“When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother.” (Ps 35:13-14 NIV)
My youngest son has always loved horses. After begging for riding lessons for four years, my wife and I finally caved. He was seven years old at the time. Now, five years later, he is developing into a good rider. When he jumps with his horse however, my heart still skips a beat. If only the fences weren’t so tall! Well, 24″ is tall to me!
He pays for half of his riding lesson each week by cleaning stalls, and every year he sets aside all of the money he earns raising birds so that he can pay for a partial lease throughout the summer on the horse he rides. It is his dream to one day own an Arabian horse ranch. In fact, you can’t spend more than a few minutes with him without him sharing his dream with you!
Let’s jump ahead about ten years . . . Uh . . . Is he really 12 already??? Okay, let’s jump ahead six years! He has just graduated from high school. He is very excited, for he has finally decided on a career as a surgeon, and he’s been accepted into the top school in Canada. But higher education hasn’t gotten any cheaper with the years, and his chosen program will cost thousands of dollars per year. He isn’t worried however, for he knows that his parents have been setting aside money for his education ever since he was born.
My response will shock him beyond belief: “I’m sorry, son, but the money we set aside has gone for another cause.”
“What? You spent all of my University money?”
“Well, remember about six years ago, when you wanted to own your own ranch and raise Arabian horses?”
“Uh . . . But that was just a kid’s dream, dad!”
“Well, I took you up on it. I invested all the money I had saved into a ranch in Montana, and have been using the money I would have saved ever since to populate it with a herd of 100 high quality Arabians. Some of them are even black, the rarest color of all! I’ve even hired a crew of top-notch stable hands.”
“You – you bought me a – ranch?”
“Here are your keys, and here’s the address. I don’t have any money left to pay for University. I hope you understand. Don’t forget me when I’m old and can’t take care of myself! Now go on! Your ranch awaits you!”
“But dad, I want to become a surgeon! I want to make a difference in life! I love horses and I still love to ride, but I don’t want to become a rancher! What have you done?”
“I tried to fulfill your dreams!”
“How could you have done this to me?”
“But it was your dream for so long!”
“Don’t you know that dreams can change?”
When I read the above story to my 12 year-old, he was quite adamant that I should do just that: Take the money we’ve set aside for higher education and buy him a horse ranch! But childhood dreams do change, and in another few years, he will be more than happy that I didn’t!
Friends, the above story is really an illustration of what could happen if all of our prayers were answered. The fact is, if every prayer we ever uttered were to be answered, we would actually be disappointed, not ecstatic!
I don’t always know why some of my prayers are answered the way I want them to be and some are not, especially when it is relating to people who are suffering and dying. I do know one thing, however: God always answers our prayers! It just isn’t always the way we would like them to be answered!
You see, we don’t always know exactly what to pray for: “. . . Because we do not know what to pray for as we should . . .”(Rom. 8:26b), and God always has our best interest at heart. He knows what’s best, even when we don’t! He answers not according to what we ask for specifically, but according to what will bring ultimate happiness in the long-run. Like David we can exclaim: “I call on the LORD in my distress, and He answers me.” (Ps 120:1 NIV)
We need to realize that we only see our true situation dimly: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12 NIV). Sin has obstructed our clear understanding, and only when we meet Jesus face to face will we realize that He has always kept the promise He gave us in Rom 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Remember, God always has our best interest in mind. He died so that we could live. He rose up so that we could rise up. He has eternity for us already planned. Remember: “God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come – an eternity of life! You can count on this.” (Titus 3:7-8 The Message)
Eternity with God! Wow! When I contemplate this, the things of life really dim in comparison to His everlasting love! Our temporary life is but a blink of an eye compared to the eternity He has planned for us. The apostle Paul summarizes this idea in Phil. 1:21-24 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” NIV
Remember, when we pray, God always hears our prayers, and He always answers them, but not always in the way we want them to be answered. He has our long-term interest in mind, and just like I don’t rush out to grant every wish and desire of my boys, just like I look beyond the immediate, God answers our prayers in keeping with our long-term happiness. And just like my boys will one day realize that not giving them every desire of their childish hearts was for their long-term good, we will also see God’s loving hand in our seemingly unanswered prayers.
Oh, by the way, I have a ranch for sale in Montana. Anyone interested?
(To access the entire “Why Pray?” devotional series, please click here.)