Over the years, and even in recent months, weeks and days, I’ve prayed many prayers which have not been answered as I had hoped.
You’ve probably had the same experience: praying and wondering if and when your prayer will be answered.
But looking back I see that there is a broader and deeper perspective. With hindsight I can see that while I may not have got what I wanted on the day, I have received what I needed in my life.
Today’s first reading is a great encouragement. The passage from Isaiah begins:
The Lord says:
at the favourable time I will answer you,
The favourable time?
What is the “favourable” time?
Let’s consider the example of loving parents of small children since many FFF readers are parents.
There are times when your toddlers or teenage children ask and even demand that you give them what they say they need. But you may not respond as they hope. Instead you say “no” or “not now” or “what about these other options”.
It’s usually because you love your children and can see a bigger picture.
In other words now is not the right or (in other words) the “favourable” time for their prayer to be answered exactly as they hope.
Because you love your children you see this moment as an opportunity helping them to grow in maturity, teaching them to see that yes and no are only two of the many possible responses to their demand.
So what are we doing when we pray?
Well there are times when I have to admit that I’m praying like a toddler: Jesus, make this happen. Lord take this suffering away. Let the weather be fine. Give us rain. Bring peace in our family. Stop the war. Make me well.
It is right that we are explicit when we express our needs to God. Jesus tells us to ask for what we need. Remember the A.S.K. reflection a few weeks ago: ask, seek, knock? Our asking is reminding God that we trust and know that he will provide…”give us today our daily bread.”
But the bigger context (also expressed in the Lord’s Prayer) is the ultimate expression of trust in God: “your will be done”.
Yes God, your will be done in my life on earth as it is in the lives of those who have gone before, those who now in your abundant eternal life can see the broader perspective and who are grateful.
As we mature in faith we realise that we don’t need a God who magically changes the course of life. We do need a God who is an intimate friend.
The mature disciple of Jesus will still pray for direct divine intervention, and celebrate when this happens. But even more the mature disciple will seek friendship with Jesus. and living in this divine intimacy will rejoice that in Jesus God is delighting that he is able to be with us through every suffering and anxiety, making every moment of every long day and dark night a time of favour.
The Isaiah passage concludes with words of great hope for us:
For the Lord consoles his people
and takes pity on those who are afflicted.
For I was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me,
the Lord has forgotten me.’
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the child of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.
Thanks be to God!