Pretend with me for a moment, that you have found yourself in a remote jungle, a desert, a mountaintop, or a ghetto in a country far from your own. You are thousands of miles from home. Maybe you’re on a mission or on a vacation, and you find yourself feeling truly isolated from all that is familiar.
Do you think for one moment that Satan cannot find you and tempt you? Nope; we all instinctively know that we cannot escape his efforts. We can defeat them, but not hide from them. We know that the evil one can follow us anywhere and tempt us to be less than our best, to sin, to depart from the correct path.
Now let me ask you this: Why is it we have no problem believing that Satan knows where we are and what we’re doing, but we cannot always believe the God has equivalent interest in us? How is it that Satan can find us, but God cannot?
Thousands, maybe millions of people, feel forgotten by God. Because their prayers are not answered instantly they have bought into Satan’s message that God doesn’t care about us. We are unimportant and have slipped beneath his radar.
Even those of us who know we aren’t forgotten, still entertain the occasional worry that we aren’t being heard. Perhaps it’s because we feel unworthy, haven’t worked hard enough, or we think our needs are too trivial. Maybe we just aren’t praying right. Or living right. Or maybe we feel insignificant in the vast scheme of things.
All of these are messages straight from Satan’s playbook. He would have us believe that we are nothing but specs of DNA hurrying around and kidding ourselves that our concerns matter to God. We’re certainly no Moses, no Abraham. We’re just insignificant little bits of evolution, living in a virtual crevice somewhere in a world that God doesn’t care about. We fret over silly mortal matters that have no eternal consequence. We sin and shouldn’t even consider approaching Diety.
And of course, Lucifer is, once again, dead wrong. But he scores a victory every time he gets one of us to doubt that we matter, and matter greatly, to our Father in Heaven.
Have you ever had a child beg to push the elevator button, or put a coin into a parking meter? It’s the most mundane of tasks to an adult, but great fun for a little kid. And do we ever say no? Of course not; we love to see their delight and it’s easy to grant this simple request. How then, can a loving Father in Heaven, not also delight in our small appeals? We should never think that our interests are too trifling to take to our Father. If it’s important to us, it will be important to him.
As Jesus taught in Luke 11:11-13, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
But, like any loving parent, God does not grant all desires instantly. Some are not good for us, even though we can’t see that, and others require that we wait—for a number of good reasons. Sometimes we need to develop patience. Sometimes we must wait for the timing to be right. Waiting can also help us develop faith. Persistence, preparation, maturity, gratitude, sacrifice—there could be a host of traits prerequisite to God rightly giving us what we want.
It doesn’t mean he isn’t listening. It means he is listening and training us. He is actually granting us something we didn’t ask for: The chance to grow and develop, before receiving the blessing we desire. (And how many times, in hindsight, have you realized you are so glad a certain prayer was not answered?)
Imagine your 10-year-old asks to drive the car. He isn’t ready; he can’t even reach the pedals properly, or see the mirrors enough to be safe. Aside from the fact that it’s against the law, he hasn’t developed the skills, let alone the maturity, to be a competent driver. But he plays videogames well, and can’t see why this isn’t proof enough that he can do it. So we answer, “Not yet.” It seems like a “no” to the child, but it’s really a deferred “yes.”
And so it is when we beg for opportunities and gifts that make sense to us, but which God knows must be deferred. If we were smart—and we are smart, right?—we would try to ascertain the traits we lack which could pave the way for a quicker “yes.” Instead of wallowing in self pity, we would roll up our sleeves and develop the humility—or whatever else we need—for that prayer to be granted.
And sometimes we simply need to accept that God can see a view so wide that it includes the future. Maybe that job you want, and are eminently qualified for, and would be the means of great financial security, will not be granted for a reason beyond your imagination. Maybe it would require a move to a city where your 12-year-old daughter will fall into the wrong crowd, get addicted to drugs, become pregnant, and make you wish you had never prayed for that career advancement. These are the sorts of things God can see, which we cannot. But we must never doubt that he is watching over us, hearing our petitions, and guiding our lives.
Occasionally our prayers go “unanswered” not because we have failed in our preparation, but because they depend on the agency of another person. Prayers for wayward loved ones fall into this category. We cannot pray for someone or something to force them into obedience. We can only pray for strength in waiting, and for help with setting the right example and extending the kind of love that softens hearts. My kids once laughed, after a family prayer when I asked for a certain relative to “come to his senses.” It was heartfelt, but probably not the right approach.
Personal unworthiness often makes us feel our prayers will not be granted. Every one of us is imperfect, every one of us sins, and Satan points to our failings as reasons why we not only won’t be helped, but shouldn’t even think to approach God. Why would he answer a prayer from someone so lacking? We begin to neglect our prayers and convince ourselves that God won’t miss hearing from one of the greatly flawed ones. We inch towards the “hopeless” category that doesn’t actually exist, and is an imaginary land of Satan’s creation.
In truth, no one is hopeless. No one is insignificant or beyond God’s scope of caring. In fact, the more hopeless you feel, the more you need to reach out for his help, and exercise enough faith so that he can show you how loved you really are.
Have you ever heard a testimony by someone who was caught by surprise that God had found them? A crippled man, wheeling slowly along a dirt road in the western United States, suddenly hears inspiration from the Holy Ghost.
A woman, washing clothes at a river in South America, is suddenly prompted to seek out the missionaries. A herdsman in China feels the urge to read a religious tract given to him by a friend. A man in Africa, tending his sick child, gets an audible answer to a prayer in that child’s behalf. And they are amazed that God found them, and really cares about them.
You cannot hide from God, even if you try. He penetrates every place you could go or live, and there is no state of poverty or deprivation that blocks His power. The humblest among us, the imprisoned, the outcast, all are included in the arms of his love. Not one of us is unimportant, too sinful to approach him, or beyond help. He knows our hearts, he counts our tears, and as the ultimate loving parent, wants what is truly best for us.
And, while Satan can surely find us in our closets of despair, he will not try to lift us out. God not only finds us, but offers us constant help, a listening ear, light to lead the way, and a loving embrace at the end of our journey.
Cruise with Joni and her husband, Bob, to Spain, Italy, and France May 12-19, 2012. Super low rates! For more information, go to jonihilton.com.
Joni Hilton has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. Her latest book, “Funeral Potatoes– The Novel,” has just been scheduled for publication by Covenant Communications.