Mom and baby red pandas chilling at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Why doesn’t God answer prayer the way we expect?

Ever seen a kid on a leash? Not an animal leash. Like a harness thing for toddlers. I saw one some time ago and thought it was a pretty cool contraption. I know some people don’t like them, and I understand the reasons why. But still—seems like a neat way to let a kid explore the world without getting too far away.

It’s usually expected in our culture that parents watch over their kids. At least in some form. But if you hover, you’re called a helicopter parent. Seems to me a leash is the best of both worlds. But then, I’m single with no children, so I may not be the best source for things like this.

What I do wonder sometimes is whether or not God is a leash-type of parent, because it seems to me that He is. And, you know, I’m actually okay with that.

Mom and baby red pandas chilling at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mom and baby red pandas chilling at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 1 John 5:14-15.

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.

I know God hears my prayers, but He rarely answers my prayers the way I want. I mean, I have those few examples of times when He’s helped me remember where my keys or when situations worked out to my benefit. But generally speaking, God doesn’t snap His fingers and give me what I want just the way I want it or even when I want it.

I have so many examples of answered prayer in my life, but none of it happened the way I thought it would. Best example?

I have a published novel. Sort of. At least, it will be published in December 1. But it didn’t get published in a normal way. No, God pretty much opened all sorts of doors for me to start a publishing company first.

Not what I planned. At all.

Another example? I wanted to write for a living. I wanted to build a career using my writing skills, and I planned to be a journalist. Where am I now? I work for a plumbing manufacturer—a company with a global workforce of 5,000 and I am the only full-time company creative writer. I make a living writing… about plumbing. But I’m writing for a living.

Not what I planned either.

In every instance of answered prayer in my life, God answers in a way that shows me He wants what’s best for me but doesn’t allow me to stray too far away from Him. Let’s take this crazy novel of mine. I had reached the point in its life that I either had to self publish it or give up on it, so when God said, “Start a publishing company!” I wasn’t sure I was hearing Him correctly.

Nameless, by A.C. Williams, available December 1

Nameless, by A.C. Williams, available December 1

So, yes, God provided a way for my first novel to hit print (December 1), but my need for God to be involved with it doesn’t end when my book hits Amazon. No, I need His help to influence decision makers and others in the bookselling industry. I need His help to keep the company running. I need His help to make wise decisions. If anything, I need Him more now that my prayer is answered than when I did before.

Have you got examples like that in your life? Where God answers your prayer in a way you didn’t expect but still makes it necessary for you to hold tighter to Him than you did before?

I really think that’s the same idea as a leash, especially for stubborn, strong-willed people like me. I know just enough and I’m just capable enough that I can go my own way and do my own thing on my own without God’s help and be pretty much okay for a while. I know that about myself.

But I don’t want to be okay. I want to be extraordinary. And I can’t accomplish that without God’s help. He knows it, and I know it. And that’s why I can’t wander too far off. I’ll get myself in trouble.

So when God doesn’t act when or how I want Him to, I need to chill and trust His plan. Because no matter how you look at it, I’ll need him more tomorrow than I do today.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God listens better than we give Him credit

Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t listen. I know He does, but what I know and what I feel isn’t always the same. And I’ve been around long enough to trust what I know more than what I feel, but sometimes life gets to a certain point where you just can’t help it. You feel like a nail that’s being pounded into unforgiving wood by a sledgehammer that does more to bend it than drive it in. And no matter how much you ask for mercy, more trouble keeps coming.

In those moments, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He’s not listening. Otherwise, if He cared, if He listened, why would He let so much bad happen in our lives? I don’t believe that God brings bad things to us; the evil in our lives can either be attributed to our broken world or consequences of our own actions. But it’s still difficult to face sometimes because we want God to make it all go away.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 138.

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart;
    I will sing your praises before the gods.
I bow before your holy Temple as I worship.
    I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
    by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
    you encourage me by giving me strength.

Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I know this Psalm. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about it multiple times, but verse 3 caught my eye particularly this morning. God doesn’t always answer my prayers right away. Most of the time, I have to wait. Or if He answers, I don’t know about it until years later. But just last week God answered me immediately. Without going into the extraneous details, last week I was exhausted and worn out and stressed out, and it felt like the bad news just kept piling up. And as I was driving, I asked God to help me focus on what mattered, to get my perspective back to where it needed to be, and to help me get through it. And just like that, a song started playing on the radio.

I can’t remember what song it was, but it was exactly the song I needed to hear. Followed by another song that was also relevant. Followed by another song that was just as good. Needless to say, I cried all the way home, thanking God for hearing.

I listen to all sorts of radio, not just one in particular. But this one was a Christian station, and though I enjoy the music, most of the time I am not driven to tears by what I hear. But this time I was.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like answered prayer to you, but to me it was evidence that God was listening. I mean, who else could have arranged the music schedule on this station to play the three most relevant songs that would touch my heart in a way that gave me hope and strength exactly the moment I needed it? That’s a God thing.

So don’t ever let yourself believe the lie that God isn’t listening. Because that’s what it is. A lie.

In the dark moments of life, it’s easy to trust what you can see and what you feel because those are the things that are obvious. But we can’t trust our feelings, and we can’t trust our eyes because the things that are real are the things we can’t see. And it’s not sinful to ask God to show Himself in those moments. God wants us to look for Him. He wants us to reach out to Him, and He’s not so far away that He can’t answer.

So keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open too. And don’t be surprised if He answers right away–but don’t forget to be grateful. Granted, He probably won’t take your problem away, but just knowing He’s there, knowing He’s listening, and knowing that He will keep His promise is enough to get you through it.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS


God isn’t required to answer our prayers. You realize that, right? He’s God, and He can do whatever He wants with what is His. That’s what being Sovereign means. And since everything belongs to Him, He can do anything He wants. He can squash us, or He can save us. He can listen to us, or He can ignore us. It’s up to Him.

If it were me, I’d write us all off. Our entire species. Our entire world. We’re just broken, idolatrous people who have every reason to know the truth but still deny it because we want to live the way that “makes us happy” in spite of what it will do to us. But God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t write us off, and He never gives up on us. And that shocks me.

He says He answers prayer. He does. It’s all over the Bible. But when He actually does — and does in a big way — I never know what to say.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 3:4.

I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain.

This is just one of many many examples in Scripture where God demonstrates that He hears us and that He listens and that He acts on what we request. Which is nuts. For God to act because we ask Him to? Seriously?

Granted, there are many times when what we ask for isn’t truly in our best interests. It’s those requests that He doesn’t answer. Unfortunately, it’s those requests that we set our hearts on so intently that when He doesn’t answer (the way we want) we give up on Him.

But there is a right time and a wrong time for every event in our lives. If we rush ahead of God and try to make our request happen on our own, it might be the wrong time for it to happen. And what’s even scarier, God may let it. He may not stop the wheels you put in motion. And it’s not that you’ll be on your own facing the consequences, but it will be a lot more of a struggle to make it through than it would have been if you let God work for you.

When God’s time is right, when your request mirrors His heart, He will answer. So don’t let it shock you. Because He really does answer. He really does listen. I’ve posted many times before about how we need to expect God’s answers to our prayers, but maybe I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. Because He answered about five really huge requests just in the last week … so huge that it left me speechless.

Not in surprise that He can do it. He’s God. He can do anything. But in shock that He really does listen and that He really will answer specifically in the way you ask.

So if you need something from God today, ask Him for it. Because He answers. The only reason He wouldn’t answer is if your request is self-serving or if the time just isn’t right yet. So if your motivation is sound, just keep asking, and He’ll answer when the time is right. Because He’s God and He knows what’s good for us and He answers prayer.

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island - Galveston, TX

Witnessing how God works

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe that God is actually willing to listen to our problems. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my life is so important to Him that He would take time to pay attention to my petty issues. But what really amazes me is that God doesn’t just listen to me, He actively gets involved in my life.

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island - Galveston, TX

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 65:24.

I will answer them before they even call to me.
    While they are still talking about their needs,
    I will go ahead and answer their prayers!

Remember we’re talking about God here. God who made the stars, who made air, who made water, who made time itself. God cares enough about us that He’ll answer our prayers before we even know to pray them? That’s huge.

After reading all of Isaiah 65, though, I think this one verse may be taken out of context (but that’s a topic for another devo). But there are other verses throughout Scripture that state this very thing: that God knows what we need before we need it. There’s a verse in Matthew where Christ is talking about the differences between earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father, saying that if human fathers know to do good things for their children, God knows to do even better things for us.

I had an experience with this recently. I had a problem. I mean, it wasn’t a problem problem. It was just going to be something that would cause issues in the future, but it wasn’t something that I could do anything about. I know everyone has probably been there, stuck with a situation that you can’t control that’s going to make your life difficult. But instead of worrying about it, I decided that I was going to just let God take care of it.

Well, surprise surprise, He did.

I found out a few weeks later that the problem was taken care of. And not only was it not even an issue anymore, everyone involved was happy about it. And I didn’t have to do a single thing. God arranged everything to work out in exactly the way it needed to. And what’s more, after I thought about the timing of the whole issue, I realized that He was actually working it out before I had even asked Him to do anything.

If you follow Christ, this is the God you have on your side. If you believe in Jesus, this is the God who wants to be part of your daily life.

But this concept brings up a question. If He already knows what we’re going to ask for, why do we need to ask?

Maybe this is just me, but I think it’s a pride issue. I know it’s a pride issue in my life. I don’t ask for things. I do them myself. If I have to ask someone for help, that’s an indication of weakness on my part, and in my mind, that’s unacceptable. It shouldn’t be that way because everyone needs help, and I’m learning how to ask for things. But for me to humble myself and realize that I can’t do it all on my own is an act of worship.

If I can look at my life and step back and tell God that I need help, that’s me recognizing that I can’t control my life. That’s me letting go, and that’s healthy for me, emotionally and spiritually.

How do you treat your friends? Your real friends? If you never talk to them, if you never express a need to them, how will they ever know you? And how will they ever have the opportunity to prove themselves true friends if you don’t give them the chance? It’s the same way with God. Expressing a need to God not only helps you remember that you aren’t all-powerful but it also gives you the chance to witness how God can work.

If He answers your prayer after you ask, it’s amazing. It’s the most amazing experience to know that He’s listening. But what will really blow your mind is how He works things out before you even know they’re going wrong. And He does that all the time.

Don’t be afraid to ask. He knows what you need, but He wants to hear you ask for it. Because half the time, I’m convinced we don’t realize we need it until we ask. And then He’s there to gently bop us on the head and remind us that He’s got everything under control … and that He always has.