes even our righteous desires can become idols to us. This is a tricky concept because it means that the thing we want is not evil in itself, yet because we have fixed our hearts on it, God withholds the good thing-at least for a period of time-that we might be weaned from our dependence on answers and focus instead on God alone. Sometimes it is better for God to say no to a perfectly legitimate prayer request in order that he might say yes to something much better for us. And usually we don’t see it in this perspective until much later-months or even years down the road.
A young man entered a monastery where the schedule consisted of worship and contemplative prayer more or less around the clock. How do you fight off boredom in such an atmosphere? He said that some days boredom can become a problem simply because you are doing the same thing over and over again. It can seem as if the road is leading nowhere. But there are moments, he said, when the clouds lift and you realize that the road you have been traveling is a winding road with many switchbacks as it climbs toward the summit. In those moments of revelation, you can look down and see how far you have come. You aren’t to the top yet, but you’ve traveled a long way from your starting point.
So it is for all of us. God often uses unanswered prayer to propel us along the road of spiritual growth. Some prayers are answered immediately so that we will not despair, others are answered later when we are ready to receive them. And some are never answered for reasons that lie hidden in the heart of God. Meanwhile, we follow the winding road, climbing toward the distant peak that beckons us onward.