Lately, I’ve found myself in that position where I’ve been praying for something specifically. Now, this is beyond regular prayer or daily prayer. This is that heavily-sighing, crying-out-to-God prayer that rises up from the deepest parts of the soul. And yet, when it comes to this prayer, God often just seems silent. I can see him at work and I can see him answer prayers . . . just not this one. And when I do, I am reminded that he does answer and he does work all things together for the good of those who are called to his purposes. And yet, my prayer seems to remain unanswered and my circumstance unaltered.
In these moments, I find myself at an impasse: I can either sink into the despair of feeling forgotten and overlooked, or I can fall to my knees in praise and gratitude for the Lord’s work on someone else’s behalf. But when prayer has already turned to groaning, let’s be honest:
Despair comes easier.
And that’s because gratitude is a choice. And it’s the choosing that can be so difficult when we believe that someone else’s prayer was chosen over our own.
Gratitude leads to joy
I had the opportunity to visit an elderly saint—a former professor at Southwestern Seminary who I have long admired—in his nursing home a few weeks ago. And in our conversation, we spoke of all that was taking place in the seminary and in the Southern Baptist Convention. But what stood out to me most was the gratitude with which he spoke of those who had come to visit him.
He appreciated their concern for him. He was thankful that they had found the time to go out of their way to visit. He didn’t share that with any sense of self-importance; nor did he communicate any frustration that he reduced by his circumstances and was no longer able to walk where he pleased or go where he desired. Instead, he expressed his gratitude with humble tears of joy.
I want to face my circumstances like that—with overwhelming gratitude and joy. I want to experience joy in the waiting. I want to celebrate with others when the Lord answers their prayers—even while I continue to wait on the Lord to answer my own.
Gratitude leads to perseverance
When we begin to believe that the Lord has forgotten us, or that he simply refuses to answer our prayers and petitions, we lose any encouragement to hold on to the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. And, to be honest, it may be because we’re not looking for the joy found in the person of Christ; we may be looking for the joy found in our desired answer to our prayer.
But those willing to praise the Lord for someone else’s blessing are strengthened in their resolve to wait upon the Lord.
Those willing to rejoice with those who rejoice find their tears turned from longing to gratitude.
Those who can find the joy in someone else’s answered prayer are more likely to continue to serve the One who answers prayer—even as our own prayer seems unanswered.
Because rather than focusing our attention on our unanswered prayer, we set our eyes upon the One who answers prayer.
He has not forgotten you
There we sat, under the pine trees of East Texas, and as our time concluded, this saint of the faith leaned over, put his hand on my arm, and said, “You may feel overlooked and forgotten,” and at this, tears began to well up in my own eyes. And he reminded me of the truth I knew, but needed to hear: “but he has not forgotten you.”
May that encouragement be yours as well.
He has not forgotten you.
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
Runner. Cyclist. Roast Master at caffeinatedtheology.com.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.