“How long , O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” King David, Psalm 13:1
“How long, how long must we sing this song, how long, how long?” - U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday
The Bible informs that God answers prayer, right? Jesus said, “ask , and it will be given to you” (Luke 11:9) and “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22). So, why does it seem like God takes so long to answer and bring help? There are reasons why God never answers some prayers; for example, disobedience (1 Samuel 28:6) and unrepentant sin (Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:2), but those will not be the topic for this article.
There are several possible reasons the answers to prayer do not seem to come soon enough:
- God is teaching me something by delaying help.
- I don't have enough faith.
- God doesn't care about me.
- God very rarely intervenes in human's lives.
- God is trying to show me how to get help, but I'm missing it.
- There is no God.
When God took the Israelites from Egyptian captivity into the new land, He promised to “clear away … seven nations greater and stronger” than the Jews (Deuteronomy 7:1). He then promised many great blessings if the people would remain faithful to Him: children, crops, herds, and health. Likewise, God will also free us from the bondage of sin and escort us into a new life of blessing, prosperity, health, and safety. But, notice that God then informed the people: “ The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you” (Deuteronomy 7:22). God promised the blessings, but they would be received gradually rather than instantaneously. So, what does this mean in our lives today?
Advancement and success that occur too quickly sometimes do not allow adequate time for a proper structure to be built to sustain that growth. Many military examples can be seen throughout history in which the conquerors took territory for which they lacked the infrastructure to maintain. So, the territory soon reverted back to others. Our parents don't hand us the car keys on our 16 th birthday and turn us loose. Learning to drive is a process that takes some time, as do most things in life. Leadership expert John C. Maxwell made the point that leadership “requires perseverance. And you absolutely cannot ignore the Law of Process. Leadership doesn't develop in a day. It takes a lifetime.”1 It is possible God does not immediately answer prayers because He may be working to develop us into people who will capably handle the success.
Help is Delayed
Daniel, who had survived the lion's den, found himself in a distressing situation as he was living in Babylon. At one point, he had been “mourning for three entire weeks” (Daniel 10:2) and may have wondered where God was and why God was not taking some action. At this time, a messenger of God appeared to Daniel and informed “ from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” (Daniel 10:12-13) So, God had sent help the first day; however, an apparent angelic struggle delayed assistance for 21 days. So, what does that mean for us today? There may be other factors occurring outside of our understanding of the situation. Seeing unanswered prayer only from a self-centered perspective fails to account for other events observable only from a heavenly perspective.
In modern life today, we become frustrated if the call on our cell phone does not connect immediately or the internet does not load on the laptop in seconds. Most of us hate to wait for anything. God may not necessarily be “teaching” us anything by making us wait - we may simply be deficient in the character trait of perseverance. Paul admonishes us: “ Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9). Job, who suffered greatly and surely wondered why God did not seem to be doing anything, received an answer that would be difficult for many of us to accept:
“the Lord said to Job, ‘ Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.'” (Job 40:1)
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” (Job 38:4)
Up to this point, Job has sat in ashes with “friends” scraping his boils with broken pieces of pottery. It is difficult to determine the time between Job's calamities and God's answer, though the Bible indicates Job sat in the ashes for at least seven days (Job 2:13). The full realization of God's restoration to Job covered the remainder of his life – 140 years (Job 42:16) – during which he was greatly blessed (Job 42:12). Sometimes, it is necessary to wait for God (Isaiah 40:1), trust Him and He will at the proper time deliver us (Psalm 22:4).
430 Years is a Long Time to Wait
The Bible contains many examples of people who waited – some for very long periods of time – for God's help. The Jews were in Egypt for 430 years before God sent Moses and freed them (Exodus 12:40). They waited 40 additional years to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 29:5). Abraham waited 25 years from the time God promised to make a great nation of him (Genesis 12:2,4) until Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5). Who knows how long Simeon waited to see Israel's Savior, which he did before death (Luke 2:25-26). And, of course, the Messiah was promised many times by God's prophets in the Old Testament, the last probably being Zechariah, who wrote about 520 years before Jesus' birth (Zechariah 9:9). So, God works out His plans, usually without asking our advice, according to His timetable (Isaiah 25:1).
Does God exist for the purpose of meeting my needs according to my timetable? Am I justified in criticizing God when He does not? The Bible clearly demonstrates that God has His own purposes in mind (Isaiah 14:24, Jeremiah 4:28) and His timing. In fact, He began the plan of salvation before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and even this has not yet been fully realized. God does answer prayers, but when there is a delay, it may be that He sees the big picture, our future, and has a greater good in mind. His purposes will be completed “in the fullness of time” as God had already determined (Galatians 4:4). God works in believers' lives “ according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11 NIV).