One of the most difficult situations that we can face as people of faith is waiting for God’s response to a prayer request. At some point in our lives, most of us have become frustrated with God for not answering our prayers quickly enough. It’s often easier to deal with the Lord saying “no”, rather then “not saying anything”. Doesn’t He know that we need answers quickly and that time is of the essence? We have already explained why our intention is important and given Him some very specific ways to grant our request…so, what’s the holdup? Perhaps there is more of an “answer” in His “silence” than we realize!
When we pray for an intention and don’t immediately receive an answer, what usually happens? If you’re like most people, you keep praying. On the other hand, many people will stop their prayers as soon as their request is granted. As your relationship with the Lord deepens, you’ll hopefully learn to pray at times other than when you need something. However, for many of us, this somewhat imperfect form of prayer lays the initial foundation of our relationship with God. He knows that we will turn to Him more readily when we need something and this is often how He gets our attention. Withholding an immediate answer is one way that the Lord can cultivate a deeper friendship with us. As time passes, our prayer becomes more of a conversation with a good friend and isn’t restricted to times of need.
Another possibility is that God wants us to learn something from the experience. Many times, we are most receptive to hearing His message when we are “wandering in the desert.” It is often while we are searching for answers that we hear the Lord speaking most clearly. Don’t hesitate to ask God for an explanation. When confused about events in your life, use the Blessed Mother’s example of “pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51). He sometimes reveals to us why our request has not yet been granted. Other times, He simply wants to increase our faith in Him. Even though our inflated sense of pride often tells us otherwise, God’s will is indeed perfect and there are times that we aren’t able to make sense of His plan. One of the most important lessons that we can learn is to trust in His providence, even when we can’t understand the details.
Often it is not in our best interest to have an intention granted at a particular point in time. Due to any number of circumstances, we may not be spiritually ready to receive our request until later. In this situation, we need to once again trust that God knows what we need at any moment. It’s easy to get blinded by our love of comfort or worldly attractions, causing us to confuse spiritual needs with human desires. For example, the Lord may withhold financial rewards or a new job because of our tendency to be greedy or complacent. It’s wise to remember that anything which doesn’t help us to get to Heaven should not occupy an important place in our life.
We can also obtain a deeper understanding by looking at Sacred Scripture. In Mark 8:22-25, Jesus heals a blind man. However, the interesting thing about this miracle is that the man’s sight is not healed instantly. After the Lord first lays hands on the man, he reports that people look like “walking trees”. It is only after Jesus prays over him a second time that his sight is miraculously restored. We can see from this incident that sometimes we may have to wait for God to grant our request. In Luke 18:1-8, Our Lord tells the parable of the corrupt judge. In this story, a widow receives her answer only after coming to the judge repeatedly. What is the Lord trying to teach us in this parable? Fortunately for us, St. Luke clearly explains that its purpose is to illustrate “the necessity of praying always and not losing heart” (Lk 18:1). St. Matthew describes an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman who requests a healing for her daughter (Mt 15:21-28). Our Lord initially responds with the shocking words, “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs”. However, when the woman continues to plead with the Lord, He praises her faith and heals her daughter. While certainly this exchange illustrates that Jesus was first sent to reveal Himself to the Jewish people (followed by the Gentiles), it’s hard to ignore the additional message on the importance of persistence in prayer.
Finally, I believe that one of the most important factors in accepting God’s timing is to look at how patiently He treats us. Many of us have made the Lord wait for several years before we came around and accepted the Faith. In my own case, I was a “lukewarm” Catholic for more years than I’d care to admit. It must have been very painful for the Lord to wait while I wasted time on many unimportant activities and didn’t have time for Him. Fortunately, He didn’t hold it against me and I am grateful. That being the case, how could I justify complaining when my prayers don’t get answered right away? Sometimes, remembering that fact is enough to stop me from questioning the Lord’s plan. If that doesn’t work, then the steps listed above usually do the trick. For those occasions when I am so stubborn and self-centered that nothing seems to work, I rely on a line from Sacred Scripture that always seems to put things in perspective:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, KJV).
Editor’s note: this article was first published by CE on Mar 16, 2010.