In 1990, singer Garth Brooks had a very popular song entitled “Unanswered Prayers.” It was the follow up to “Friends in Low Places” which had dominated the American Country Music charts in the last quarter of the year. In the song, the singer realises that it was good that God had not answered some of his prayers the way he desired. This is truly a profound theological point. Rather than a subservient divine equivalent to an on-command genie, God had answered the petitioner’s prayer according to what was best for him rather than what he wanted. The all-knowing, unchanging, all-powerful God Almighty had been like a good parent and done what was best.
Each week in our worship service, we have a particular prayer that serves to focus our thoughts on the day. For the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, it reads thus: “Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Collect has us call on God to so order our prayers that we pray according to His pleasure. In James 4:3 (NIV), we find this: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” You can see the scripture’s influence on the collect.
In that most fundamental of all teaching about prayer, Jesus said to His disciples, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread.” We say that prayer at every service.
Let me share with you a personal story about how God demonstrated to my family that He was hearing our prayers and knew our desires. It still encourages us to this day, and the supernatural element adds to the joy. It is an account of His faithfulness and provision in a most unexpected way.
One year, when I was in seminary, money was very tight—but that’s nothing odd for seminarians. We had three small children and had just moved to complete my graduate school training for ordination. It was nearing the Thanksgiving holiday, and whilst we had more than enough food, we didn’t have enough for anything special. We had told the kids and they were understanding. Then, out of the blue, someone at the church had given us a cash gift, which meant we would be able to get something more fitting for a celebration of God’s provision.
We sat the children down, told them about our blessing, and asked what they would like to have for the special meal. They were of one mind, they had one desire. They wanted a Honey Baked Ham; nothing else would fit the bill. So, we prayed, thanking the Lord for the gift He’d provided, and thinking that the gift was making the Honey Baked Ham possible. Then the doorbell rang, and another gift came into view.
At the door was a delivery man standing with his arms full. He was holding a large Honey Baked Ham, sent three days before by an old friend to whom I’d not spoken in months. God had answered our prayers: knowing all our circumstances and providing in such a way that there was no doubt as to who was behind it all. He’s still in the business of answering the prayers of His people. Pray and give thanks for His perfect answers in advance.
Originally appeared in the Caymanian Times.