One of the more frustrating aspects of prayer is keeping it up when God doesn’t seem to be listening. Of course, people want to see the thing come to pass that they’re praying for. But so often, it is as though the heavens are brass. Sometimes we would just like to hear anything, even a thundering “NO!” But faith is holding onto confidence when all the senses tell us there’s nothing there.
Sometimes, however, it goes the other way. Have you ever experienced a sudden outpouring in response to prayer? I experienced it like that once, just as though God was up there stopping all the traffic of heaven just for me. I felt specially heard and loved, and I’ve wondered since if it wasn’t a lesson on how carefully God listens to our prayers.
During my time at Teen Challenge, I once had two praying roommates, Mike and Justin, who both agreed with me that the best way to wrap up a day was to pray and talk about what God was doing in our lives. It was our custom to close the day with prayer. One evening, Mike and I were praying fervently for Justin, who’d had surgery on his leg, leaving a ghastly six-inch wound that wouldn’t heal. Part of the problem was that the incision had been made on the underside of his knee. His movements were disrupting the healing process. We decided that night that we were going to set aside every frustrating experience we had ever had and pray for God to help him heal. I remember a familiar feeling of futility as we prayed, but we offered it up and thanked God for entertaining our requests.
The next evening, we were going into prayer again, mentioning things that came readily to mind. I took a turn and again asked God to heal Justin’s leg. All of a sudden, Justin interrupted in a loud voice, “It’s healing, fast!” Apparently, he had forgotten to mention it, or maybe he was just now discovering it. All I know is that when I looked up from my prayer to see what Justin was talking about, he had his pant leg pulled up and was showing us the wound. Just the night before there had been a six-inch scab on his leg. Now the scab was only about two inches long.
We had heard and read about healing miracles, but none of us had ever witnessed one, and here it was—proof that God still bestows miracles in answer to prayer. There was no natural explanation for what had happened. In addition to all the other obstacles, Justin had had both his femoral artery and his saffenous vein removed from his leg because of infection. Given his terrible circulation, it would have taken at least a month or two for this much healing to have occurred naturally.
We were floored. Immediately, I wanted to pray for some more people. The first person who came to mind was Greg. He was a Teen Challenge staff member who was a bit of a sourpuss. He never seemed to be in a good mood. When he spoke, it was usually to address some wrongdoing by a student. He seemed to have persistent feelings of anger and bitterness, though he usually kept it under the surface. I thought that if anyone among the staff could use inner healing, it was Greg! So I prayed for God to ease his pain and close up whatever wounds he carried from the past.
The next day I was working the phones in the office, and lo and behold, Greg himself strolled in, singing praises to Jesus. His countenance was perfectly peaceful. He was clearly experiencing tremendous joy. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a guy who never smiled; I had just prayed for him the previous night, and here he was, singing hymns while he worked. There was no way this was a coincidence. God must have grabbed him.
I have had similar experiences involving prayer, but none as dramatic as these two. When I remember Justin and Greg, I suspect that God did those things for them in part just to demonstrate to me at that time that He listens to my prayers. That may sound egocentric, but the fact is that I’ve prayed for scores of people who didn’t receive healing, and all of them were just as deserving as Justin or Greg. Regardless, I came away from the experience asking God to help me remember the lesson in it.
I think God wants us to lay it all out and abandon our expectations in confidence that He will do not necessarily what we have asked, but what is best. Mine is to acquiesce like a lad who is denied a second ice-cream cone at the fair. If the boy is peaceful and trusting, no matter the denial, he won’t hesitate to ask when the next occasion arises.