God's Love and Unanswered Prayer

“So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
John 11:6
Unanswered prayer is difficult to understand. How can Jesus really love you when you pray about something you know is good and nothing seems to happen? Unanswered prayer not only confuses us; if we're not careful, it can also contribute to a diminishing of faith. So what gives? How can Jesus claim to be so loving yet remain so silent on the other end of prayer? If you’ve ever wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. This is exactly what happened to Martha and Mary in John 11 when they sent a message to Jesus that their brother was ill and close to dying. Instead of rushing to their brothers’ aid and healing him, Jesus waited two days because he loved them. You read that right. Jesus delayed because he loved them.

Love's Delays are Not Necessarily Love's denials: You can just see these two sisters sending word to Jesus, knowing that he loves them, knowing that he has time to return, and knowing that he has the power to heal their brother. They’re expecting his return at any moment to fix the problem, looking down the road, periodically checking to see if Jesus had arrived yet. The hours are quickly passing but you can almost hear them reassuring their brother, “Lazarus, the Lord loves you. He will come. Everything will be fine. You’ll see.” And just think of Lazarus lying in pain but with great hope, expecting at any moment to see Jesus walking through the door ready to heal him. But Jesus doesn’t come. Jesus doesn’t show up (not yet anyway), and Lazarus dies. All because Jesus loved them? How does this make any sense?

Love Often Shows Up in Surprising Ways: I've shared this before, but some time ago, I was on the phone trying to fix a problem with one of my bills and after about 3 minutes into the conversation, I heard the dreaded words nobody wants to hear when you’re on the phone with customer service—“I’m going to need to put you on hold.”  I’m thinking, “Oh great. This can’t be good.” So, she puts me on hold. After 10 minutes go by, I’m starting to get pretty annoyed. I start thinking the worst—“She’s ignoring me. Maybe she’s forgot about me?” 15 minutes later she gets back on the line and says, “I’m so sorry Mr. McKeen about that delay. I just needed to work on a few things, and here’s what I did to help you. I waited to speak with my manager so I could get approval to add an extra credit to your account. You should be more than fine now.” Not only did she fix the problem, I got a $100 credit added to my account! If only I had known that she was putting me on hold to help me. If only I had known that the delay was completely for my benefit, it would have completely changed the way I waited.

Love Often Helps Us in Ways We Can't See:
This is what we see in the story of Lazarus. Jesus’ delay in getting to Lazarus, helps us to understand his delay in getting to us. It’s not because Jesus received one too many prayer requests and can’t keep up. It’s not because Jesus is ignoring you. Rather, Jesus puts us on hold because he is working out a bigger and better plan that we can't see in the moment. Just like I couldn’t see what the customer service agent was doing, you and I can’t see all that God is doing in the delay to help us, but he is always helping. God is a present help in time of need. The name Lazarus means “The one who God helps.” But God often helps in a way we don’t understand yet but the result is always better than you expected. The story of Lazarus teaches that Jesus had not forgotten Martha and Mary. He had not forgotten Lazarus, and he wasn’t ignoring them either. Jesus was preparing to give them something greater; Jesus was preparing to give them what they needed most. Even as I write this, I am waiting on several important things that I have been praying for. The story of Lazarus and the love of Jesus reminds me to trust in the delays and surprising help of God.