If ever a prayer needed to be answered it was now.
Standing inside the critical care unit of Children’s Hospital, I watched and waited outside a recovery room. A battery of alarms were blaring. Code blue blurted on high volume from the loud speakers. Nurses came running, equipment was rolled in, and one of the doctors who’d participated in that day’s surgery dashed into the room. I, as well as other family members, peered through the viewing window at the many monitors, with the heart rate monitor being the target of our attention.
The baby in the room was only a few days old. The surgery just completed was the first of several open heart operations that would lead to her eventually being added to the heart transplant list roughly 8 months later. She was so tiny and helpless. Her heart failed to develop properly. She was suffering from a rare congenital heart defect known as hypo-plastic left heart syndrome. In layman’s terms, the under-developed left side heart can't effectively pump blood to the body, so the right side of the heart must be modified to do both functions.
Thoughts raced through my mind as we continued to take in the activity in the room. How can I help? What do I do for those around me also watching? In my head these words repeated again and again, “Please God, make it work. Please God, make it work.” After what seemed like an eternity, yet was likely but a minute or two, baby’s heart rate when back up, the oxygen level improved, and I knew she was okay for now.
A prayer with an immediate positive response. These are the times that hearing and seeing God’s answer to our request bring us delight and leaves us grateful.
But sometimes, God’s response to our prayers seems slow or even non-existent. Other times the response seems to be more of a challenge than an answer, leaving us to wonder, does God always answer prayer?
If you spend any time at all researching this question you will find websites and articles that outline three possible responses - yes, wait, and no.
There are many stories of answered prayer throughout the old and the new testament. One source offered 68 verses of answered prayer.(1)
One of the many famous immediate “yes” answers is found in Matthew 8. This is the story of the man with leprosy who simply asked Jesus for healing. Verses 2-3 tell us, “Suddenly, a leper came up to him, fell down before him, and said, ‘Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean.’ So Jesus reached out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do want to. Be clean!’ And instantly his leprosy was made clean.”
Imagine the elation of the healed man! Clearly, for the leper, this was the answer for which he had hoped to receive.
In reading the book of Psalm, it is somewhat surprising how often David prays to God to be rescued from his enemies. Again and again he is on the run. Its clear that his situations are dire and his prayers are ernest. For example, in Psalm 69:1-3 he prays,
1) Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2) I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
3) I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
Clearly David is in distress and has been praying for quite some time. However, in continuing to read, the good news is that David always gets an answer. Through it all he continually praises God and acknowledges God’s goodness.
Ask any parent and they will tell you that some times the answer to a child’s request needs to be “No”. God, as our father, would also agree. The request may seem reasonable to us, maybe even necessary. But thankfully God sees the big picture, looking far beyond our limited area of vision.
One of the most profound stories in the Bible that demonstrate why God must say “No” at times, is the plea Jesus made in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. He was accompanied by his disciples and as he went off ahead, he prayed to God saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Matthew 26:39b
Can you imagine if God had shrugged and said, “Well, okay.”? It is a terrifying thought. We would have no redemption and no one would have saved us from our sins. Thankfully God said “No”.
As we consider our own prayers requests today and in the past, we are likely to be able to recall times we have gotten each of these answers. No matter where you are today in your journey with Jesus, remember in all things—and especially in prayer—we need to trust that God has us covered. He promises to take care of us.
When in doubt, read, ponder, and meditate on Jeremiah 29:11, “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”