One of the hard questions we often ask is, “Why doesn’t God answer many of our prayers?” Have you ever wondered that? Some point the finger at the one praying: “You’re praying with wrong motives.” Or “You don’t have enough faith.” I suppose sometimes either of those things could be the problem. But do we really have to prove ourselves worthy of answered prayer by perfect motives and unwavering faith? Don’t we all pray as fragile, broken, imperfect people?
This is a painful subject because over and over in the Scripture God invites us to pray. Why would he set us up for such disappointment when he doesn’t respond to our requests? We often turn to God in our most vulnerable moments with a desperate need only he can meet. Why does he sometimes remain silent?
One of the things I’m learning is that God’s silence is often a call to wait. I have also noticed that good things happen in my heart as I learn to wait on Him.
Habukkuk was a prophet who learned this lesson. He served during troubled times. Israel had been split in two. The Northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Now the Southern kingdom of Judah was being ruled by a wicked king and they were being threatened by the Babylonians. In the midst of this, Habukkuk directs two questions to God. First, How long? How long will I cry out for help and get no response from you? I pray and pray but nothing seems to change. And then the second question: Why? Why do you let all this go on and on when you have the power to stop it? Why do you sit up there in heaven and not do a thing?
After he’s poured out his heart to God, he says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (2:1). This is where his prayer ends. It’s like he runs out of breath and decides to be like the watchman who stations himself high on the ramparts, ready to report anything he sees to the people of the city. He decides to wait for God to sort it all out. The crisis isn’t over, but he’s done fighting and he is going to watch and wait to see what God will say and do next. That’s a good place to be, but it’s not easy.
Watching and waiting is hard. It’s hard because it takes time. We want answers now. It’s hard because we’d rather do something. It feels so unproductive to just wait. And it’s often such a lonely job; the watchman normally waits and watches by himself. It’s hard because we have to stay focused and there is so much to distract us. Waiting and watching is hard because it means we have to be open to correction. Our big problem is we want God’s thinking to be in line with ours, but when we wait and watch we learn to get our thinking in line with God’s.
It reminds me of something I read in a book called, Peace like a River, by Leif Enger. He tells the story of a family of four: Jeremiah, the father, and his three children ,Davy, Swede, and Rueben, who narrates the story. Davy gets himself into serious trouble. He’s arrested and put on trial. Knowing that the jury is about to convict him, he breaks out of a county jail and flees. A few weeks later the rest of the family piles into an Airstream trailer and goes in search of him.
Jeremiah, the father, is a praying man. He’s humble and discerning. But he can’t understand what God is up to. He senses God wants him to cooperate with a federal agent who is hunting for Davy, but he doesn’t want to betray his son. So he decides to have it out with God. He stays up all night and wrestles with God in prayer. While this was happening, a friend named Roxanna sat in the hallway and overheard the argument. She, of course, only heard Jeremiah. She wasn’t privy to God’s voice, though she sensed God was speaking and fighting back.
Enger writes: “At this Roxanna covered her mouth, for it occurred to her with Whom he wrestled. Having long ago accepted the fact of God, Roxanna had not conceived of going toe to toe with Him over a particular concern. Make me willing if you can, Dad cried, a challenge it still shakes me to think of. What Roxanna heard next was a tumble like man thrown.” The conflict between God and Jeremiah continued through the night. Roxanna eventually fell asleep in the hallway. When she awoke in the morning all was quiet. She went into the kitchen and found Jeremiah sitting at the kitchen table. He was at perfect peace.
Someone has said that prayer can do one of three things. First, prayer can change things. It really can make a difference in what happens. Second, prayer can change God. It won’t change his nature, but it can change what he chooses to do. But, finally, and perhaps most importantly, prayer can change us. One thing I’m certain about, waiting on God changes us.
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.