I’ve heard the answer a hundred times. There have been times in my life when I have even found myself repeating it to friends and acquaintances when I get the question, “Why did God not answer when I prayed to Him?”
The answer to this question can roll out of my mouth without my even having to think about it, “Well, sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is ‘Yes.’ Other times the answer is ‘No.’ And then very often His answer is ‘Wait.’
This answer seems to be the catch-all. From this I can easily turn to stories in the Bible in which God chose to answer prayers in these three ways. My parents and seminary professors would be quite proud of my ability to use Scripture to answer this question.
I slept through every one of my Dad’s Sunday night sermons until I was 12 years old. I was in my third trimester of pregnancy when I took preaching lab in seminary and spent more time trying to get comfortable sitting in my desk than listening to the professor. Still, I could probably throw together a pretty decent sermon on this topic in less than an hour.
Being able to have a conversation or write a sermon about this question is one thing. To live in faith believing the Biblical truths that answer this question is quite another.
It was June 20th. The date our family had looked forward to with both hope and fear. On June 20th, 2011 my sister Monta was scheduled to have heart surgery to receive a new valve. Monta was born with a heart defect and her life is nothing short of a miracle. As a child, she endured two heart surgeries and is among the first generation of survivors of childhood heart surgeries.
Though modern medicine makes open heart surgery seem almost routine, there is nothing routine when it is your loved one who is on the operating table.
On June 20th there were literally thousands of people all over the world praying prayers of healing for Monta’s heart. Though I battled thoughts and fears for months before the surgery, as I waited in that hospital waiting room I had an unexplainable peace that everything was going to be okay.
Monta was not the only one that I was praying for that day. Thirty miles away in another hospital, my best friend’s mom, Pam, was undergoing a surgery where the doctor would be investigating a mass in her abdomen.
My best friend Jessica and I spent the morning of June 20th texting each other with surgery updates. I will never forget the final update I received from Jessica.
I had just gotten into the ICU room where I was getting to see Monta for the very first time after the surgery. My eyes were filled with tears of joy and thanksgiving as I patted my sister’s arm. Though her body required a ventilator to breathe, and she was swollen almost beyond recognition, doctors were fully confident that the surgery had been a success and that in a few months, Monta would feel better than she ever had before.
As I was standing there in awe of how God had answered my prayers, I felt a vibration of an incoming text. I looked down and saw these word, “Well, it is not good.”
I remember taking a deep breath, kissing my sister’s forehead and then walking out of the room so that I could read the rest of the text in privacy.
Jessica’s text went on to explain that the mass in Pam’s abdomen was indeed cancer. The tumor was larger than the doctor had thought, and they were unable to remove it because of its size.
At that moment I experienced the most drastic change in emotion that I believe I have ever experienced. Immediately the questions flooded my head. “How could the same people be praying the same prayers of healing and there be two very different results?”
Knowing that my sister was stabilized, I immediately left the waiting room where everyone was hugging and smiling from the joy of a successful surgery, and I hopped in my car to drive to the other waiting room thirty miles away.
In that waiting room was a family that had been utterly devastated with bad news. Pam, their beloved mother, sister, wife and friend was going to have to face yet another battle with cancer. And from what the doctors reported, this battle looked to be much fiercer than the one Pam had victoriously overcome just the year before.
I will never forget how my faith was challenged that day in that waiting room. My heart should have been rejoicing and praising God over my sister. Yet, as I sat there next to my best friend, uttering words of praise to God did not seem appropriate.
It has been five months since that day. In those five months, I have done a lot of soul-searching. My prayers have been filled with many questions. Questions I know may not ever be answered here on earth.
This past week I found myself in that waiting room again. . .the very same waiting room that I spent six hours in back in June waiting on the report of my sister’s heart surgery. After months of investigation to determine the origin of the cancer and chemo treatment to reduce the tumor size, surgeons were once again going to attempt to remove the tumor in Pam.
Just as I had prior to my sister’s surgery, I had offered up countless prayers of healing for Pam. Many days in the past five months were spent fasting for God to perform a miracle in Pam’s body.
In the past five months, my mind often turned to the stories I know where God’s answer to prayers of physical healing or protection was, “No.” I hear these stories all the time.
The young mom who died of cancer and left behind small children, even though churches had held prayer vigils pleading for God to spare her life. The teenager who didn’t survive the injuries of a car wreck despite the fact that his mother had prayed diligently for God to keep him safe while he was driving. The soldier whose life was cut short even while his wife on the other side of the world had prayed prayers of protection for him every night before she went to bed.
In the past five months, I have spent a lot of time wondering about the difference my prayers make in God’s answer being ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘wait.’ This is one of those tough theological issues we must grapple with if we place our faith in the God of the Bible. For me it is right up there with the question ‘Who created God?’
In my life God has answered my prayers in all three ways. By far I believe the most difficult one of the answers for me to accept with joy is ‘wait.’
‘Wait.’ Wait has been the answer to prayers for Pam for the past five months. Then this past Thursday following surgery, Pam and her loved ones were once again put in a position of waiting on the Lord’s answer. Following an eight-hour surgery where doctors were able to successfully remove the tumor from Pam, the surgeon commented that only time will tell if the surgery is enough for Pam.
The reality of life here on earth is that at some point here on earth each of us will be forced to look the reality of death in the face. We are all mortal beings and at some point even the most powerful medicine and the most acclaimed surgeon will not be ‘enough’ for us.
There are times when physical healing comes in an instant. At times, God does indeed answer the prayer of healing in a way that medical science cannot explain. At times in life we are forced to wait on God’s answer to our prayers of physical healing and see if medicine will be ‘enough’ to heal our mortal bodies.
Pam’s surgeon was wrong. We do not even have to wait to see if the surgery is enough. Time and medical science is NEVER enough. Only the grace of Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, is enough to bring ultimate healing to our bodies that are daily wasting away.
It is during the times that the answer to our prayers is ‘no’ or ‘wait’ that God draws us closer to Him. In the Bible the apostle Paul writes.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
God’s grace is sufficient. Whether the answer to our prayer is ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘wait.’ God’s grace is enough.