"Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray constantly and never quit. He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him. 'My rights are being violated. Protect me.' ....After this went on and on he said to himself,...'Because the widow won't quit badgering me, I'd better do something and see that she gets justice -- otherwise I am going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.'
"Then the Master said, 'Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think that God won't step in and work justice for His chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won't He stick up for them? I assure you, He will. He will not drag His feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when He comes?'" Luke 18:1-8 (The Message).
Another story that reveals the character of God by contrast! A godless judge is moved to action by a shamelessly persistent 'nobody' widow to get her off his back. It was not her need or his compassion that drove him to action but her nagging that got him going.
We must not think for a moment that God is like that. He is, first and foremost, a Father. Does a father hold out against his child until the child's persistent nagging gets him down? Not if he is a loving and caring father but, however loving and caring an earthly father he may be, he can never match the love of God for His children.
So why does God sometimes seem deaf or unmoved by the cries of His children? If I had the answer, I would be the first person in Christendom to solve this mystery! I can only make a few suggestions from the evidence of Scripture as to why God's answers don't come when we expect them.
God is painting His picture on a very big canvas. We often tend to think that we are the only people in the universe. When our need arises, God must step in and do something when we call. But He is working out His purposes, not only in our lives but also across communities, nations and the world.
He heard the cries of His slave people in Egypt but He had to prepare a Moses and a national and international situation that would be the right time to deliver His people from slavery and take them into the Promised Land. With a new dynasty in Egypt, He changed their status from pampered and protected people to slaves so that they would groan under their oppression and long for freedom. Then God was ready to take them out.
God gave sons to aged and childless couples like Abraham and Sarah, Manoah and his wife and Zachariah and Elizabeth to fulfil His greater purposes for His nation and for the eventual coming of His Messiah. God weaves the answers to our prayers into a much bigger picture in some mysterious way that is beyond our comprehension.
Jesus spoke of 'persistent faith'. These two words are almost interchangeable. Real faith is confidence in God that does not give up, even when things seem really bad. Once again, Abraham is a good example. What father would deliberately take his own son, that one who was born to him in his old age, and raise a knife to kill him on a sacrificial altar? Only a man, whose confidence in God was unshakeable, would do that because his faith was tried and tested.
A statement I heard in a teaching long ago has helped me to understand why God's delays seem like unanswered prayer: "God will not answer your prayers until He has put all the structures in place to maintain that answer,"
Now that makes a whole lot of sense. If He were to jump to attention every time we call, He would leave a string of disasters behind because every answer to prayer needs a supporting structure so that God's work in our lives is not wasted.
Imagine if God had given Abraham his son when he first began to pray, or if God had delivered Israel when they first began to cry out. Abraham would not have grown a faith so strong that he trusted God for his son's life. There would not have been a Moses, raised in the palace and honed in the desert to lead His people out of slavery.
So what's the point? God is saying, "Will you trust me, even though nothing seems to be happening? Although you can't see it yet, I am working and, if you believe, you will see your place in my great big picture."
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