Some people receive from God very quickly, and the rest of us struggle to quieten the envy that arises in our hearts. We are happy for them, but at the same time our hearts feel shattered because our hearts feel that God has overlooked us, or that we weren’t worthy enough, and we wonder ‘what have we done wrong’?
Somewhere in our minds we know that God’s answers are always good, and that they are either Yes, Not Yet, or I’ve Got Something Better For You. But our hearts feel the pain of the delay, and it is an ongoing battle to have faith and not let doubt take over. We feel the weariness of that battle when we’ve been praying night and day for 4 years, 7 years, 12 years, 20 years. Add to that the mockery of those who infer, ‘You’re still praying for that!, Get over it, get a life’.
At times we console ourselves with the notion that there is a truth to the longer the delay the bigger and better the answer. We cling onto the answer St Monica received after 20 years of praying for her wayward son Augustine. Not only did he get converted from error, he became a priest; not only did he become a priest, he became a bishop; not only did he become a bishop, he became a saint; not only did he become a saint, but he is recognised as a doctor of the Church, and his writings appear more frequently than any others in the Office of Readings. St Monica didn’t see much of this happen on earth except his conversion, but her prayers paved the way for the rest.
We have moments of hope, faith and trust, but the battle to persevere and to keep our hearts soft and thankful towards God keeps on going.
Is there any good news? Yes, there is.
God has an observable modus operandi when it comes to long term prayers.
There are three patterns.
The first pattern is the long-term prayer followed by the suddenly. We see this in Anna the daughter of Phanuel. She had been praying for several decades that the Messiah would come, and then suddenly she is given an opportunity to hold Him in her arms. In the Gospel we see several healings take on that pattern, with long periods of illness and prayer for healing, like the woman with the haemorrhage, then sudden and complete healing through Jesus.
The second pattern is long term prayer followed by a promise followed by more long-term prayer and then a specific promise linked to a specific date. We see this in Simeon. He had prayed so much for the coming of the Messiah that God gave him a promise that he would see the Messiah with his own eyes before he died. He kept praying, strengthened by that promise, until the prompting of the Holy Spirit said something like, ‘Get to the Temple, Now!’. We also see this in Abraham and Sarah who were childless and had long prayed for a child, then God gave them a promise that they indeed would have a child, then more long years of praying and waiting occurred until God said, this time next year you will hold your child in your arms.
The third pattern is long term prayer until a holy person comes along, and not-knowing gives way to holy expectation. We see this in Hannah the mother of Samuel. She had long term prayers but after Eli’s blessing she went home happy, convinced that God had heard and answered. We see it with Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist. They had long term prayers for a child, but it was only after the visitation of the angel to Zechariah that they knew God’s answer was coming.
I’ve experienced the second pattern and the third pattern in my own life.
What do these examples teach us? That God answers long-term prayers in specific, personal and unmistakable ways. God honours the perseverance of His sons and daughters in specific, personal and unmistakable ways. He doesn’t give nebulous answers to long term hopes.
That means that the array of prophetic words that say 'your breakthrough is coming', 'your long-term prayers are being answered' are just stating a universal truth and not actually promising anything. The answers to our long-term prayers are always on the way. What our hearts long for is a bankable answer to When.
Those kinds of prophetic words are rather easy to release because they are non-specific, and no one really knows if it was directly for them or not. They also tend to be crowd pleasing words because everyone wants to know that their time of waiting is over. But they also tend to be faith-destroyers and send people on hope-deferred spirals.
Let me explain how that happens. A non-specific word is given, and because they are words we long to hear specifically addressed to ourselves, we let hope spring up. Then a few weeks elapse and absolutely nothing in our situation has changed. That little spring of hope deflates and we enter the hope-deferred no man’s land again, kicking ourselves that we gave in to false hope yet again. When this happens often enough, we begin to stop believing in God’s goodness and become convinced that God is cruel. When that spiral happens often enough, we either delete that prophet’s social media posts from our scrolling or we change churches, because we just can’t go through that particular agony again.
What a difference it would make if the various people receiving this kernel of a prophetic word from God would diligently seek Him for specifics! It is similar to the change in faith dynamic between a leader saying, ‘God wants to heal people tonight’ compared to ‘God wants to heal people with hearing issues tonight’. The latter gives specific form to faith expectations, and consequently the faith level increases. Consider the difference between ‘I declare you (plural) are going to receive breakthrough today’ and ‘I declare that there is a special grace here today to heal those who have been in chronic pain for over a year’. It is far easier for someone to say, ‘hey that’s me, yes please God’ to the latter than to the former, it is also far easier with the latter for those who say, ‘hey that’s not me’, to happily pray for those whose day of grace it is.
We do the character of God a grave injustice if we release the beginning of His communication and not the fullness of it. Frequently Jesus used the rabbinic method in the Gospels, He set a topic and waited for people to ask questions; or someone asked Him a question, He responded with a clarifying question, and the answer given by the questioner gave scope to the ultimate answer of Jesus. We know that Jesus was deeply grieved when He privately gave the apostles teaching about His suffering and death and they refused to question Him to gain deeper understanding.