Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to. We want him to rush and bring something to us quickly. But God may have something different in mind. He may have some lessons that he wants to teach us in the interim or may have some changes he wants to bring about in our character. Or, he may have some things we need to experience to grow up spiritually.
The objective of prayer is not getting God to do what we want him to do. Rather, it’s getting our will in alignment with God’s will. God’s delays aren’t necessarily his denials. The timing of God is just as important as the will of God.
That is what we discover from a tragic event in the life of Mary and Martha. The story is recorded for us in John 11, where Jesus did far more than they ever dreamed he would. In fact, it’s one of the most dramatic miracles Jesus ever performed.
As John 11 begins, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, is sick. Mary and Martha send word to Jesus, assuming that he will rush to Bethany and heal Lazarus. They don’t tell Jesus what to do, but they are confident that Jesus will do something. And Jesus did. He delayed his arrival. Why? Because Jesus loved them. He wanted to do a greater work than what they had seen up to that point. He wanted to do abundantly above and beyond what they could ask or think. His delay was for their sake.
So by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was dead. In fact, Lazarus already had been in the tomb for four days. Martha went out to meet Jesus and told him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:20 nkjv).
No doubt there was an accusatory tone to her statement. I think Martha was basically saying, “Lord, where were you? We were counting on you here. We told everyone that you’re our personal friend, that we know you well, and that when you found out Lazarus was ill, you would be back and take care of everything.”
Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha. And in her defense, she at least was talking to him. She could have been bitter and angry. She could have said, “I’m never talking to Jesus again.” But she met him with her hurt and anguish.
That, by the way, is a good thing to do. Do you think God can’t handle our doubts or questions? Just take a look at the psalms of David. So many times he begins a psalm in anguish, hurt, and pain, only to end it in victory. As David called upon God, he got things into perspective again.
So Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (verse 23 nkjv).
She answered, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (verse 24 nkjv).
But Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (verses 25–26 nkjv).
What Jesus was about to demonstrate to Martha, her sister Mary, and to anyone else who was paying attention was that he wanted to do more than they asked. They wanted a healing; Jesus wanted a resurrection.
Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!” and that is exactly what Lazarus did. Jesus intervened and turned a tragedy into a victory.
This story shows us that when we’re going through difficulties, God is there hurting with us, especially during the loss of a loved one. It also reminds us that sometimes when we bring our needs before God and pray for him to do a certain thing, he might want to do more.
You might say, “My bills are due, and I owe $100.” So you pray for $100.
But I have discovered that it is better to say, “Lord, here is what I need. Yet not my will, but yours, be done.” I don’t believe in positive confession or name-it-and-claim-it theology. But I do believe there are times when God wants to give us more than we are asking for. So don’t be afraid to pray, “Not my will, but yours, be done.”
Some people are afraid to pray that way because they have a warped concept of God. They think, I don’t want to say that! He will make my life miserable!
But God loves us, and his plans for us are good. Granted, if you are a true follower of Jesus, there will be sacrifices you will make. He will lead you in a way that you may not have planned on going. But first he will change your heart.
When my son Christopher was little, we sometimes would go to the toy store, where I would tell him to pick out something for himself. He would choose a little action figure or something, and then I would point to a larger, much nicer toy and say, “I was looking at that one there.”
“Really? That looks good to me too.”
In time Christopher discovered that it was better to say, “Dad, you choose for me.” He realized that my choices were better than his.
That is what happened with Mary and Martha. They wanted their brother to be healed. But Jesus wanted to raise a man from the dead.
So don’t be afraid to let your heavenly Father choose for you. Maybe he will give you what you ask for. And then again, maybe he wants to do something more. Maybe the reason he says no to you today is because he has a big yes for you in the future that will surpass your wildest dreams.
By Greg Laurie
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Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California and Harvest Orange County in Irvine, California.
In 1990, Laurie began holding large-scale public evangelistic events called Harvest Crusades. Since that time, more than 5,347,708 people have attended Harvest Crusades events around the United States. More than 450,626 people have registered professions of faith through these outreaches.
He has been married to Cathe Laurie for 41 years and they have two sons, Christopher and Jonathan, and five grandchildren.