What happens to all those prayers when not only are they not "answered," but things get far worse than anyone ever anticipated? Surely the prayers have sustained me, are sustaining me. Perhaps there will be unexpected answers to these prayers, answers I may not even be aware of for years. But they are not wasted. They are not lost. I do not know where they have gone, but I believe God holds them, hand outstretched to receive them like precious pearls. - Madeleine L'Engle
The Gospel of Luke records the words of Jesus: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened." God always opens doors, even if they are not the ones we would have chosen. At the same time we should not forget the wonderful words of Scripture: "For what father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" What tremendous words - and what an encouragement for those times when we feel God has not heard us!
The Gospel of Matthew records similar words of Jesus: "Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and then all other things will be given to you." About this promise C.S. Lewis writes: "Infinite comfort in the second part; inexorable demand in the first. Hopeless if it were to be done by your own endeavors...God must do it."
This is an invaluable inner direction for our prayer life, for we focus too easily on our personal desires, and our prayer requests are insignificant when we see them in the light of the significance of God's kingdom. Kierkegaard writes, "Prayer does not change God. It changes him who prays." All the more then, we ought to remember the importance of the still small voice, the value of inner quiet, and the necessity of a listening heart. For without these, he cannot change us.
In striving for greater humility, it is always fruitful to examine our personal lives for whatever obstacles might be preventing God's will from becoming reality in our lives. But to do this we must really believe that he is a better judge of what we need, because he knows us better than we know ourselves. That is the essence of trust: not only hoping, but knowing that God will find the best answers for us.
I asked for power that I might achieve;
He made me meek that I might obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given grace that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for strength that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I received nothing that I asked for,
but all that I hoped for;
My prayer was answered.
No prayer goes up to heaven that is not heard and answered. We may not always see the answer - it may not be obvious, or we may have missed it because we were looking elsewhere - but that does not mean it isn't there.
This article is an excerpt from Cries from the Heart.