What if some of the things we fear most are actually the work of God for the long-term formation of His people?

The Challenge of Answered Prayer

6/13/23 Christian Living

When we pray, we frequently form expectations about how our prayers will be answered. We pray with specific outcomes in mind, assuming the Lord agrees with our outcomes. Our expectations are not always wrong, but God often hears our prayers and then answers them in shocking and unexpected ways.

The encounter between God and Habakkuk shows the dignity of prayer. Habakkuk challenged God with a bold complaint, and God gave a shocking response. God took Habakkuk’s prayers seriously and responded to them, even though Habakkuk did not understand God’s ways and was actually in opposition to what God was doing in his generation. God is not looking for perfect intercession. He intentionally engages His people even when they do not understand what He is doing. He patiently moves His people from ignorance to maturity, welcoming our approach even when we do not grasp His ways.

God values intercession so much that He uses it to set His work into motion even when our hearts imperfectly capture the desires of His heart. God’s response to Habakkuk’s intercession was not what Habakkuk expected, but God did respond to him.

What prayers are you praying that you have assumed are unanswered when in reality they may have set God into motion in a radically different way than you expected?

One of the major lessons of Habakkuk 1 is that God answers prayer. Many times, we are tempted to become bitter over unanswered prayer when the actual issue is that He has not answered our prayers in the way we expected. God responds to His people’s prayers, but He responds according to His wisdom and not ours. He does not operate on our timelines, and He does not always answer prayer the way we expect. Habakkuk discovered that as prayer increases, the opportunity for offense also increases. 

Prayer is often fueled by fear, and crisis drives people to the place of prayer. Many prayers for revival are really prayers to preserve economic prosperity, political stability, or a certain way of life we assume is God’s best. We often presume our personal dreams are God’s desires and ask God to preserve something we have or to give us something we want, thus confusing our desires with revival.

Habakkuk rejected God’s first response because his prayer for revival was really a prayer to preserve Judah’s status quo. Judah was corrupt, harbored injustice, and had been unfaithful to the Lord, but Habakkuk was convinced that Judah was better than other nations. Habakkuk assumed God wanted to save the nation, and he likely used Bible verses to support his expectations.

Habakkuk never imagined God was not interested in preserving Judah’s compromised state. But the destruction of Judah would serve a long-term purpose in God’s plan to accomplish what He wanted because God’s story was bigger than Judah’s success.

There has been more prayer for revival in the last few decades than ever in history, but it is easy to look around and ask, “Where is the revival?” We have not seen what we have hoped for—particularly in many affluent nations. Instead of packed churches, we see apathy in church, open hostility against the gospel, and rising persecution after decades of prayer. Many of our revival prayers also contain nationalistic hopes, but the nations are increasingly unstable, and the global order is shifting. After years of prayer without the expected answers, many are quietly asking, Where is God? Why won’t He answer?

Like Habakkuk, it is time to ask an uncomfortable question: what if some of the things we fear most are actually the work of God for the long-term formation of His people?

While churches are not packed to overflowing in every nation, stunning things are happening. The political map is being redrawn in many regions of the earth. New superpowers are emerging, and old superpowers are fading. A financial crisis nearly brought down the economic powers that have shaped the last fifty years. There are more refugees on the earth now than at any point in history, and their eventual resettlement will permanently alter many nations. For the first time in history, a global pandemic shut down the entire earth within a few short weeks. Things that were thought to be impossible only a few years ago are now happening at an increasing pace. These transitions do not look like revival, but they are happening as a global prayer movement emerges. The established world order that ruled for nearly fifty years has begun to shift as global prayer has increased.

This cannot be a coincidence. What if the things we fear are an answer to the cry for global revival? Humanistic thinking has affected our thinking so much that we often pray, “Lord, break in,” as if history is following its own course and God needs to break in to redirect it. We have forgotten that the God of Habakkuk still rules history. Habakkuk prayed for the preservation of his nation’s status quo, but his prayers set something much larger into motion. He could not recognize what God was doing because it was so different from what he expected. What if we are in the same situation? What if God is answering our prayers in a way we never imagined?

What if all the things in the earth that challenge us and frighten us are in reality signs of God’s unprecedented activity to shape the world and set the context for something much, much bigger than we have been praying for? What if the unprecedented amount of prayer for revival has set something far bigger into motion that will include a final harvest, a great tribulation, the end of the age, and the return of Christ to the earth?

God’s redemptive goal does not minimize the incredible suffering present in our world nor erase the terrible things done by wicked men. But we must soberly consider if our expectations—the ones we verbalize and the ones we hold subconsciously—have blinded us to what God is doing. Could we be like Habakkuk, accusing God of inactivity and gripped by fear and anxiety when in fact God has responded to us? Habakkuk was desperate to avoid a conflict with Babylon, but he learned that God was working toward a different goal, and using him to achieve it.

There are times we cannot see what God is doing because we are hoping to preserve something He does not want to preserve. Is it possible you are passionately praying for God to save things He does not want to save?

We correctly see Habakkuk as a blind prophet, yet we assume that we can see clearly even when we hold assumptions that are strikingly similar. Our own blindness keeps us from fully grasping Habakkuk’s message and recognizing its force. We find it unthinkable that God would accomplish His purposes through the actions of evil or ambitious men, quickly forgetting the Babylonian invasion was just as unthinkable to Habakkuk.

When God told Habakkuk that He was raising up Babylon, Habakkuk faced a challenging question: Could Habakkuk believe God would perform all His promises to Israel even if God brought Israel into her promises in a way that Habakkuk would have never expected?

God would be faithful to His promises, but that faithfulness would look radically different from what Habakkuk had assumed. Could Habakkuk trust God in calamity? Could Habakkuk trust God in the trauma of a military invasion? Could Habakkuk trust God if he saw war and not prosperity in his lifetime? Could Habakkuk die as a captive of Babylon with confidence that God would still fulfill all His promises?

Could the things you fear most be part of God’s leadership over your life? This question does not apply only to geopolitical disruptions. It can apply to the big and small events that affect our lives. What if the challenges we endure are not only the work of the enemy but also actions of God that are serving His purposes and will produce good for us?

We are so bound to time that we quickly forget we are part of an eternal story that is much bigger than anything that happens in our lifetimes. Abraham is still waiting on his promises because his story is connected to ours (Hebrews 11:8–1339–40). You may or may not see the fulfillment of God’s promises in your life; you may live through war or peace. But your life is your moment in this age to follow God by faith and intercede for His promises to come to pass, confident that a faithful life reverberates beyond your lifetime and that your intercession lives forever.

God never asked Habakkuk to overlook or excuse Babylon’s sin, nor did he ask Habakkuk to support Babylon. God does not ask us to agree with or promote wickedness, but He does demand we acknowledge His absolute sovereignty over everything. This is not an insignificant thing to God.

How can you acknowledge God’s sovereignty as you pray?

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