In previous articles on prayer, we have highlighted how our hearts should be set when we pray. We have emphasized that we should always pray and that we should allow God to shape our perspective of the world through prayer. Let us again remember that we were made by God out of eternity and time. Let us also remember that prayer is a conversation between us and God about the world around us and the world within us. Therefore, both prayers and answers to prayer will necessarily revolve around issues occurring in time and issues occurring in eternity. This article is more of a reference guide. Come back often to it to see the ways in which answers to prayer manifest and how they can be delayed.
Conception and birth
So for example, I see a fig tree that is not producing any fruit and I ask God about it. It may appear to be just a fig tree but as we have said before, we are ignorant outside of a relationship with God. So it is wise for me to humbly ask God about even the silliest things. Through my prayer, God leads me to study more about the tree and I, perhaps, learn that the tree is not producing fruit because it is not the right season or the tree has a fungal infection or maybe it was not even a fig but actually an apple tree. In the process of leaning in to God through prayer, I come to better understand The Creator Who Made errant fig trees. I will ponder Him and ask Him deep questions like, “Why He would allow such a tree to even exist?” So you see, something silly brought before God leads to greater depth of understanding about both the earth and eternity. Hence Jesus taught us to pray that His Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In general, just like you and me, every answer to prayer is composed of eternity and time.
As a result, every answer to prayer must take time to become manifest. This is easily perceived because prayer is a conversation between you and God; a conversation between Eternal God and a human being who is composed of eternity and time. We don’t notice this but it obviously takes time for your brain to find and articulate the words of your prayer in speech, thought or song. We don’t consider that for God, for Whom a thousand years is like a day and a day like a thousand years, the second or hour in which you utter your prayer may be for Him ... an eternity. How would we feel if God now says to us, “Adam, you’re taking too long to speak that prayer. I’m going to go talk to Eve instead.” Or what if God Answered prayer but in a language we couldn’t understand. Every language is fundamentally an expression of spirit cloaked in the body of time. This is why music is so powerful. So in order for us to understand God’s Answers, He must change us and/or speak His Answers in some combination of spirit and time. Therefore, because of our created nature, the manifestation of every answer to prayer must necessarily be a healthy composition of time and eternity.
One good analogy for this is the birth of a baby. Because Jesus is The Center of their relationship, when a Christian husband and wife have sex, their union is a prayer before God. At the very least, it is a prayer that holy love may grow between them. But maybe they are also looking for a child. Now at the moment of conception, the prayer has been offered up but the baby is not yet visible. What if the parents begin to pray more saying to Him, “We prayed five days ago but we do not yet see a baby.” Well, the doctor will tell this holy but naive couple, “No no no. You don’t want a baby to come out too early. It is best for the baby to stay in the womb the entire 40 weeks.” So also it is with manifestations of answers to prayer. Like a baby, they are compositions of eternity and time. No one will ask God for a spirit without a healthy body. When this happens, it is a cause for sadness and sometimes mourning. Therefore, it is wise for us to wait so that the answers to our prayer can form the right spirit and the right body before they become manifest.
Delays in Time
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Now when we say that something is delayed, we are saying that something did not arrive at the expected time. 1 Delays in time occur when there is no faith. By definition, there can be no delay where there is no expectation. How can a farmer plant in prayer when he doesn’t expect the rain? How can the servant go out to see the horizon when he doesn’t believe there will be a cloud? Therefore Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith in the earth?” Luke 18:8 God always shows up but when we don’t have faith, we won’t be there to receive His Answer. One of the primary ways to show our unbelief in God is through disobedience and sin. How can we be expecting God to come through when we don’t even tremble and obey His Word? Therefore, let us repent and suddenly, our prayers are heard and answered Isaiah 58:1-2, 7-10.
2 When there is faith, the delay may be due to our ability to perceive the miracle. A fetus will eventually be composed of many many cells. However, the union of sperm and egg at conception is invisible. The cell continues to divide and only becomes barely visible by week 3. Now God answered the prayer immediately but to our eyes, He seemed to have delayed by about 4 weeks. Sometimes we’re looking in the wrong area. I mean if you’re looking for a fetus in the kidney instead of the uterus, you’ll never see it.
Take the miracle at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine John 3:6-8. The servants brought water in jars but otherwise everything seemed anticlimactic until they actually tasted the liquid in the jars. Again, a miracle had happened but no one knew until it was perceived. Or consider what was going on when Elijah on bended knee was praying for rain. He sent his servant to look for the cloud 1 Kings 18:43. Now like the formation of a baby, there may have been water vapor in the sky already coalescing to form a cloud but it only became big enough to be seen when the servant went back to look the seventh time 1 Kings 18:44. Similarly the healing of Namaan may have begun on the first dip in the dirty Jordan river but his healing only became visibly complete by the seventh time he went under 2 Kings 5:14.
