Have you ever hit the wall prayer-wise? Asked and pleaded till you’ve run out of gas spiritually, only there are still no answers in sight? That’s what happened to me. It was my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary, and I was planning the party. Mom had suffered a stroke, and Dad was wearing himself out taking care of her. “Please, God, make the party a special day for Mom and Dad. They really could use one.”
Then Mom landed in the hospital. Another stroke. So much for their party, I thought, gathering up the old letters I’d been going through to put together a tribute. One paper fluttered to the floor. I picked it up, saw Mom’s familiar handwriting from some 15 years earlier. “I’m overwhelmed by obligations, and I’m not feeling well. The doctors haven’t found anything.” She’d battled depression and other illnesses for decades.
“I left the situation in God’s hands,” Mom’s letter continued. “Then I picked up my Bible. It fell open to Psalm 71. I especially liked verse 18.”
The verse ends with proclaiming God’s strength to future generations. How fitting that I’d come across it now, just as Mom had then. The difference was my mother didn’t fret over what she hadn’t received. She trusted God was sending her an answer, and she searched until she found it.
Could it be that actively seeking God’s answers is as much a part of prayer as the asking? That our prayers are answered more fully than we sometimes realize? Okay, I thought, I’ll start with this party. “God, please show me how to make Mom and Dad’s anniversary special.” I sat there for a long time.
At last, an idea. I’d give a simple tribute to my parents’ courage and trust, in Mom’s hospital room if I had to. Guess what? Mom made it, wheelchair, radiant smile and all. What a celebration of enduring love, my parents’ and God’s, much bigger than I could have planned!
Maybe it’s not that there aren’t answers to each and every one of our prayers. It’s that we don’t know where—and how—to look for them. I decided to catalog prayer requests and answers to see if there was some sort of pattern. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Sometimes you feel it. You know those moments when you sense the presence of a higher power? That’s one type of answer, God saying, I am with you. Moments like my mom finding a cure for a seemingly hopeless situation in a Scripture about the Lord’s strength. And me receiving the same verse years later. Coincidence?
The more I kept my eyes open after I told God about a problem, the more I noticed signs of his closeness. A comforting song came on the radio while I was stuck in traffic. A friend found a drawing of a dove tacked above her hospital bed. A rash of break-ins in the area had me worrying about safety until someone happened to give me a blanket with the image of an angel guarding a home. Ordinary occurrences, right? What made them extraordinary was how they gave me a lift. Instantly.
Try it. Pray about something, then be on the lookout. I bet you’ll see plenty of answers that God is with you. Even when the circumstances haven’t improved (yet), your attitude will. As my mom would say, hope makes all the difference.
Sometimes you hear it. Have you ever prayed only to have the strangest phrase or thought pop into your head? Well, if you follow through on the idea, you might find an unlikely solution. Not to mention a whole other category: word answers. Think of these as God telling you, I hear your prayer, and I’m directing your thoughts toward a resolution.
My husband and I came home from our fourth-grader’s curriculum night concerned he wasn’t being challenged in his reading group. Should we have John read newspaper articles to me after school? Ask the local librarian to recommend books?
I prayed for insight. What I got was an odd thought. Have you gotten this fired up about John’s spiritual education?
Before I could protest, “Didn’t you hear me? I was asking about his school progress!” a plan came to mind. I went to John’s room and unearthed a book of children’s Bible stories. We sat down together and read about Adam and Eve. Sure, John had heard the story in Sunday school. This time, though, he asked a million questions. He couldn’t wait to read the next story.
The situation hadn’t changed on its own. What had was my way of dealing with it. Listen for God’s words. Let them enlighten you and guide you. You might even discover, as I did, that you can be your own answer to prayer.
Sometimes you just can’t miss it.
Sure, there are the traditional answers, big yeses like miraculous healings, financial windfalls, new jobs. But then there are the less obvious prayer responses. A stressful work presentation that’s unexpectedly well received, a new medication I read about that eased a friend’s migraines, the brake job my son got the day before a sofa tumbled off a truck driving in front of him on the interstate. Even the resounding no when a book I’d been working on for a year was rejected (it freed me up to do other projects). These answers are God saying, I’m taking action and spurring you to seek my will.
He can have a funny way of doing that. I was trying to help a woman from church work through a crisis. She had trouble opening up, so I prayed, Lord, help me get close to her. Our next visit, she motioned me to the far end of her couch. Her excitable terrier beat me to it. He bounded up and promptly wet the cushion. My friend and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. I had no other place to sit except right next to her, and we really got to talking. Her dog’s antics brought us closer in more ways than one. Call it canine intervention.
God’s at work in all circumstances. Sometimes you have to search for his answer. Other times it jumps right up on your couch and, well, you know the rest. Which brings me to my next point…
My prayer journal used to be a long list of names and maladies. Kind of depressing. Then I shifted my focus and started recording answers. Not just the clear ones but anything and everything. Within two and a half months, I found myself writing, “Answer to prayer #100.” Wow! That’s an answer a day and then some!
I totaled up the types of answers. Only 24 were the traditional action answers I’d counted for most of my life. The rest…43 presence and 33 word answers. A bonus of 76 answers—triple what I would have gotten if I’d stuck with my original method. Pretty mind-blowing, I would say.
Why not triple your answers? Keep your eyes and ears, your heart and mind, open to answers to prayer and keep track of them.
All in good time.
In my journal I also recorded the time between prayer and answer. “Answer #10: an e-mail thanking me for my honesty. Category: presence. Time prayed: 1 day. Answer #11: neighbor’s dad admitted to rehab. Category: action. Time: 3 weeks. Answer #12: an inner yes to make a phone call a friend suggested. Category: word. Time: 1 minute.”
Occasionally I got action answers right away. Usually they took weeks, months, even years. The granddaddy of them all? A story that was published 15 years after I submitted it.
Good thing word or presence answers came within a day. Sometimes minutes. Once I heard about a reliable washing machine repairman the day before I saw a puddle on the laundry-room floor. The instant I uttered a prayer, the guy’s name flashed into my memory.
I think these daily short-term answers are God’s way of reminding us that we remain connected to him, no matter how long it takes for things to work out. And they will, in his time.
In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us busy. Plenty to marvel at. Like “Answer #623: Dad’s spirits lifted by a drive through the countryside to see the leaves changing. Category: presence. Time prayed: daily.”
Sorry, I have to go now. I’m looking for an answer to prayer #624.