I’ll start with the unanswered prayers. It has taken me years to begin to understand why some of the prayers I pray go unanswered, especially when others around me have prayers of the same sort answered all the time, or don’t bother even to pray and still get what they want. Prayers about two topics in particular stick out in my mind.
The first is my prayer for a better job. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy teaching, but as an adjunct I have no health benefits and the pay has not been as good as one might think. In addition, I only have a contract for one semester at a time. For several years I looked for other jobs, but all the jobs I found that seemed very promising never panned out. Is it possible that I wasn’t trying or looking hard enough? Perhaps.
Or perhaps I have been in the right place all along. At some point in the last few years, I noticed that some of my failures seemed rather improbable. Then it dawned on me that, even though they paid well and had good benefits, all of the jobs I had been searching for would have some downfalls I had been ignoring. Specifically, they would have left me with a lengthy commute and an exhausting work schedule. Sometimes these are necessary things in a job, but in my case they would take me from the only things I really know I’m supposed to be doing: serving my church and doing apologetics.
Once I was able to not just realize but accept that my job situation was not likely to change soon, and why this was the case, my attitude began to change. I started thinking about, and maybe even believing, Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I decided to link my success to this verse – in order to succeed in meeting my own needs, I’d have to first focus on God and doing the work he had for me to do. I would be faithful with little until he decided to trust me with much. Since I decided this, I’ve started leading a ministry called Ratio Christi on my campus, which I hope to eventually do full-time!
The second unanswered prayer pertains to relationships. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that every one of my prayers about relationships has flopped so far – sometimes in the most epic or absurd ways. As a strong “T” (thinker in the Myers-Briggs) I don’t feel all the time, but when I feel it is very acute and in many cases painful. Sometimes I wish I could avoid the pain, but some of my most important lessons have come from it.
I have learned again to apply Matthew 6:33. I’ve learned that godliness with contentment is great gain. Through some of the difficult experiences I’ve faced I’ve learned to trust God more with the future, and without those experiences I’d never have grown. If my prayers had been answered before now, I never would have worked to better myself, to develop some of the talents and abilities I now seek to use to honor God.
If God had answered either of these prayers of mine before now, I might very well be happier – but I doubt very much that I’d be holier. And I doubt very much that I’d have had the joy of seeing some of my other prayers answered.
There are three prayers that I have seen answered more than any others. I had (and still have, sometimes) a tendency to overlook this fact and to focus on the unanswered prayers I mentioned above, but at some point God grew tired of my whining and pointed these out to me; I probably wouldn’t have noticed on my own.
The first prayer that I have seen answered almost every time is my prayer for wisdom about situations I have faced. Teaching tricky concepts, responding to arguments, handling friendships and dealing with every day life have all been times when I’ve asked for God’s wisdom and guidance. He almost always says “Yes!” to those prayers.
There are still things in my personal life that I don’t understand, and tragedies others have encountered that don’t make sense on an emotional level. God doesn’t always choose to reveal the reasons why some things occur, whether they are bad or merely confusing. In my own experience though, God usually answers this prayer. I take from this just a simple lesson: God doesn’t want us to go through life blind and foolish – He wants us to try to understand Him, our lives, and this world He has created.
The second prayer that I have seen answered over and over is my prayer for opportunities to serve Him with my particular gifts. Usually this means a prayer for encounters with people who need to hear the truth spoken in a compelling way, to help them overcome barriers to faith and “proud arguments that raise themselves up against the knowledge of Christ.”
Whenever I remember to pray asking for these opportunities, God has come through. Just this week I’ve seen 3 or 4 answers. The important thing is, I have to remember to also ask God for the courage to be faithful to Him and to take those opportunities when they arise. There is again a simple lesson to be had: God cares about lost people, and He has designed each of us in ways that will enable us to reach lost people with the Gospel for Him.
Which brings us to my final prayer, a prayer I have seen answered not 95%, not 99%, but 100% of the time: A prayer for forgiveness and reconciliation with God Himself. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” The lesson: “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22)