“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8)
OK, it's not quite true to say that God does NOT answer our prayer (the prayer of the believer). But He answers in a way different than we expect. Still, the question remains. Why?
William Biederwolf writes that one reason God does this is "in order that a higher and better blessing may come to us." (How Can God Answer Prayer, p. 238). Indeed, Paul had prayed that God would remove the thorn in his flesh. But as we learn from reading 2 Corinthians, God in His great wisdom saw fit to let him keep it for in so doing, Paul's spirit was tempered to respond rightly before God and react rightly before men. It humbled him in just the right measure suited to his work. Paul thought he needed the "thorn" gone. But, as Octavius Winslow writes:
The Lord knew best what was for the good of His dear servant. He saw that, on account of the peculiar revelations that were given him in his visit to glory, the discipline of the covenant was needed to keep him low in the dust. And, when His child petitioned thrice for the removal of the thorn in the flesh, he for a moment overlooked, in the painful nature of the discipline, its needed influence to keep him “walking humbly with God.” So that we see even an inspired apostle may ask those things of God, which He may see fit to refuse.
Biederwolf, quoting Adam Slowman, adds, "Some ask for success and speedy deliverance, and they get disappointments which bring them nearer to Him who will deliver them gloriously in trouble if not always out of trouble." Then he adds this thought which is so well suited to our present situation at church where we have experienced numerous trials, "Some ask for health of body and they get health of soul instead and learn what it is to gain the highest attainable gift of a submitted will which brings changeless peace and is worth all the prosperity gifts put together."
In withholding, however, the thing we ask of Him, we may be assured of this, that He will grant us a perfect equivalent. The Lord saw fit to deny the request of the apostle; but He granted him an equivalent- yes, more than an equivalent, to that which He denied him- He gave him His all-supporting grace. “My grace is sufficient for you.” Beloved reader, have you long asked for the removal of some secret, heavy, painful cross? Perhaps you are yet urging your request, and yet the Lord seems not to answer you. And why? Because the request may not be in itself wise.
Were He now to remove that cross, He may, in taking away the cross, close up a channel of mercy which you would never cease to regret. Oh, what secret and immense blessing may that painful cross be the means of conveying into your soul!
If God were always to give us what we asked WHEN we asked it, we would actually lose out on the greater grace he has in store for us. This is precisely the reason we must pray with a submissive spirit, deferring to his wisdom, and trusting in his loving care. Pray, yes! But entrust the answer into the hands of the One who knows better than you ever could what you most urgently need.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. ” (2 Corinthians 12:8, ESV)