Stretch Out Your Hand
I received a call awhile ago from Al Lackey. “Steve, I don’t know what you and the pastors want to do with this, if anything, but do you remember when our small group gathered with the elders and friends after church to anoint with oil and pray for Caroline and Scott?”
“They both claim to be healed. Caroline’s symptoms are gone and Scott’s oncology report came back clear. They, and I, believe God answered our prayers and healed them both.”
Al couldn’t contain his enthusiasm, and neither could I! We all believe God answers prayer, but we are still a bit shocked when he does it so dramatically.
Yet, for all the joy of seeing God answer prayers, for most of us, there are still prayers of our own that continue unanswered. Lots of them. Big ones: unsaved loved ones, unfulfilling marriages, standing on the precipice of financial ruin, wayward children, physical infirmities – our own or those of people we love.
We are so happy when God answers the prayers of people like Caroline and Scott. I bet your heart thrilled just like mine did when you read my conversation with Al. And we believe he can answer ours too...so why doesn’t he?
I appreciate the words and wisdom of Pete Greig in his book, God on Mute. He risks contemplating and answering some daring questions about why God is silent when we seem to need so desperately to hear him. It’s one of those explanations for God’s silence that I want to briefly engage with in this short note about prayer.
The Hasidic* masters tell an old rabbinic story to explain why God often delays the granting of our heart’s desires:
There is a king who has two sons. Each of them comes to receive his gift from the royal table. The first son appears at his father’s doorway, and as soon as he is seen, his request is granted. The father holds this son in low esteem and is annoyed by his presence. The king orders that the gifts be handed to his son at the door so that he will not approach the table. Then the king’s beloved son appears. The father takes great pleasure in this son’s arrival and does not want him to leave too quickly. For this reason, the king delays granting his request hoping that the son will then draw near to him. The son comes close; he feels the father’s love so deeply that he does not hesitate to stretch forth his own hand to the royal table.
The Father’s deepest desire is that we dwell in his courts and thereby come into a more fulfilling relationship with him. Both sons in the story were given gifts of equal value. But contrary to appearances, the son whose desires were not immediately gratified was, in fact, the most blessed. In God’s kingdom, happiness is not marked out primarily by popularity, fat bank accounts, or clean bills of health but rather by proximity to the Father.
John 15:7 If you abide in me and my word abides in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Some prayers aren’t answered because God himself is a greater answer than the thing we’re asking for, and he wants to use our sense of need to draw us into a deeper relationship with himself. Sometimes, he doesn’t answer the BIG prayer we are praying but rather grants many lesser answers along the way. Often, in those moments, we see more clearly God at work and feel so much closer to him.
Matthew 6:33 Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
So, pray hard, and abide in him.
*Hasidism or Hasidic Judaism is a Jewish religious group.