Sometimes people find it too difficult to pray during their darkest moments in life. For me, it has been the opposite. I have a long history of depression, and during my last bout of deep depression I clung to the Lord with all of my strength. I was like the woman in the Bible who had been bleeding for 12 years: I thought metaphorically that “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed” (Matthew 9:20-22 NIV). I imagined myself on my knees with my arms wrapped around Jesus’s ankles never letting Him get away from me. He was and is my only hope.
I believe that one of the many positive outcomes of suffering is that we are provided with an opportunity to grow closer with the Father. I have learned during my periods of trial that these are also times for me to examine my beliefs about God and what my relationship with him is based on. Is my love for Him based on who He is rather than what He can give me? Can I, like Job, say “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21b NIV)? Am I all in no matter what the cost?
A pivotal moment in answering these questions came to me as I was sitting alone in my car parked in the garage. I had just returned from the health club where my husband, son and I had gone. My son was going to the kids’ club so that my husband and I could attend a yoga class. We were several minutes late, and the entire yoga studio was filled with mats and people but we tried to squeeze ourselves in. When I tried to squeeze in to a space toward the front of the class, a gentleman in the class told me there was no room. At the same time, the instructor made a point of reminding the class to come a few minutes early. My husband and I left the room, and I was embarrassed and hurt that the folks weren’t gentler with us. But it wasn’t their fault. My depression was just so intense at that point that I was very fragile and sensitive. I told my husband I needed to go to the car, and I barely made it there before I burst into tears. I didn’t want people coming to the gym and seeing a crazy lady crying hysterically in her car, so I made the quick drive home for some privacy.
I pulled into my garage and closed the garage door, turned off the car and sobbed and wailed. I cried out to the Lord in desperation thinking that I was losing my mind. “Where are you?” I pleaded. “Please, I’m begging You!” I prayed. I was convinced that my husband was going to have to take me to a mental institution because I was certain I was having a breakdown. Would God really let me fall apart like this? After crying hysterically for a long time and begging for God’s help and telling Him I really couldn’t do this alone, I finally calmed down somewhat. I knew that I had a choice: Continue to follow Him and trust Him in my deepest despair and pain or try to find relief elsewhere. I affirmed then and there that no matter what, I would be His. There was no other option for me, nowhere else to go. I wanted His way; the way of light, purity, holiness, goodness and love. I embraced the words uttered by Simon Peter after Jesus gave a hard teaching and many of His disciples decided to turn back and stop following Him. Jesus asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, and Simon Peter responded, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68 NLT).
I wish I could say that after confirming my commitment to God that day something miraculous happened. But actually all I heard in the darkness of my closed garage was silence. During those times when it seems I’m not getting any response to prayer, it’s easy to think that perhaps God isn’t hearing me. The propensity when He appears to be completely absent is to doubt Him and whether or not He really loves and cares about me. I refer to the book of Daniel for Biblical proof that God not only hears prayer but acts upon them immediately.
The prophet Daniel was dismayed that Jerusalem would be desolated for seventy years according to what he understood from the scriptures, and he pleaded with God through worship, confession and petition. But Daniel was divinely interrupted by the angel Gabriel even before he finished praying:
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill – while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given’… (Daniel 9:20-23a NIV, emphasis mine).
The book of Isaiah also tells me that God hears our sincere prayers while we are still in the midst of saying them: Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:24 NIV).
When the Biblical patriarch Abraham was nearing the end of his life, he wanted to ensure that his son Isaac would not marry one of the local Canaanite women. So Abraham sent his servant to his native homeland in the Haran district to obtain Isaac a wife from Abraham’s own country and from his own relatives. When the servant arrived in Nahor in the Haran district, he prayed that God would answer Abraham’s prayer for a wife for his son. The servant prayed fervently that he would know who God had chosen to be Isaac’s wife if after she came out to the local spring to draw water the servant would ask for a drink she would not only give him a drink but all of his camels also. Rebekah, the woman who would become Isaac’s wife, went down to the spring “Before he [the servant] had finished praying” and gave both the man and his camels water to drink in fulfillment of the servant’s prayer (Genesis 24:15 NIV).
God’s Word explicitly tells us that not only does He answer prayers, but He answers them while we are in the midst of praying. For Daniel and Abraham, this was obvious. But for those of us who don’t receive such clear and immediate answers to desperate, heartfelt prayers what hope can we hold on to? Sometimes it feels like my prayers are hitting a brick wall and that God has just decided to let me squirm while wondering if I’m ever going to receive a response.
A friend once told me that when I pray, I need to expect in faith for God to respond. My problem on many occasions has been my lack of belief that God will answer my prayer and that He will speak to me. At these times I have to remind myself that God not only created me but that He also died for me, so why would he just drop me on my rear end and leave me here on my own now? I hear from God when I wait for answers to prayer with determination, expectation and anticipation. I can take a lesson from the prophet Habakkuk.
Habakkuk was complaining, as I often do in my prayers (perhaps a better term is “whining”), about the corruption and apostasy of Judah. He wanted to know from God why He wasn’t taking action against so much evil. Though Habakkuk’s prayer was specifically about the violence and injustice taking place in Judah, the tone of incredulity and impatience behind his prayer may be likened to the prayers I so often utter:
How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong? (Habakkuk 1:2-3)
When God responds to Habakkuk and Habakkuk doesn’t like the response he receives (can anyone relate?), the prophet challenges God with more questions about justice thus demonstrating that God can more than handle our questioning of Him and why He allows certain things to happen. The lesson I take from Habakkuk is his determination to wait until he hears a response from the Lord on his complaints:
I will stand at my watch
And station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
And what answer I am to give to this complaint. (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV)
The image is one of a guard looking out from his tower anxiously awaiting the arrival of a response from the Lord. This is how I am to posture myself when I’ve offered my prayers to God. I must take it on faith that I will receive a response, and even if I don’t like the answer I receive I pray that I will still be able to declare:
Yet I will rejoice in the lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:18b-19 NIV)
My fellow warriors, I pray that the Lord will richly bless you with His peace and the knowledge and assurance that He does, indeed, hear YOUR prayer.