Let us first look at some prayers in the Bible.


Rebecca:  When her twin sons ~ Jacob and Esau ~  were about age 40 (Genesis 26:34), they had a terrible argument and Esau threatened to kill Jacob.  Rebecca told Jacob to live with her brother a thousand miles away in a foreign country and "When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there" (Genesis 27:45).


She never sent that word.  Oh, how the parents of these twins must have prayed for their family to be reunited and for the twins to get along again.  But it just didn't happen.  Jacob stayed gone twenty long years (Genesis 31:38).  Finally he went back to make up with Esau on his own.  When he did, (Genesis 33:4), Esau took him to see their father Isaac (Genesis 35:27), but not their mother.


Rebecca had probably died believing that God had refused to answer her prayer for her sons.  But he did answer her prayer.   It just wasn't in her lifetime.  The same is true with some of our own prayers.  They're answered after we die.


Joseph:  When Joseph was 17 years old (Genesis 37:2) he was sold by his brothers to a caravan headed for Egypt.  There this teenager was sold again to be a forever slave in a foreign country with strange people, strange language, strange customs.   He was bought by the captain of Pharaoh's guard.  Joseph kept a good attitude and his owner was so impressed that he gave him a lot of responsibility.  But things went from tolerable to terrible.  His owner's wife falsely accused him of trying to rape her, so he was imprisoned.  There his feet were put in shackles and his neck was put in irons (Psalm 105:17-22).


Did he become bitter and turn against God?  No.  He made the best of an extremely bad situation.  Eventually he was trusted so much that the jailor let Joseph, the prisoner, run things for him (Genesis 39:22).  When Joseph was 28 years old (Genesis 40:1 - 40:1) it looked liked a personal servant of Pharaoh would be able to get him out of prison, but the servant forgot all about Joseph.  How could God allow that to happen?


Finally, when Joseph was 30 years old (Genesis 41:46), Pharaoh personally released him from prison and made him “prime minister” of the entire land (Genesis 41:41)


There are other examples of delayed answers:  Abraham and his promised land, Abraham and his son that he did not have until he was 100 years old, the Jews who prayed for 400 years to be freed from their slavery (see article on “God Betrayed Me”).  






Sometimes God does not give us what we want because it would bring us heartache.  We may not see it, and the bad effects may not even occur during our lifetime.  But God knows


SAMSON:  A couple was childless, for the wife had been sterile for a long time.  They prayed and prayed for a son.  Finally God answered their prayer and they named their baby Samson. 


But Samson brought heartache after heartache to his parents.  First he demanded that they arrange a marriage to an atheist (Judges 14:2).  But when he was taken advantage of at his wedding reception, he divorced her (Judges 14:20).  Then he started going to prostitutes (Judges 16:1).  Finally he fell in love with another atheist (Judges 16:4, 21) who then betrayed him.   He was imprisoned his eyes gouged out (Judges 16:21) and finally died by suicide (Judges 16:30).  His parents got their prayed-for baby, and also great heartache.


THE JEWS:  The Israelites had been ruled by judges, but finally prayer that they could have kings instead so they could be like other nations around them  (I Samuel 8:6-9).  They got their king.  But it led to disaster.  It took only three generations for their kings to set up idols for them to worship (I Kings 11:9-10), and one more generation for the country to fall into civil war between their north and their south (I Kings 11:43-12:1).   They had prayed for a king, got their wish, then wished they hadn’t.


We may not know until heaven which prayers God did not answer because he knew they would lead to heartache.





What is it that we pray for anyway? 


Jesus said in Mathew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Yet we must not forget what he said a few sentences before:  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).  Are our prayers for our material desires?  Will our prayers, if answered positively, advance the cause of Jesus’ kingdom in the world? 


Further, do we have trouble making a personal prayer last more than five minutes tops?  Perhaps it is because we are praying for ourselves too much.  How about making a prayer list?  Pray for people in the newspaper ~ front-page crime or political stories or people in the births, marriages, & obituary columns.  How about going through your church directory every day and praying for everyone in your congregation by name every day?  How about getting a list of missionaries and praying for them every day?   


How about praying for lost souls in your family, your fellow employees, your neighborhood?  James said, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).   Praying for souls can create stress if we keep watching for such prayers to be answered soon.  But remember the story of Rebecca above?  Perhaps souls you pray for will be saved, but after your lifetime.


Above all, remember this:  God loves to answer prayer.