As I’ve thought more about the messages on prayer over the last two weeks, I found myself also considering this question: how do I know when God has answered my prayer? Perhaps the answer to that question seems so obvious that you’ve never even bothered to ask the question. However, if we’re not careful, we can easily conclude that God has answered prayer when he hasn’t or that God hasn’t answered prayer when he has. By “answered prayer,” of course, I mean that God has indeed given us the good thing for which we have asked (Mt 7:11).
Sometimes we can conclude that we have our answer to prayer from God when we actually don’t (yet). For example, perhaps we pray for a house, spouse, or job, and then something notable happens in our lives related to that prayer: we visit a promising home listing, we hit it off with someone attractive, or we receive an unexpected job offer. We can be easily tempted to think, “This can’t be a coincidence; this must be the one! This is God’s perfect provision and answer!”
Certainly it is good for us to pray expectantly, even that God can answer extravagantly and immediately, but we should also remember Proverbs 20:25,
It is a trap for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!”
And after the vows to make inquiry.
Before we simply give God thanks and proceed forward with God’s “answer” to our prayer, we should find out whether what we see really is at it appears and whether pursuing it agrees with God’s commands and wisdom. Perhaps, upon further investigation, we find that the promising home doesn’t actually fit in our budget (cf. Prov 24:27; Lk 14:28-30), or that the potential spouse is only a nominal Christian (cf. Prov 31:30; 1 Cor 7:39), or that the new job will require the neglect of church and family (cf. Prov 18:1; Heb 10:24-25). After all, God will never provide as an answer to our prayers something that requires us to contradict his word (cf. Rom 3:8; 3 John 1:11).
We must, therefore, be prepared to wait and see before we conclude that something is God’s answer to prayer. Consider how the prophet Samuel initially thought Jesse’s oldest son, tall and kingly-looking Eliab, was God’s answer of a replacement king for Saul (1 Sam 16:6); God soon clarified for Samuel that God’s actual provision was the youngest son, ruddy-looking David (1 Sam 16:7-13). Imagine the disaster for Samuel personally and for the kingdom of Israel generally if Samuel had acted too soon in anointing the wrong king!
We also must be prepared to forego opportunities that only feel right, exciting, or peace-bringing but which actually contradict God’s revealed will. I recently reread the tragic account of the man of God who visited King Jeroboam at Bethel to rebuke and prophesy against the king for his leading Israel into idol worship (1 Ki 13:1-10). God had forbidden the man of God to eat or drink at all in the northern kingdom, but when an old prophet lied and promised that God had lifted the food and drink ban, the man of God went to eat and drink (1 Ki 13:11-19). If only the man of God had investigated further before transgressing God’s command! For God soon confronted the man of God over his sin and had him killed by a lion (1 Ki 13:20-24). How true is the saying of Proverbs 14:12,
There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Clearly, if we Christians want to avoid much disappointment and trouble, we must not jump the gun on answered prayer or use prayer as an excuse to pursue what God forbids. However, there is an opposite danger against which we must also remain on guard: failing to acknowledge, accept, or give thanks when God in fact does answer our prayers. We’ll talk about this latter situation next time.
Questions to Consider:
1. Have you ever concluded you had received an answer to prayer when you had not? How did your mistaken conclusion impact your life?
2. Why are people tempted to conclude too soon that something is God’s answer to prayer?
3. How important are feelings when it comes to interpreting something as God’s will or an answer to prayer?