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Thursday is the National Day of Prayer – arriving as people around the world are pleading with God to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has brought death and economic hardship to people around the world. Why doesn’t God seem to be answering these prayers?
It’s a fair question – and one that I have even asked myself.
What’s important to understand is that God doesn’t operate on our schedule, because He sees things we either can’t or don’t. As a colleague once observed, all of our questions would be answered if we sat in God’s seat and saw things from His perspective.
My friend Dr. Tim Keller, a prominent pastor and author, put it even more succinctly when he noted: “God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows.”
It was President Harry Truman who signed the National Day of Prayer into law back in 1952, and President Ronald Reagan who established the annual celebration for the first Thursday of May each year.
That its history is bookended by a Democrat and a Republican seems fitting to me. That’s because prayer isn’t just bipartisan – it transcends politics and long predates any body politic.
Prayer has played a foundational role in America. The Pilgrims arrived in 1620 seeking religious freedom. Special days of prayer designations occurred at the start of the Revolutionary War. The Civil War years saw President Lincoln call for two days of prayer – in 1861 and 1863.
It’s true that we often turn to God in times of crisis, but what about the ordinary and even the mundane?
I’ve seen God answer my prayers in some seemingly curious ways.
Orphaned as a young boy, I struggled to find guidance and good role models while growing up. By the time I reached high school, football was becoming something of a god to me. I was enjoying great success as a quarterback and was being recruited to play for Division One colleges.
At the same time, I felt uneasy about the sport and knew it was becoming too important to me. I was beginning to make football an idol.
During one game in the huddle, I prayed, “God, if you don’t want me to play college football, break a bone today but don’t let it hurt.”
I broke my collarbone in the very next play. It didn’t hurt at all – but I had been given my answer.
Since college, I’ve asked God and received His guidance many times over matters of my career. I once had an opportunity to make a major job change and prayed fervently about it. The answer was clear – don’t do it. In retrospect, I’m so glad I didn’t.
I prayed for my wife before I even met her – and asked the Lord to reveal her to me if He really wanted me to get married. He did. We’ll be married 34 years this August.
In church circles, you’ll often hear people talk about “praying for God’s will” – which is a good thing. But it seems kind of mystical and nebulous. How can we ever know for sure since He doesn’t speak audibly?
It seems to me that God often answers our prayers by either opening or closing doors. Don’t overthink it. If you’re wanting a job and there’s only one offer on the table, I think that could be a pretty good sign that’s the job for you – at least for now.
People lament why God answers some prayers and not others, but the fact of the matter is that He answers all of them – just not always to our satisfaction.
Let’s continue praying for those who grieve and those who are in the thick of this ongoing battle to defeat COVID-19. I believe God is up to something well beyond our sight or understanding.
Lately, I find myself resonating with the words of the late C.S. Lewis, who wrote: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.”