Published June 16, 2015

Paul's Epistle
"Unexpected Answers"

Have you ever prayed earnestly about a particular matter, asking God to solve it in some particular way? But then God answers the prayer in an entirely different, unexpected way?

It happens all the time. Sometimes He gives us what we want, how we want it. Sometimes He answers by providing something much better. And, actually, the latter is more commonly the case. That shouldn't be surprising. Isaiah 55:9, speaking of God, says, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."

But some of the greatest, best and ultimately positive answers to prayer seem, at first, to be negative things – problems, times of trouble or pain. We're put through difficult circumstances we hadn't bargained on. "Didn't you hear me Lord? Why are you putting me through this? How can this possibly solve my problem?"

Jesus told the story of how a woman giving birth has a time of sorrow and pain, "but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a [child] has been born..." (John 16:21). Jesus' own excruciating pain on the cross was used by God for the ultimate victory. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5b).

Years ago, when we decided we needed to move the business out of the house, we bought some land just a few blocks away, planning to build there. But the township disallowed the plan because there wouldn't be enough parking. Wow. That was not the answer to prayer that we wanted. But the very next day, we found an already existing building that was bigger and would cost less than what we had planned to build – and which had abundant parking. We're still here and it has served us well over the years. God answered prayer by slamming one door shut so He could open a much better one for us.

Recently, a reader of this newsletter from Missouri wrote to me with a very personal story that shows how God answered prayer in an unexpected way. She told me,

"My husband and I lost our home because he lost his job. The bank said they would work with us if we went to a couple of meetings to learn how to budget, so we did. We were supposed to list all of our debts or monthly items that we were used to paying out on. So we listed our tithe as part of the money going out.

"When we got back the report showing us what they approved as being in the monthly budget, the tithe was not listed on the form. The bank also only lowered our house payment by $1 a month and, for the next 12 months, we were supposed to make double payments until we were caught up... So, needless to say, we could not afford to make the payments unless we neglected to pay the tithe."

That is not something they would do. They believed in honoring God with their tithe. So they moved out into a small house, which, she says, "needed a lot of tender, loving care." In other words, it wasn't in very good shape.

But then something very interesting happened: "The landlord who collected the money was very nice but he had a silent financial partner who happened to be a homebuilder and a Christian. He asked us if we would consider moving into a brand new home. We told him that we couldn't get another home loan for quite a while. He said he would let us move into a new home that he built in a nice subdivision with no down payment – and the house payments are half as much as the other home. And that made up the difference in the tithe. The house is one of the better looking ones in the neighborhood. He actually did an owner-finance program for us so we could live there."

In this writer's words, "God always restores if only we believe and have the patience to wait on Him." And what an encouragement that should be to each of us. This couple was forced into a very painful situation, but God used it to bring them to a much better place. Had they not been put through all of this, they wouldn't be in the better home and financial circumstance that they're in today.

As the 19th century poet William Cowper wrote, "God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." Paul said much the same in Romans 11:33.

Our loving Heavenly Father doesn't always answer our prayers in the way we expect – or even in the way we want. Often, He puts us through difficult things to strengthen our faith. (See 1 Cor. 3:13, Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:11-12.)

We must always remember to "wait on the Lord" (Psalm 27:14, 37:34) and be patient. The key is that we need to have confidence in knowing that He will answer, and that His answer will ultimately be, whether we understand it or not, in our very best interest.

- Paul

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