Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Delayed, not denied

What I learned awaiting answer to an urgent prayer

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

For almost five years-from March of 2005 until late fall of 2009-I was sleeping four hours a night. As Anne Lamott said in a different context in Operating Instructions: "It isn't enough; and it is."

"It isn't" because one cannot produce much toward the GDP on four hours of sleep. "It is" because God doesn't care about my GDP contributions but about my faith.

I petitioned the Lord for sleep during those years, and others prayed with me. I promised God that if He healed me I would seek the pastor's permission to give a testimony before the congregation. I asked the elders to perform the rite prescribed in James 5:14. They laid hands on me and anointed me with oil (which I brought)-and that night I did not sleep.

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My friend David had words with the Lord: "Lord, why didn't you hear Andrée's prayer?" He received in his spirit an immediate answer: "I did hear it. She has treasure in heaven."

Well now, this I hadn't thought of-that the blessing of prayer might not always be the receiving of what is sought, but in reward deferred till heaven. We know a day is coming when all will rise from their graves-"those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29). It is the doing of good-the patient praying itself- that counts. Four living creatures and 24 elders each hold bowls full of incense, which are the precious collectibles of the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8). None is wasted, none has fallen through the grates of the heavenly brazier.

That's all well and good, but my head was still falling on the keyboard. I contacted a professor from the seminary, a spiritual mentor, and he and his wife invited me over. I was surprised to learn from them that Dr. Poythress had lost much sight in one eye, and that the doctors at Wills Eye Hospital had given a dire diagnosis for both eyes. Dr. Poythress went to his church for prayer and anointing, and in a week his vision was restored.

"In a week" was the phrase that arrested me. What a concept, that unanswered prayer may actually be delayed answer. What drama may be raging behind the tissue of visible reality to detain a granted request? Daniel fasted and prayed for three weeks. (A lesser man would have quit after two and a half.) But the angel showed up, perhaps panting, and explained:

"From the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia" (Daniel 10:12-13).

Just as likely the reason is not in the spheres but in ourselves. If I had received satisfaction in April of 2005, here is what I would have forfeited, besides a lovely chat with the Poythresses: deliverance from fear of sleep deprivation; the discovery that man does not live by sleep alone; the self-discoveries that always come only in the wilderness; the establishment of a set habit of hour-a-day Bible reading.

If a master had a servant whose loyalty he needed to test, how would he test it? If the man's faith needed stretching, how would he stretch it? Jesus' earthly healing of the merely sick seems like Faith 101 by comparison; it's when He pushes the limits and lets Lazarus lie dead for four days that we enter the graduate course. Anyone who has left town in disgust on Day 3 has missed the blessing. The question is, how long will you hang in with God?

So on Feb. 14, 2010, I discharged my obligation before the congregation-before the elders who had anointed me, before the saints who had prayed for me, before the angels and principalities and powers who are learning God's wisdom by watching the church (Ephesians 3:10).

And I conclude from these occurrences that prayer answered instantly is wonderful. But delayed answer makes a better story. And one thing is certain, God is weaving you a story.
If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.
To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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