A few things to remember when it feels like your prayers aren’t being answered.
Have you been praying for years for certain people or situations?
I know that God has called these people, and I know who they can be and the healing God has in store. I also pray for situations I yearn to improve, even after years of stagnant. But so far, those miraculous changes I’ve longed for remain seemingly at bay.
It’s easy to wonder if anything will change, when nothing seems to be happening. It’s easy to become discouraged when the physical reality looks nothing like what I think it should.
However, I continue to ask for the healing, the restoring and the saving, that I (and I know He) wants.
The other night while praying, that phrase at the end of TV shows popped in my head: “To be continued.”
“To be continued” arrives at a pivotal point in a show. We’ve gotten invested in the characters; we’ve followed them through a series of events and emotional drama. We may glance at the clock a few minutes prior and wonder how the nicely tied-up conclusion will arrive in time. It’s not looking good at this point. How is this going to get fixed? we wonder.
Then suddenly, the screen fades to black, with the message “To be continued.”
Typically, when this happens, my reaction is, “No! I want to know the rest of the story, now!” Then again, another part of me is relieved. The story won’t end badly. This mess will somehow be fixed. Of course, now I have to wait.
The Middle of the Story
What if that same “to be continued” is showing up around your prayers or the situations you’ve stopped praying for, because nothing seemed to change?
You might be upset because someone you love is in trouble. You might ache with sorrow for the distance between you and a family member. Or, you could be dragging around discouragement because of a problem you can’t shake. And with all this, you might wonder where God is or if He really cares. But, maybe the reason things seem so dreary is because you’re only in the middle of the story, and God isn’t just going to show up and make things right in the end—instead, you’ll realize He’s been there through it all.
This idea makes me think of Mary and Lazarus. Many of us are familiar with the story—Mary and her sister Martha have a brother named Lazarus whom Jesus raises from the dead. But have you thought about what Mary and her sister go through from the time Lazarus gets sick to the time Jesus resurrects him?
Mary and Martha know Jesus loves them and their brother Lazarus. They know He’d be there in time of need. So when Lazarus gets deathly ill, Mary tells one of His disciples to relay the message. She and her family then wait in expectancy for his arrival.
They wait. And they wait. Three long, drawn out, painfully quiet days, as Lazarus just gets sicker.
And then, no longer able to hold on, Lazarus breathes his last breath.
What were Mary and Martha thinking at this time?
If they were like most of us, I would imagine it was something like, “I thought Jesus loved us. I thought we were special to Him. Why didn’t He come?” Perhaps they felt angry, and a sense of abandonment or betrayal.
When Jesus does show up, Mary tells him, “If you had been here earlier, Lazarus would have lived.” Everyone is grieving what they see to be a tragic end to the story. Even Jesus weeps when He sees their pain and loss.
But what if Mary, Martha and their friends knew that this was not the end of the story? What if they knew there was good to still come?
Out of seemingly nowhere, in a sudden turn of events, Jesus acts. He stands up, walks over to Lazarus and calls him back from the dead.
We’re only in the middle of the story—and God isn’t just going to show up and make things right in the end, we’ll realize He’s been there through it all.
Yes, Jesus loved this family dearly all along—just as they believed He did. In fact, it was His love for them that caused Him to wait to show up. He could have arrived and healed Lazarus when they expected, but instead, He waited for a special moment; for a tremendous finale kind of moment. He chose a way that would display the greatness of His love and the magnitude of His power. He took the opportunity to say to them, “Yes, I love you. And I will show you how much.”
The Real Ending
But what about the times when things don’t turn out beautifully? Maybe you’ve prayed for a loved one to be healed, and they weren’t. We all know there are tragic endings to countless stories—ones that can’t be made better by belief in a changed situation.
Yet, there is still more to the story—at least, to the whole story. In the grand scheme of things, we are still in the middle of God’s ultimate story of redemption. We won’t always get happy endings now, but God has a greater intention for the earth—one to instill perfection into every facet of it. He’s at work in us, through us and with us, even when it doesn’t feel like He’s there.
When I pray for the same things I’ve poured my heart into for years, I remind myself that God is at work, even though I can’t yet see it. When I wrestle with doubting it, I actually say to Him: “Don’t be done with this yet. Make things right.” I ask Him to reveal His glory.
God has a special investment in the end of the story. He will often provide glimpses of His final redemption in our daily lives, that we can look for and hope in. It may not be how we expected, but it will display His creativity. God’s plan does not always match up with our expectations, but it leaves us with more. And He will always reassure of the incomparable finale, when everything is set straight.