John 11:1-4: “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
Many years ago, Garth Brooks had a famous song entitled “Unanswered Prayers.” It is a beautiful song and has a powerful message to it. Many in the Christian community questioned the song saying there are no unanswered prayers with the Lord. There is certainly truth to that; however, I think what Garth Brooks was trying to convey is that sometimes God answers in ways that we don’t understand or like at the time. The refrain of the song is “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” God, in his infinite wisdom and perfect love, is answering prayers according to his plan and purpose. He knows what is truly best; whereas, we often know only what feels best to us in the moment.
We see this dilemma in John 11. Jesus has been asked to come to Bethany to minister to Lazarus. Jesus knows how serious the situation is with Lazarus; he knows Lazarus will die; and he knows that he will use the opportunity to show forth the resurrecting power of his Father. In his infinite wisdom and perfect love, Jesus chooses to wait two days before heading to Bethany. This is hard to understand. Clearly, it would have been very hard for Martha and Mary to understand. They loved and trusted Jesus; they knew he loved and cherished them as friends and as his followers.
Jesus does come, and he comes at just the right time to do something they could never have expected. He will work his miraculous power so that not only Mary, Martha and Lazarus can see but many in the town of Bethany. God’s power will be more powerfully displayed in Lazarus being raised from the dead than if Jesus came to town and healed Lazarus of the illness.
How do we respond to God’s delays or to when he denies our requests? Are we able to surrender and trust him, knowing that he does have the infinite wisdom and understanding that we lack and that matched with that wisdom and understanding is his perfect love?
God’s ways are not always easy, but they are always good because he is good. All prayers are answered prayers in God’s economy. As Garth learned, sometimes his no’s end up being his greatest gifts.
Lord, help us to trust you with the deepest cries of our hearts knowing that your timing and your ways are perfect, even when we cannot understand.