From the time I was a little, little child I knew that God has four answers to any prayer: yes, no, wait, and you’ve got to be kidding.
But then I got a little older and became familiar with that odd story in Daniel 10:4-21. I have found that this strange story has helped me remember that it is OK to keep praying for something when it seems that God’s answer has already been “no.”
See, what I always thought, was that it was really OK to ask God for anything once. He would either say “Yes” or “No.” And if I kept asking, maybe I was just not accepting God’s will in the situation, which seems to be “no.”
Yes, I know Jesus says to “Keep praying.” But I also know that I am a very determined person. Determined to the point of sinful wilfullness — everyone who has known me any length of time is agreed on this. (If one man tells you that you are a donkey, ignore him. But when four men tell you you’re a donkey, buy yourself a saddle.) So how can you tell whether you are being obedient to Jesus who tells you to keep praying (Luke 18:1-8) or just obstinately refusing to accept the will of God and saying “my will be done, my will be done?”
Now, some people take care of this issue by bracketing every prayer (repeated or not) with the reminder to God and themselves, that more than they want God to grant their prayer, they want to bend their wills to whatever His will might be in this situation. And, of course I do pray “Even though this is what I hope for, what I want most is that Thy will be done. Really.” But God and I both know that although I really want to want Him to get His way in every situation, I also don’t honestly see how He could possibly want anything different from what I am praying for. For years this was a real spiritual dilemma for me surrounding prayer.
Then I became familiar with this terrific story in Daniel. (Daniel 10:4-21) Daniel has been praying and fasting and mourning for three weeks on behalf of Israel, who is suffering during the Babylonian Captivity. Finally an angel comes to Daniel and tells him that God heard Daniel’s prayer from the moment he opened his mouth. In fact this angel was sent to Daniel with an answer to his prayer, but when this angel was flying on his way to Daniel with God’s answer, he got into a big fight with one of the fallen angels who was trying to stop our angel as he flew over Persia. This fight took a really long time — weeks and weeks — until the Archangel Michael came in with reinforcements and our angel got away from the fight taking God’s message of encouragement to Daniel.
This whole story is pretty complicated and raises more questions than it settles (of course it does — it’s apocalyptic, which I’ll talk more about later this week) But on a very simple, basic level, this wonderful story reminds us that there is way more going on on the spiritual level than any of us people can begin to understand. There are forces out there that are way bigger than us, way more powerful than us, and that can make things miserable for us. We don’t need to worry about them though, because God can and will take care of them according to His own timetable. But it never hurts to remember that they’re out there and do not wish any of us well.
So we should just keep praying until we know God has told us to stop. Because the one thing we can always remain sure of is that God does not lie. And He has told us to keep praying.
So when you’re praying for the health of a loved one yet the loved one just does not get better, or when you’re praying for a wayward child yet the child just continues on his self-destructive path, or you’re praying for any situation that just does not become resolved — keep praying. God has told you to and not to give up. That much you know, and it’s really all you need to know.
It’s so helpful when you find yourself whispering to yourself that maybe God doesn’t care about you or your situation, or that someone you know and don’t like very well must be behind all this trouble you are experiencing, to remind yourself that way more may be going on in this situation than you are even aware of — but God knows. And God wishes you well. So you’ll keep praying just because He told you to keep praying. God knows more than you do, God is powerful enough to deal with anything, God always gets what He wants in the end, and what God wants will ultimately be better than anything we can wish. So just trust Him and keep praying in all humility. Keep your feet planted firmly on the Rock, the only place where it is safe to stand, do only what God told you to do and everything will be fine — even if you may not live long enough to see it.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you another great story about prayer.
See you then.