God astounds me. God is always working, acting, intervening, and saving.

I must admit that often God surprises me. There have been times over the past couple of years where I have been praying diligently for God to save, to heal, or to help in a particular way only to have God save someone I wasn’t expecting or to have God work in a surprising way.

Recently, my devotional reading has brought me back to the book of 1 Samuel. When God called Samuel in chapter 3, God told Samuel about the judgment he was going to bring to Eli and Eli’s family. Think about this for a moment. The first message God gave to young Samuel was not about blessings and glories and miracles, but rather about judgment. Just a few chapters later (but decades later for Samuel), the people of Israel asked for a king. It was a sinful request, and Samuel told them so. Samuel brought the prayer to God. And God told Samuel that he was going to give his people what they asked for even though it was not what they should ask for. Samuel had to receive and deliver this message as well.

Samuel’s experiences are not isolated. Sometimes God answers our prayers as we ask them, and sometimes he doesn’t. Move forward to Acts 12. Herod beheaded James, but God brought about a miracle to release Peter from prison. Why did God rescue Peter but not James? Why does God intervene sometimes and other times it appears that he does not?

As I preached yesterday on the subject of walking wisely in our homes from Proverbs 22:6, I thought of many moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, faithful children and straying children. There are some in my congregation who have prayed diligently for their adult children and grandchildren to come back to the Lord. They’ve prayed, they’ve begged, and they’ve encouraged. Yet it seems like nothing is happening.

Within the last couple of weeks, prayers that I’ve prayed on behalf of others have been answered exactly as I prayed. Other prayers have not. In some cases, God has obviously intervened and healed. In other cases, God has delayed to intervene.

Why? Why is it that sometimes God answers quickly and other times God doesn’t seem to answer at all? Why is it that sometimes God answers in a very different way than we’ve prayed?

I’ve wrestled with these questions as a Christian and as a pastor. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do want to offer a few reminders that might help us through these questions.

  1. Remember: God’s faithfulness is not limited by our experiences. God is faithful no matter what we experience. God has made an absolute promise to us, “I will be with you always” (Jesus in Matthew 28:20). And God’s promise to be with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit is sure and certain. God’s promise to be with us means that sometimes he will be with us through our struggles and difficulties and not always rescue us from our struggles and difficulties. The testimonies from Scripture as well as our own experiences bear this out. Sometimes God intervenes. Sometimes God orchestrates the miraculous. Sometimes God delays. Sometimes God appears to be silent to our burdens. But always God is faithful. That he is with us through our struggles even when we pray that he would rescue us from our struggles is testimony to God’s grace and compassion.
  2. Remember: God’s faithfulness is not limited by our prayers. For Christian growth and maturity, we must pray. And one of the reasons we do pray is because we believe God is able to do more than what we ask (Eph. 3:20). But just because God is able, doesn’t always mean that he will. Prayer for us us is an act of faith. When we pray in the right spirit, we acknowledge our inabilities and God’s sovereignty. And when we pray, we should ask God to intervene, to heal, to rescue, to save, and to restore. We pray to God out of what we know and trust that God knows more and his timing is best.
  3. Remember: God’s faithfulness is not limited by our understanding. We pray to God out of what we know and trust that God knows more and his timing is best. Yes, that’s a repeat sentence. But we need to remember it. Our prayers and our experiences are limited by our understanding. There is so much that we just don’t know. God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). God knows everything. He knows how answering our prayers fit into his purposes. It is this recognition that God’s understanding is greater than ours that led Samuel and others throughout the Bible to continue praying even when their circumstances exceeded their understanding.

Where does that leave you and me with our burdens, worries, fears, and prayers? Continue to pray about them. Bring them to the Lord. But remember, you don’t have all the information. You don’t know all. Pray anyway. Pray boldly. Pray big. God can answer any prayer you bring. But even if he doesn’t answer your prayers the way you pray, God is still faithful.

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Sometimes, pastoral ministry flows along at a comfortable pace. Sometimes, I get in good reading and study rhythms, healthy prayer rhythms, and regular leadership and ministry rhythms. But at other times, the needs and concerns in our church family can be many.

In the last couple of weeks at our church, we’ve had several deaths, a stroke, family and friends with severe covid cases, emergency surgeries, scheduled surgeries, family members moved to hospice care, both unexpected and expected hospital stays, individuals with multiple surgeries, and numerous other burdens too sensitive to mention.

Just this morning, I messaged more than 10 people in our congregation who are going through specific, ongoing challenges in their lives or the lives of family members.

Just this morning, as I was writing this post, a fellow pastor called. He and his church are dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak at his church. We talked through the challenges this situation provides.

Sometimes, the weight of what we are dealing with and the burdens of others can be overwhelming. We need help.

The good thing is that when we need help, God is ever-present to provide.

In my quiet time this week, I read Psalm 9. It is a chapter referencing God’s deeds, his deeds of wonder and of judgment. Two verses struck me powerfully.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 9:9-10

Somebody reading this needs to remember that the Lord is with you in times of trouble. A stronghold is a place of protection and defense. It is armed and defended not by human armies or powers, but by the Lord himself. Go to the Lord.

Somebody reading this needs to put their trust in the Lord. Certainly, if you are not yet a follower of Jesus, I would commend you to saving faith. Trust in the Lord Jesus alone and you will be saved (Romans 10:9-10). But saving faith is the foundation for living faith. Follower of Jesus, continue to trust in the Lord. If you know him by name, count on him. Take your burdens to him. Pray to him.

Somebody reading this needs to know that you are not forsaken. At times, our situations and burdens make us feel helpless. They are overwhelming, discouraging, and disconcerting. If we look too long at our difficulties, we will despair. But God has not left you. He will not forsake you. Seek him.

As Peter cried to the Lord when he was sinking in the Sea of Galilee, cry to the Lord from the sea of your circumstances. Know that he hears. Remember that he is there.

He does hear us.

In the midst of the difficulties of this week, God has answered many of the prayers and burdens above. The Lord gave abounding grace in an emergency surgery answering our prayers that the surgery went even better than expected. The Lord gave strength and provision to folks facing disheartening difficulties. The Lord gave encouragement through the truths of his Word as testified by some of these we’ve been praying for. And the Lord answered prayers and brought very sick folks home from Covid hospitalizations.

So, trust in the Lord.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash