by Rev. Christopher D. Hall
Emma was praying for her husband. He was dying of lung cancer, and she desperately sought a miracle. Tears rolled down her cheeks, her knuckles white in a prayerful grasp, waiting for a miraculous cure that never came.
Then there are the Wilsons. They have been praying for their son. They haven’t spoken to him in years. They don’t know where he is, what he is doing. They don’t even know who he is anymore.
We see it all the time—that desperate longing and crying to God for His will to be done, that desperate longing for Him to make our will His. Sometimes, there seems to be no answer.
Where do unanswered prayers go? Do they pass by the ears of God? Are they snatched out of the air by devils, like footballs by lucky defensive ends, never making it to the intended receiver? Could it be that God hears them and files them away in an ethereal file cabinet? Why do prayers sometimes seem to bounce off the doors of heaven?
My mother’s father was disabled. Stricken with rheumatoid arthritis, his body creaked and contorted a little more each year. He scratched out a living in the fields behind his family’s home.
To make ends meet, my grandmother went to work at a shoe factory, leaving my mother at home with her daddy. She went out to the fields with him on the days he could walk. He worked and she played, running between the rows of corn, plucking pea pods, and crunching the baby peas in secret. But he had a secret, too, a black cake he kept in his pocket. He never shared it. One day she finally asked, “Daddy, can I have some of that cake?”
“No, Janet Kay, you wouldn’t like it.”
“But Daddy, I love chocolate cake. Can I have some, please?”
“No, Janet Kay. It’s not chocolate cake. You wouldn’t like it.”
Finally, the pestering wore him down. “Sure, Janet Kay. Here’s some,” he said, handing her a large pinch and taking one himself.
My mother was victorious. Eyes twinkling, she dropped the piece in her mouth. It wasn’t chocolate cake. She didn’t like it. She spit the tobacco out and started to cry.
My grandfather knelt and hugged her. He gave her a drink of his iced tea. “Now do you know why I kept that for myself?” She nodded. “I didn’t give it to you because it’s not good for you. But I couldn’t convince you not to take it. Now you know, don’t you?” My mother nodded again, wiping the tears from her eyes.
These days what my grandfather did might be considered abuse. It certainly wasn’t considered abuse back then. My mother remembers the story fondly, with laughter and tears for the father she buried as a teenager. She remembers the lesson, too.
Our heavenly Father desires good things for us. He who is perfect in every way will not give us things that hurt us (Matt. 7:9–11). He will not answer prayers that will do us harm. And we don’t always know what that is. We look at life through our self-colored glasses and have no idea what the future holds.
The prayers of Emma ascended to our God. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7 ESV). He also says, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). Our prayers are not snatched away. They do not bounce around the atmosphere until they are no more. God hears them.
But God is not at our beck and call. He is not the God who does our will. He is not our servant to command and direct. God is our Father, who gives good things to us, even when we do not recognize them. This is true, for our God truly is Love. He truly is our Father. He truly hears the prayers of His faithful.