Many believers have testified of the Lord’s instant answer to their prayers especially in times of emergency. However, others have also shared their experiences of waiting long – even many years – for God’s response. Let us consider some possible reasons for God’s delay (gleaned from The Lord’s Pattern for Prayer by Dr Peter Masters).
1. God sometimes delays answering our prayer so that we do not take Him for granted. If we perpetually received immediate answers from Him, we would soon view ourselves as the master, and the Lord as our servant, to fulfil all our desires. Soon enough, we would forget to honour Him as our sovereign Lord. Knowing our tendency to presumptuousness, the Lord keeps us waiting and persevering in prayer so that we remember who He is – the sovereign God – and we are but unworthy sinners saved by grace.
2. God may hold back His answer to our petition because He wants us to understand that the thing asked for is beyond the help of man. Our repeated prayers will make us appreciate God’s answer all the more when it comes.
“When we are obliged to ask for things repeatedly, it impresses upon our minds the fact that the desired outcome is not a simple matter, and that no human agency could bring it about. Our protracted asking will highlight the greatness of the answer, when it comes. If we prayed once for a sinner to be saved, and the next day he was saved, we would probably cease to believe in the doctrine of total depravity, and reject the idea that the human heart is rebellious, determined and obdurate in its resistance to God. We would believe instead that human beings are really very reasonable, persuadable, open and ready to respond to the Gospel” (The Lord’s Pattern for Prayer).
3. God may delay His response to remind us of our own weaknesses and our need to depend upon Him. If the Lord were to immediately attend to our every prayer, we will lose sight of our own helplessness. With every problem solved right away, we will not learn how to wait patiently for His answer. But as He keeps us waiting, we learn that we could never accomplish anything without Him.
4. Sometimes God withholds His response to our prayers because He wants us to reconsider our requests. Are our requests all that necessary? When we look back, we have at times made selfish and worldly petitions. If the Lord were to answer our every request instantly, “our prayer agenda might soon resemble a shopping list, greatly extended by requests for unnecessary comforts and luxuries” (ibid).
When we are required to persevere in repeated prayer for some need, we may see after some time that our requests are petty, unnecessary or inappropriate. We then realise that we should stop praying for these things.
5. Another possible reason for God’s delay could be our need for a deeper self-examination. When our prayers are not answered after some time, we may begin to wonder: “Is God withholding His hand because I have grown cold towards Him, or because of my indulgence in some sin? Perhaps I have neglected my spiritual duties or failed to be a good witness for Him.” Such thoughts challenge us to carefully consider God’s conditions for prayer.
One may ask: “Should we continue to pray for a particular person or situation? The answer is “Yes”. The apostle Paul exhorts us to “continue in prayer” (Col. 4: 2) and to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess 5: 17).
To encourage His disciples to fervency and perseverance in prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ told the parable of the unjust judge: “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18: 1-8).
“The parable is designed to teach us that, though our prayers should long appear to be unanswered, we should persevere, and not grow weary in supplication to God” (Albert Barnes).
The judge in the parable was unjust and merciless. He had scant regard for either God or man. Yet, upon the importunity of the poor widow, he avenged her contrary to his own inclinations. How much more will God Who is holy and righteous, merciful and kind, avenge those who are His!
As we have seen, the Lord sometimes delays His answers to our prayers as He sees fit. It is not for us to question or doubt Him but to press on with our petitions. Like the importunate widow, we must not lose heart but continue to plead urgently and earnestly with God. Our faithful Lord will answer us in His own good time according to His perfect will for us. Let us learn how to patiently wait upon Him.