One of the lessons in the Christian journey involves accepting the way that God responds to our prayers. The following show four ways that God responds, including a testimony with each one.
1. Sometimes God says "no."
In 1997, Elmer Towns, began a 40-day fast. His purpose was two-fold: draw near to God during that time, and ask God to remove Bill Clinton as the President of the United States. Towns, the Dean of Liberty University, believed that Clinton's liberal policies and questionable integrity were a bad combination for our country.
Each day of the fast, Towns prayed earnestly about the two purposes of the fast. Early on, though, Towns sensed that the Lord was not pleased with his request about the President. By day five, he wrote in his journal, "Lord, should I pray for Clinton's removal from office?"
He shares that he received a direct feeling, "Do not pray against your president; rather, pray for your president."
Towns accepted that as a "no."
2. Sometimes God says "yes, but not yet."
From 1961-1965 Towns served as the President of Winnipeg Bible College in Canada. During those years the college lived on a shoestring budget, barely able to pay the salaries of their faculty and staff. Numerous times Towns prayed all night long, asking and believing that God would supply the college with a windfall of money.
On more than one occasion, after praying through the night for money, he checked the school's mailbox only to be disappointed by receiving only a few donations. He writes, "I didn't get my personal miracle. I had to learn the lesson of delayed answers. God was going to bless the college with a miraculous supply of money, but He would not do it for another 15 years."
During Towns' tenure, the college was accredited by the Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges. Years later, due to their accreditation, the school received a stipend of $500 per student. This supply allowed the school to expand across Canada, becoming the largest Christian college in the country.
The lesson here, Towns shares, is that "God heard my prayers for finances for the college, but He answered in a completely different time than I ever expected."
3. Sometimes God has a better plan.
Henry and Marilynn Blackaby believed God wanted them to serve as missionaries in Africa. After applying to their mission board, their oldest son Richard began experiencing fainting spells. The mission agency denied their application due to Richard's health. Confused, they kept asking the Lord what they were supposed to do.
Soon after a very small church in Saskatchewan, Canada, asked them to come and pastor their church of eight people. Sensing God was in the call, the Blackabys left metropolitan Los Angelos to live in the cold wilderness of the Canadian prairie. Marilynn cried halfway from one to the other.
In that field the next several years, with few people and limited financial resources, the Blackabys began to learn to walk with God and trust Him deeply. When their church grew a little, they believed God wanted their church to begin starting other churches across Canada. That little congregation learned to trust God.
Years later, Henry was asked to write down what God had taught them through their experiences in Canada. That writing eventually became the workbook Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Though initially there were few copies published and little marketing done, today the book has sold millions of copies and been translated into at least forty-five languages.
The President of the mission board of the Blackaby's denomination asked them to go to every region of the world where they have missionaries and teach them about walking with God. Henry and Marilyn have traveled to eighty-three countries teaching about the Lord. Henry has even spoken to the gathering of the United Nations. The President of their mission board told Henry that if they had not spent those hard years in Canada, he probably would not have developed the insights he did about walking with God.
Blackaby shares, "By closing the door to missionary service in one country, God was not being . . . unkind to Marilynn and me. Rather, he was planning to work through our lives in a way that was exceedingly, abundantly beyond anything we could have ever imagined!"
Avery Willis learned that sometimes God uses the hard times we go through to prepare us for future assignments.
As the president of the Baptist Indonesian seminary, he led the school through significant changes as they developed their extension program. He faced extreme pressure from some of the Indonesian leadership who did not like the changes. Feeling overwhelmed, he told the Lord one day that if one more thing went wrong, he was leaving.
Seeking the Lord's guidance in the Bible, he hoped for a comforting word. Instead, he read Jeremiah 12:5, If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?
Complaining to the Lord, Willis moaned that he was afraid the stress was about to get worse. He sensed from the Lord, "Yes, it is going to get worse. Can't you see that I am preparing you for much more difficult tasks in the future? Buck up; it is time for you to persevere through these hard times and finish the job I sent you here to do."
Many years later, Avery would serve as the vice-president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Helping to oversee firsthand nearly 5000 missionaries would be a daunting task that required much skill in administration, conflict resolution, and the ability to make and defend tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.
God prepared Avery to "run with the horses" by putting him in the pressure cooker during his years in Indonesia. Though painful at the time, God had a bigger and better plan than Avery's comfort and ease.
4. Sometimes God says "yes."
At times, God responds to our prayers by a resounding "yes!" The early church prayed earnestly for the Lord to release Peter from prison. The Bible says that "Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to god for him" (Acts 12:5). Gathering one day at Mary the mother of John's house, believers called out to God for a miracle.
May God grant us the grace to accept whatever answer He gives us. In each area of our lives, He desires that we trust in the Lord with all our heart and do not lean on our own understanding. In all our ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Testimonies in this article were gleaned from the following resources: Fasting for a Miracle by Elmer Towns, Hearing God's Voice by Henry and Richard Blackaby, and Learning to Soar by Avery and Matt Willis.