One of the most frequently recurring themes of Scripture is that the people who long the most passionately for God’s activity end up being the ones who fail to see it—or understand it—when it actually comes to pass.
In the days of Jesus, for example, all Israel desperately longed for the coming of the Messiah. Not only did they fail to recognize him when he appeared, but the religious leaders of his day had him crucified.
But it was not only the religious leaders who failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah; even his closest followers abandoned and rejected him. Following his resurrection Jesus appeared, unrecognized, to two disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. He asked them what they were talking about, and they responded with faces downcast. One of the two, Cleopas, revealed his utter blindness when he said to Jesus, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And Jesus responded, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” the Scripture tells us, “He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
It is possible–probable, eerily–for us to long passionately for the activity of God, crying out to God day and night for him to act, and then fail to recognize God when he is walking down the road with us.
It is possible, in other words, to miss God’s saving activity because his action fundamentally upends our world in a way we are unwilling to accept. When God carries out his plan we miss it because we are crying out day and night for God to carry out our plan. But the God who says “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways” refuses to carry out our plan; his is the wisdom of the ages, his the only good and perfect plan, his the only hope. He will not abandon his plan simply because we fail to see it, prefer it, or understand it.
Take a moment in this month of preparation to inventory what you have been passionately praying for for years. Contemplate the things you’ve cried out to God for day and night, with his only response seemingly coming in the form of the stony silence of a presumed no.
Now consider the witness of Scripture–that he probably answered yes and amen to you but did so in a way that leaves you oblivious to the fulfillment of the very thing for which you are still passionately praying.
Sometimes the issue in unanswered prayer is not that God didn’t answer but rather that we have not yet grown into his reply.