“God answered our prayer!” we proclaim as someone who has been in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers is brought to better circumstances. We mean well by such a statement. We mean to bring glory to our Father and recognize what He has done. But the truth is, these words can be a poor way of expressing our joy.
Church bulletins, personal prayer lists, and social media catalog those in chronic need. Perhaps it’s an illness or disease, hardship, or simply the effects of living a long life that places people there. Whatever it is, people ask for our prayers and we remember them before our Father. Then someone on our list sees things change for the better and they are taken off the list. Should we thank God for that? Absolutely! Praise Him for what He has done? We’d better! Should we be discerning when going public with such news? Ahhh . . . this is where we tend to have our problems.
In our eagerness to publicly celebrate what God’s done, we can crush the spirits of the others on our list. Our “God has answered our prayers,” sounds like we’re saying that He hasn’t answered the prayers of the others (and we mean no such thing). He has answered the prayers of everyone on the list (though it may not have been the answer they desired). But to deny them this recognition is to isolate them even further and add to their troubles. We should say something like, “God has given us what we asked for,” or similar words. Just as important, we should try to do it in a way that is sensitive to all.
But I suspect there’s a larger issue here. I think our speech is the way it is because we haven’t fully accepted that God does answer our prayers in regard to the person who remains in chronic need. No one has any trouble understanding that God has answered the prayer of the person who is delivered from their circumstances. And, most will agree that God has delivered the person who didn’t get better and died. But what of the person who remains in difficult circumstances—has God really answered their prayer? For many of us, the answer seems to be “no.” What purpose could God have in a little boy suffering for years with leukemia? How could he be using the elderly woman who has been bedridden for a decade? From our finite human perspective, these are questions we have no answer for.
But our ability to understand God’s purposes isn’t the point. The issue is His sovereignty and power. Is He able to use the situation and make good come of it? Yes! That’s exactly what Paul asserts when he writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). God can use us in death, in life, and anywhere in between! We may not be able to fathom how He does this, we may struggle to accept it, or we may pray that it be different, but God is sovereign over all circumstances and situations and can use them all (not just the “good” ones)! We need to believe this!
Paul follows this with the wonderful salvo of v. 31ff, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” He then enumerates the possible things we might face and boldly declares that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (v. 39). What is He saying? Among other things, he is telling us that we should never interpret the worst of life’s situations (trouble, hardship, sickness, etc.), as meaning that God has left us—He hasn’t! He won’t! While we may not understand His purpose in them, we can be absolutely assured that the One who used the death of His only Son to bring salvation to the world can and will bring good out of our darkest circumstances and these circumstances do not have the power to separate us from Him.
We have His word on it!