A young boy is at school one day when he realizes that he has forgotten his lunch. “That’s not an issue,” the boy says without falter, “I will simply call my dad and he’ll take care of the problem.” The boy calls his father, informs him of the problem, and then waits for his lunch to arrive.
Upon receiving the call, the father immediately sets to work. He packs a delicious lunch – one far better than the boy would have ever been able to make for himself – throws it in a brand new, collector’s edition, tin foil lunch box, and thrusts it into the hands of his older son along with a pair of brand new car keys. “Take this to your brother,” the father instructs.
The older son looks down at the keys, incredulous. “I get to drive–”
“It’s yours,” the father says with a smile. “Go take that to your brother and take the car for a spin.”
With a stammering mumbling of gratitude, the older son bursts out the door. He hops in his new ride – a limited edition, shining black sports car of the newest model – and marvels at its beauty, excited to take it for a ride. He calls his friends, tells them all about it, and takes it for a drive around the town.
He totally forgets to deliver his younger brother’s lunchbox.
Let me ask you a question: In the story above, who was at fault? Was it the child for having forgotten his lunchbox, the father for having trusted the older son, or the older son for having forgotten to deliver the lunchbox to his younger brother?
I think that the majority of people would agree that the two children lie at fault in the story – the older brother for not delivering the box and the younger for not having remembered it in the first place – while most people would likewise agree that no blame is to be put on the father: he made his instructions clear and showed love in abundance, going above and beyond in his gifts to both children. It can likewise be unanimously agreed that the father most definitely did respond to the younger son’s request, and it was merely the older son’s failure to act that resulted in the younger son’s request not being met.
And now I ask you this question: Is it not the same with prayer?
A lot of the times you hear people saying that God doesn’t answer prayers, that He is silent amidst the turmoil, et cetera et cetera, but I think that this problem is largely the fault of the church. Have you ever considered the fact that many people, in their times of need, pray to God for something that He has commanded us, in the Bible, to provide? (Namely, love?) In the midst of perilous times, people get frustrated with God because He is seemingly not responding to their pleas and petitions and requests, but perhaps He has responded; perhaps the Word He gave us provides us with our clear instructions, and perhaps we are the answer to that person’s prayer. Maybe we can help mend that broken heart; perhaps we can provide that person with a new home, another chance at life; perhaps we can be a voice of reason when tragedy strikes or things are getting sticky; perhaps we can help them overcome some sin they have been fighting; perhaps we can help point them to that new job, that new opportunity. Perhaps we are the answer to prayer, and it is our own inaction that leads to their frustration with God. When those who bear the name Christ-ian fail to act, it is no wonder that people question whether or not Christ is even at work! Perhaps we are so busy enjoying our own sports cars – those beautiful things God has done in our own lives – that we fail to help God go about delivering gifts to others.
Before I say much more on this subject, I find it important to make some clarifications so that you don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. First, I want to make it clear that I am not saying that this is God’s only means of answering prayer. I would never be so bold as to limit God in that way (and even if I were so bold, He would quickly prove me wrong). God constantly exercises the infinite different possibilities of ways in which He can answer and does answer prayers, whether that be directly intervening on the person’s behalf (which I would consider anything that doesn’t directly involve any other individuals) or using other people as an answer of some sort. I am merely stating that we should be quick to remember that God could be using us as answers to prayer, and we should remember the weight of such a position. Second, I also do not believe that God necessarily answers prayers in only one way. I can’t claim a full understanding of how God answers prayers, but I do know that He does answer them. These answers might not be the answers we are looking for – they typically take the form of “Yes,” “No,” or “Not yet” – but they are answers nonetheless, and I believe that He will typically go about many different outlets in order to make His response obvious. I say this because the “father-and-sons” analogy falls flat in the fact that God does not rely on us to get His answer across as the father relies on the older son; instead, God uses us as a means. For the analogy’s sake, let’s assume that the father, knowing good and well that the older son would fail to deliver the lunch box, pre-packed a second one and went to deliver the lunchbox himself. All because we fail God does not mean that we have foiled God’s plans; He knows our actions even before we make them, and He will be able to adjust accordingly. Do you follow?
All of this having been said, I find it dangerous to lighten the weight of the role we play in delivering God’s messages. As I said, I can’t claim to fully understand how God works – and I hold steadfast to the belief that, despite our failures, God will work all things for good – but this doesn’t lighten the fact that we, as a church, are called to care for the lost and the broken. Sure, God might provide that unemployed man with a job opportunity via a well-placed newspaper ad, but should we rely on that unguaranteed hope? Sure, the suicidal woman might find something to grab onto that gives her more reason to live, but should we simply look away and pray that God provides another means? What if you are the answered prayer those people have been waiting for? What if you are the one who can shine light not only on the problem they face, but quite possibly even prove to them the existence of God in His sovereign providence? Perhaps God has answered the prayer by other means, but perhaps you are the answer that will actually reach them. God uses His people for His people – He uses His people for all people, actually – so I think we need to embrace this and start living our lives with our hearts constantly breaking for those who are in search of a God who answers prayers.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…we are all called to full-time ministry. No, I am not saying that we are all called to vocational ministry – there’s a difference – but I am reminding you that at the moment you fell to your knees and called Jesus “Lord,” you entered a life of full-time ministry. There’s a reason you bear the name Christian – it is who you are now. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). You have been united with Christ through the blood He shed on that cross, and now you need to recognize that, like Christ, we are called to love this world with reckless abandon. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31). Yes, you should enjoy those beautiful gifts God has given you and should strive to consistently deepen your relationship with God, but don’t forget about all the others on earth who are in desperate need of that same relationship. Some of them have been praying and have felt that those prayers have gone unanswered, but I’m saying that perhaps you could be the answer they were in dire need of.
And really, that’s about all I have to say on that matter. As a lasting remark, I would like to turn my attention to another group for but a moment, to provide a few words of encouragement to those who have desperately prayed and prayed and prayed yet are having difficulty in hearing God’s response:
Keep heart, dear friend. The teacher is always silent during the test, so show persistence, show purpose, and be personal in your pleas to the Lord, for He is listening, He is responding, and He wants so much for you than you could ever possibly imagine. Oh, if you would forsake your own dreams and instead turn your eyes towards His dream for you. We worship a Lord who makes slaves into leaders, turns shepherds into kings, and saves the entire world through His own precious blood shed for you and me. We worship a God who does His best work in the midst of the storm, and I can assure you that no tempest can overpower His might. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9) – that is His promise to you! No, this verse is not telling you that God will give you every single thing you ever ask for, but if you ask for a response, God is always happy to oblige. Be a friend of God like Abraham (Jas 2:23) and a man after His heart like David (1 Sam 13:14); pursue Him to no end and be faithful even in the low times, rejoicing in the trials (Jas 1:2-4) and taking delight in He who saves (Psa 37:4). He is there, He is watching, He is listening, and He is waiting. Waiting on you to run into His arms and ask to be His child. Waiting on you to surrender yourself to Him so that He might do more with your life than you could have ever dreamed. Waiting for you to run to Him and say, “My beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song 2:16). Oh, my friend, how He is waiting for you. Keep praying. Pray with a passion. Pray without ceasing. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13).
Have a blessed day and be greatly encouraged, for the God of the storm is coming to calm your choppy seas.