It is often said that God always answers prayer, and when he does so it will be with one of three answers: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Wait’.
That’s too simplistic. In particular, it leaves out the possibility that God may not answer prayer.
Psalm 66 teaches us to take a more realistic approach:
66:18 If I had harbored sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
66:19 However, God heard;
he listened to my prayer.
66:20 God deserves praise,
for he did not reject my prayer
or abandon his love for me!
But the psalms also teach us that waiting for God to answer is a common experience. Hence the frequent complaint: ‘How long, O Lord?’
But are we learning to appreciate God’s wisdom and kindness when he keeps us waiting?
A telling example of this is found in the story of Joseph.
You will recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. We know that he was a favourite son, and that his father Jacob probably prayed earnestly to the Lord: ‘Bring him back soon!’ But Jacob was kept waiting for many years. How cruel God must have seemed to Jacob!
In the event, Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt proved to be a blessing to the entire family. As he himself said to his brothers:
‘You meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day.’ (Gen 50:20)
Then, and only then, would Jacob have realised that all the long waiting for him to see his beloved Joseph again had been worth while.