Are you surprised when God answers your prayers? Does it catch you off guard? It does me sometimes. I ask Him for something, but a part of me doesn’t really expect Him to answer. So when He does, I don’t know how to react.
I don’t have a problem believing that God can do everything He says He can. That’s a no brainer. If He made the universe, He can answer my prayers. But what I struggle with is finding the balance between knowing He can and expecting Him to.
Today’s verse is Psalm 120:1.
I took my troubles to the Lord;
I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.
The Psalms are songs; did you know that? And Psalm 120 is a Song of Ascent, which is possibly a song that pilgrims sang on the way up the mountain to Jerusalem for festivals and such. So if you read the whole of Psalm 120, you’ll get a better idea of what the writer is talking about.
One of the things I love about the Psalms is that the writer never hesitates to tell God exactly what he’s thinking and precisely what he wants. The Psalms are genuine, full of real pain and real life and real troubles.
I’m not a scholar, and I don’t speak any biblical languages. So that’s why I always use multiple translations, and I discovered something unusual about Psalm 120:1. The main translations I go to (New Living Translation, Amplified Version and the Message) differ. They don’t usually. Usually their context is the same. But in this case, an entire sentence is missing.
The Message goes like this:
I’m in trouble. I cry to God, desperate for an answer:
Okay. Where is the part about God answering? It’s in New Living. It’s in Amplified. So I randomly checked a few of the other translations available on BibleGateway.com, and the majority of them include it. But some of them don’t.
I can only assume it’s a Hebrew language thing. I don’t speak Hebrew, so I’m not going to try to delve into the language for an explanation. And I know from other verses (and from my own life experiences) that God answers prayer. But this still got me thinking. Because we are supposed to ask God for everything, and we are supposed to do this while expecting Him to answer us.
Mark 11:24 is just one example of this.
I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.
But what happens when God doesn’t answer? What happens when you beg and plead with everything you are for God to do something, and He doesn’t do it? What does that mean? How do you keep expecting Him to do something for you when what you really wanted is something He refuses to do?
If God doesn’t answer your prayer, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’re asking with pure motivation. James 4:2-3 tackles that concept:
You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
If your motives are wrong for what you’re asking, God won’t give it to you. A dream that comes from God will always help people and bring Him glory. That’s how you can identify a desire in your heart that is from God, because it’s not about you and it’s not about bringing yourself fame and it’s not about ensuring that you always have an easy life. So if you ask God for something like that, yeah, He’ll answer.
And if you’re not living the way you’re supposed to be, He won’t answer either. Obviously none of us are perfect, but if our lives aren’t reflecting the principles of Scripture, if our hearts aren’t set on seeking God, why would He answer our prayers? If we aren’t ready to live the way He’s told us expressly to live, why would He answer our requests?
But if your heart is right and your life is clean (as much as possible), you’re supposed to ask God and He has promised to answer. So why doesn’t He?
I’ve struggled with this for so long because there are so many things I want, so many dreams I have that can only happen if God intervenes. And for the most part, He hasn’t seen fit to step in yet. And after years and years and years of asking Him for the same thing, how am I supposed to still hope that He’ll answer?
That’s where faith comes in.
How do you balance faith with hope? You can’t have one without the other. But if you focus too much on one, the other will weigh you down. If you have nothing but faith that God does what He wants to do without taking the time to listen to your petty requests, you won’t have any expectations from Him. You won’t ask Him for anything. And that’s not what He wants. But if you don’t temper your hope with faith, you’ll have no foundation for your expectations. And when God doesn’t respond the way you believe He will, all your hope will crumble.
So where’s the middle ground? Is there a middle ground?
Some time ago, I had a revelation about dreams and how they affect my life and God’s answers, but I still ask Him for things. And He still is holding off on one or two of them, and the only way I’ve found to keep hoping that some day He’ll answer is to believe (to remember) that He knows what He’s doing.
I trust Him. And if He hasn’t answered, that just means it isn’t time yet. Either I’m not ready or the rest of the pieces of the puzzle aren’t aligned yet. And He’s just waiting for the day when everything will come together. He’s the one in charge, after all, and He can see the end result. So it’s my job to be patient and keep hoping and keep believing that He’ll do everything He’s promised.
So if you’ve asked God for something and your heart and life match up to what Scripture says and God hasn’t answered yet, don’t give up. God does answer prayers. I can honestly tell you that I know now why God didn’t answer my prayer when I started praying it 10 years ago. I had so much growing to do, and I’m not done yet.
Keep asking, keep hoping. And when He does answer, it’ll be beyond anything you’ve dreamed. He’s working out the details. We just have to let Him.