How does God answer prayer? I have heard that question many times before from folks who are praying hard and not seeing what they consider to be an answer. There is a somewhat “canned” answer which I’ve heard many times in response to this question. I’ve been told that God may say “Yes,” or say “No,” or say . . . “Wait.” There is truth in this response. But, I too have asked how God answers prayer. I’m not sure that explanation is very comforting.
Recently I wrote about sharing with others that I had been praying for them, or for their loved ones. Jesus promises, and I trust His words, that God always hears and does answer our prayers. “7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) I also believe Jesus’ words that when our heavenly Father answers our prayers He always responds with what is good for us. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! “ (Matthew 7:11) This teaching of Jesus doesn’t promise that God gives us what we want, but that He gives what is good. My experience is that our Lord answers different prayers in different ways, perhaps because what is good for our eternity might differ from request to request.
So, let me share with you two different experiences which I believe are God’s recent answers to prayer. First, I have been praying for a young woman for over two years. She has been very ill and her prognosis has not been good. I have prayed for this woman daily asking that God would perform a miracle and heal her, knowing that God has the ultimate wisdom. However, I have also prayed that God would act in such a way that she and her family might see our Lord’s love in her life, and that they might recognize that love, even in the midst of her illness. I saw this young lady recently for the first time in a long time. The last time I saw her she was experiencing visible symptoms of her illness and I feared for her life. But, when I saw her this time, after over 2 years of prayer, she looked healthy and strong and happy. Her illness is still there, but I saw her improvement as God’s grace in her life. I continue to pray that she and her family may see and recognize that love of God. I will also continue to pray for miraculous healing.
However, I don’t just pray for others, I also pray for myself and for my life as a child of God. I pray for my faith, for wisdom, humility, for strength to live a holy and righteous life. I pray for health, and, for about a year now, I have prayed that God might lead me to use my retirement as a ministry. I put stars in my prayer list by those requests I want to pray for every day. The young lady I mentioned above has a star by her name on my prayer list. When I pray for myself, I have stars beside my personal prayer for faith, and by my petition to use my retirement as a ministry.
On July 26, I was sitting in Bible Class at St. John. Jim Summers has been teaching this summer on gospel hymns and the scripture verses behind them. On this particular Sunday we were looking at a Fanny Crosby hymn, and the verse which inspired the hymn, Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” There was something about this verse and the class that struck me that day. I was led to ask myself if I was living the Christ-life of faith and service. Am I carrying my cross? I have really enjoyed my retirement and been able to do a lot of fishing and golfing. I asked myself, “Am I really using my retirement as service to God and a blessing to others?
The next day as I was completing my morning devotions I was also praying for St. John. Since my retirement, St. John is in the “call process,” preparing for a new pastor and shepherd. On my prayer list for St. John I have 2 items with stars by them, “The Call process,” and “COVID-19.” The coronavirus has created havoc in most sectors of our lives, including the church. This illness was not even on the horizon when I retired. But, with this new challenge, I wondered if there wasn’t some way I should be helping to deal with this issue. I prayed God would allow me to do so. That was in the morning of July 27.
Later that day I was sitting in a parking lot outside a UPS store waiting for my wife to go through fingerprinting for work purposes. She was in there for a looong time. While I sat in the vehicle waiting, I received a phone call from St. John head Elder, Ann Marie Svedin. “Pastor Rockey, the call committee thinks that trying to call a new pastor during the pandemic is not necessarily wise. We asked Pastor Schultz to extend his service for another 2 years until September 2022. He indicated that he had worked very hard this last year, with no vacation, and indicated that, if he extended, he needed help. He asked us to ask you to return ¼ time to help him. He especially wants to reach those who may have fallen through the cracks in this pandemic. Would you consider returning to serve ¼ time?” I was truly surprised. I didn’t ask about finances, but did ask if I would still be able to travel and see family in Florida. I asked what I would be doing. I was told that this is all flexible as long as Pastor Schultz and I might work it out. I also thought about my prayers that morning concerning my retirement, and concerning the coronavirus.
When Kathy came out of the UPS store I told her about the phone call. I told her about my prayers that morning. We discussed the request together. I also sought counsel from others. We prayed about the offer. When I asked Kathy about a week later what she thought, she said, “Well, I wanted at least six months with you, and it has been over 10 months. I was afraid I made you retire when you didn’t want to do so. I think this is about as perfect an opportunity as could be to continue to have time together and for you to do what you are good at.” In an August 9 meeting I told the Church Council that I would accept their offer. Beginning September 15 I will help Pastor Schultz while he serves as interim, and then step down when the new pastor comes. The congregation was informed in worship on August 23.
We should not be surprised that God does answer our prayers. After all, consider God’s word in Romans. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) God sent His SON for us! He not only cares about our eternity, He cares about our lives today.
How does God answer prayer? I try to be careful not to replace God’s answers to prayer with my desires. But, for now I am hearing God’s answers to my prayers in these recent events. Have you seen any recent answers from our Lord in answer to your prayers?