WEEK FOURTEEN: WHEN YOUR PRAYER LIFE FEELS BARREN
Later this year, I will devote several weeks to the topic of prayer, but I feel it is important to share now something God showed me recently. You see, I have been contacted by so many people lately who feel they are not hearing from God regarding an issue they have long prayed about, and He did something recently that encouraged me deeply about praying without seeing evidence of results. I am writing this in February. This has been a month of brutal cold, interspersed with a rare day here and there in the 60s and 70s.
One day last week, I stopped to soak in the beautiful sunlight pouring through my second floor bedroom windows. It had been so cold and dark for weeks, but this day was springlike and lovely. I walked over to my bank of windows and looked out. Down below me, I saw the top of a tree I normally see from the ground view. I usually see this tree as I am walking on the sidewalk and am looking up. The tree has been very bare and stark all winter, and especially this week. But today, I was looking from a different vantage point, far above the tree and looking down. I saw something unusual at the very top of the branches that I could not identify. At first, I thought it was snow on the very tips of the top branches. But it was not the cold and icy snow of winter- this tree was budding in the dead of winter!
All across the tips of the branches at the very crown of the tree were tiny green leaves and emerging white buds creating a lacy pattern that could be seen only when looking down. The branches below looked like dry sticks, barren of any sign of life. Only at the very tip top ends of the uppermost branches closest to the sun could any sign of new life be seen.
Our prayer life is like that. We are earth bound. We have a limited view of our circumstances because of our earthly vantage point. We pray for things, and it appears that nothing happens. But things ARE happening. Far above us and far beyond us on God’s timeline, things are happening—and it is good. We rarely get the glimpse of the new hope and growth budding in our lives in advance, just as I saw the tops of the trees budding this week for the first time in the fifteen years I have lived here. We are not entitled to know the end from the beginning. That belongs to God:
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it. Isaiah 46:9-11 *
God sees yesterday, today and tomorrow. We do not have the tomorrow viewpoint. We cannot always get above our circumstances and look down and get the God perspective. But we can try every day to see the circumstances of our lives and events through His eyes. Only He can see the future, but through prayer and soaking daily in His words, we can begin to think more and more like Him and to see things more as He sees them.
One of my privileges is to pray with young women who are active in various programs for the 20s and 30s age group at our church or whom I knew when teaching at Georgia State University. Praying with some of them for many years has allowed me to see their disappointments as well as their joys. We have prayed together over many broken hearts and lost loves. At times, the seemingly perfect young man has not been ready for marriage or the young woman has felt the Holy Spirit prompting her to move on, even though she wanted to stay. But then God sends her husband, the right young man not just for her 20s and 30s but for her 40s, 60s, and 80s! This choice is so right that I usually cannot stop myself from saying, “Aren’t you glad God made you wait? Is this not the perfect person for you?” (Yes, I am that person who will actually say that!) Oh, the joy on their faces as they clearly show that God blessed them when He deprived them of what they thought they wanted.
God has seen the end from the beginning! He knows the exactly right answer to your prayers. He always answers prayers; it’s just that His timing and His answers are not always earthbound like ours. His are so much higher and better for our futures.
I don’t want to make light of how hard it is when you have prayed for something for years, and you do not see the answer you are seeking. But make no mistake, God is actively answering that prayer right now. He may be preparing the perfect outcome. He may be changing you as you labor in prayer and grow in trust and submission. I cannot tell you what God is doing, but I can tell you He is not idle or unresponsive. Your prayers are not barren. They will result in fruit. Your hope is valid. Something new is budding in you or in God’s plan; all may look bone dry and dead from where you stand right now, but God is actively working in your life and in the lives of others He will send across your path. He sees the new growth, the green of emerging hope, and things that will blossom later that only He can see.
*You will sometimes see me quote a passage where God is talking to someone specifically, usually the people of Israel. Although some of these passages were not written to you about your circumstances, I think they are instructive about how God has handled similar situations in the past. Part of getting to know anyone, even God, is learning about their character and nature, and reading about God’s dealings with others teaches us those things. These passages are particularly valuable when God shares how He looks at His authority or His relationships with His children of other eras. Since He is unchanging in His love and constant in His principles, I think sharing these words written to others can help us understand how He might be looking at our circumstances.