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by Jacob Ninan
One of the things Jesus wondered if He would be able to find much when He came again to the earth was faith (Lk.18:8). He said that in the context of people seeking God day and night for answers to prayer (v.7). He was mentioning the story of a helpless widow who kept on seeking for justice from a judge who did not respond in the beginning. Jesus said about those who prayed like that, that He would answer them speedily. Certainly He was not being careless with His words or saying something He did not mean. But I have not come across any explanation that covers all aspects of delayed answers to prayer. I think it is being rather hard on simple believers for some expert to explain away things by saying that they do not have faith. I would rather like to say that maybe we do not really understand what Jesus meant here by "speedily."
The fact of the matter is that we have to deal a lot with the question of unanswered prayer in our personal life and in the lives of others. This is when our faith is put to severe test, because we naturally expect that God will answer our prayers. And when they are not answered all kinds of thoughts crowd our mind ranging from what could be wrong with us and if our sins have turned God off from us, to whether He cares about us and whether He is there after all.
God's word says that in the last days it would be difficult to live as Christians (2Ti.3:1 LB). All those who are sincerely seeking to live in a way that pleases and glorifies the Lord find this to be very true. Pressures of daily life are hard on us. Competition or the rat-race has become a part of everyday life. The world in general is going down fast in terms of moral and ethical values and temptations are becoming stronger on us to compromise. It looks as if there has never been a time like this for misunderstandings and strife. The whole world system seems to shout at us, saying that we should conform or get out. Sickness, accidents, poverty, unemployment, etc., affect the Christian as well as others.
What does the Christian do under such circumstances? He prays to His Saviour and Lord. We have heard and come to believe the many promises He has given us in His word. As a result we expect the Lord to come to our aid immediately. It is right for us to do that, because that is what His word has promised us.
But it still remains a fact that many of our prayers are not answered. All sicknesses are not healed. Some loved ones we pray for pass away. Some problems we pray for still remain and even seem to get worse. We try to humble ourselves and see if we have somehow not gone about our prayer in the right way, if we have not confessed our sins right, if there are things we have not set right, etc. But even after all our exercising ourselves before the Lord, some of our prayers are not answered.
Believe me, I am not trying to cause anyone to lose faith or doubt. Far from it. God does answer prayer. I have myself received miraculous answers to prayer. My question is how we can find comfort when some of our prayers are not answered?
Jesus said about the last days that there would be such a great tribulation that if God had not shortened the period no life could be saved. He also talked about deceptions so strong that even the elect could be misled if that was possible (Mt.24:21,22,24). People would betray one another, even the ones we had trusted earlier (v.10). Obviously we are not yet in the great tribulation, but we can see even now something of how it is going to be.
Imagine how Mary and Martha would have felt after they had sent word to Jesus about Lazarus being sick. They kept waiting for Him to come and heal their brother. But it was not only that He did not come, but finally Lazarus died. We can imagine the hurt they felt thinking that Jesus could have easily healed him even from a distance. They could not understand how Jesus could do this to them.
Actually it says that when Jesus received the news about Lazarus's sickness He deliberately stayed away from him (Jn.11:6). Hopefully the sisters did not know this at that time. Otherwise they might not have been able to trust Jesus anymore.
But we know the final story. Now we understand that Jesus was planning something far more wonderful than they could have imagined.
When we are passing through situations similar to what the sisters went through we too have no idea how they are going to turn out. Perplexity, frustration, disappointment, discouragement, etc., crowd our thoughts. We are strengthened by stories such as that of Lazarus. But what if our Lazarus does not come back to life - so to speak? What if we will see the glory that we are promised only in heaven (v.40)?
Speaking of the last days again, God told Daniel that even some of those who had insight would fall (Da.11:35). It is not falling into sin that is meant here but falling to the sword and flame (v.33). In other words they will also face unsurmountable difficulties which they cannot resolve. They may also lose their lives in the process.
How then can we be among the overcomers? The answer is given in the same passage in Daniel. Those who 'know' their God will display strength (v.32).
Unfortunately modern day faith is linked to getting things from God and not in God Himself. Preachers proclaim about claiming material things and blessings from God by faith. In other words they are preaching about God as an easy way to get things and to have a comfortable life. But here it talks about knowing God.
Have you noticed that the New Testament speaks about 'believing in Jesus' and not about believing that Jesus can do this or that for you? The difference is very simple, but many people still miss it. We are to know and trust Jesus as a Person. We know who He is and what He has done for us. From His word and from our own experience with Him we get to know what kind of a Person He is. We become convinced that He loves us, not because we are worthy but because "He is like that!" We recognise that He is trustworthy and that He would not leave us in the lurch.
So what do we do when things happen that we cannot understand or explain? We believe that our Jesus will never fail us. When Satan brings thoughts of doubt about the love of God we do not accept them because we know that "God is not like that." This is what will help us to remain standing when everything about us begins to crumble. If our confidence is in people or in institutions we would not be able to stand. But if we know God personally through faith and experience, then we shall be able to endure to the end.
This is the kind of faith that the three young men had when King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace if they did not bow down before the statue which the king had made. They knew that God was quite able to save them from being thrown into the fire. But even in case God did not do that, they were not going to disobey Him (Da.3:17). Surely for us the equivalent is that we are not going to give up our faith in God even if He does not answer our prayers or save us from our difficulties. That is the kind of faith that will endure.
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