My father has often told me that seven is the number of perfection. I think, after 33 years, I now understand what he means. Seven is not a magical or even really a spiritual number. When in the Bible answers to prayer manifest after counting seven changes or repetitions, God is, at the very least, communicating to us that He Answers Prayer in time. No matter how high you count the seconds or the years, be assured that you can count on God to come through. You will surely see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living if you remain confident in Him Psalms 27:13-14. So don’t stop praying even if you don’t yet see. Believe, believe, believe.
Delays in Eternity
There might be more but as far as I can see, the Bible only records two overt instances of answers delayed in eternity. Sin and unbelief are the most frequent causes eternal delays. Psalms 78:41 concludes that through sin and unbelief, God was limited in what He could do for Israel whom He Fiercely Loved. Sometimes when we don’t believe or when we disobey Him, God does not move in Eternity. Why should He Prepare a feast when you have told Him ahead of time that you’re not coming? So in both eternity and time, unbelief and disobedience causes delays in the answer to prayer. But for more overt delays in eternity, we have 1 the encounter in Daniel 9:12-14, 20-21 between Daniel and angel and 2 the prayer of the martyred saints at the altar in Revelations 6:9-11.
1 In the case of Daniel, the answer had gone out but the devil or demons (The Prince of Persia) resisted the angel who left heaven to deliver the answer to Daniel. The opposition, to an angel, was so great that angel Micheal had to come help him out. So here we find that the answer to a prayer is delayed by a battle in eternity. And Daniel had no idea. This is to tell us, again, that we can never ever lose faith. We must continue to pray even when the answer is not yet visible. Daniel wasn’t even asking for much. He sought understanding and asked for forgiveness of sin. We don’t understand and rarely perceive the battles that are fought in order that one seemingly minor prayer can be answered. Let us be confident that the Lord will enforce His Word and destroy any resistance to His Will.
But let us understand that just as we are composed of eternity and time, so also every evil we perceive on earth is a composition of the spiritual and the temporal. You cannot end hunger, poverty, crime, disease and so on with more science or so-called social engineering. Black men in Tuskegee will tell you that these disciplines are themselves darkness and ignorance when they exist outside of a relationship with God. This is why we must pray to God. We are woefully ignorant of the spiritual backbone of the things we see and experience. When your family member is wayward, do you think all they need is a job? When you fall into sin, do you think you just need to try harder? No. We need to pray because our battle is NOT against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in high places Ephesians 6:11-12, 18. When the spirit is from God, then and only then will the body will be healthy.
2 It is with these ears that we listen to the souls of the martyred saints at the altar Revelations 6:9-11. Here the delay does not come from the devil but from God. We know these saints are not rebelling against God because they declare Him to be Sovereign and Holy and True. Yet, like David, they are rightly asking for justice. But the Justice of the Lord is not yet ready and would have been incomplete if it had happened at the fifth seal. Therefore, the saints are given white robes to help them wait. What is the significance of this?
Let us go back to Isaiah 40:28-31 which lets us know that sometimes we must wait on the Lord. Isaiah acknowledges that, like these saints at the altar, as we wait on God, we may grow faint Proverbs 13:12. I have often been concerned with the weariness that comes through persistent prayer. Here at last is the answer. God knows that we need strength and robes of righteousness to keep going. If you have been praying and praying and you do not yet see an answer to your prayer then you will need strength to remain righteous and strength to continue praying. So ask Him for these things while you wait on Him. The answer will surely manifest but as you wait, keep talking to Him. Tell Him how you feel about what is going on. Ask Him for strength before you feel weak and before you faint. As He did for the saints at the altar, He Will tell you why there is a delay. Just as He promised in Isaiah and as He does for the saints in Revelations, He will renew your strength as you wait for Him so that your heart will not get sick with waiting. Instead, like Abraham and Sarah, you will grow younger as you grow older and you will grow stronger as you wait on God Isaiah 40:31, Hebrews 11:11-12.
Eternity and Perception
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3 Finally, concerning delays in eternity and perception, sometimes it is not that the answer has been delayed in eternity. Sometimes it is that our eyes are closed or weak and we cannot see the answer to our prayers. They may be closed because of sin in which case we need to repent. Or our spiritual eyes may be weak because they still need to grow. As I said earlier, in order to receive the answers of God, He has to speak in some composition of eternity and time and/or He must change our nature.
What do I mean? Well we began with babies so let us close with babies. The optic nerve, which the baby uses to see, is not fully functional until the seventh month after birth. Why? Well, the womb, although good, is dark like before creation Genesis 1:1. There is no need for a developed optic nerve in the dark. But in the light, this nerve is constantly stimulated and so it grows. So also, maybe what seems to be a delay in the answer to your prayer is really just you needing to grow spiritually to even be able to perceive the answer to your prayer. Therefore remain in the light of prayer and even if, like Eli, your eyes have become as dim or if your hairs have been shorn like Samson, they will grow strong again 1 Samuel 3:2, Judges 16:22 so that you may see the goodness of The Lord in the land of the living.