One of the most frustrating experiences for believers is unanswered prayer. I’ve had numerous conversations with sincere Christians who’ve had to deal with unexpected silence from heaven. At times, it’s gut-wrenching, but I’ve learnt over the years that God doesn’t need me to manage His PR. I’ve also found myself wrestling with God’s silence. Yet as I grow in faith and understanding, I’m increasingly becoming persuaded that God is a Promise-Keeper, so I question less. Yet, something in me struggles to accept that I’m never quite sure what He will do in a given situation. God is undeniably dependable, yet He’s unpredictable, which makes many of us uncomfortable. Sadly, for some, it puts them off God entirely.
A thoughtful examination of the root of our discomfort or frustration with God’s unpredictability might reveal a flaw in our understanding of who God is and who we are to Him. It may be difficult to accept, but some of us often interact with God as though He were a genie standing by to grant our wishes. So, we feel let down when God doesn’t answer our prayers how we’d like. But the Bible presents a different perspective: God is The Creator, the supreme Ruler and Sustainer of the universe [Hebrews 1:2-3]. He does as He pleases [Psalm 115:3] and answers to no one [Daniel 4:35]. On the other hand, we are His creation [Colossians 1:16], created for His glory [Isaiah 43:7] to serve His purposes [Ephesians 2:10]. So, as Job – a man with several reasons to question God found out, we answer to Him, not the other way around.
I don’t know about you, but something in me often recoils at the thought that God doesn’t consult me on what He chooses to do. I recognise that something as a remnant of my old man [Ephesians 4:22], a rebellious nature that wants to be its own master. But to genuinely follow Jesus, I must submit to Him as my Lord and Master [Romans 10:9]. That means my life is no longer my own [1 Corinthians 6:19]. That doesn’t mean I become an automaton – my free will remains intact, but it does mean that I must willingly allow God’s will to prevail over mine [Luke 22:42]. Amongst other implications, my submission to God means that I must walk righteously before Him [Micah 6:8] and entrust the outcomes in my life to Him because my life now belongs to Him [Romans 14:8]. However, God doesn’t take away my free will. So, daily, I must willingly renew my resolve to hand over the outcomes of my life to Him [Matthew 16:24] and answer one gnawing question: can I trust an unpredictable God?
There’s a verse I’ve been churning over, especially as I face the chaos and uncertainty of today’s world. God says: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” [Jeremiah 17:7]. The second half of the verse was paradigm-shifting for me. I am to trust God, not His works; that is, not what I think He’s going to do, but Him. If I look to His deeds and expect things to pan out how I want, I’ll be disappointed. But if I look to Him, I cannot be disappointed [Romans 10:11]. Why? God stakes His integrity on His word [Psalm 138:2]. If God doesn’t do what He said He would do, He ceases to be God, and that can’t happen [2 Timothy 2:13]. Easy words to accept when heaven answers your prayers. But what happens when God is silent, or the healing or breakthrough you desperately need doesn’t manifest? Can we still trust God when He doesn’t intervene in gut-wrenching situations?
If it’s any consolation, we aren’t the first to deal with the unpredictability of God. Daniel’s three friends give us a memorable example of trusting God when the outcome isn’t guaranteed. Facing possible death, they essentially said to Nebuchadnezzar: “…our God can deliver us from your hand…but even if He doesn’t, it’s ok – our trust in Him remains” [Daniel 3:16-18]. It wasn’t a given that God would save them. They’d witnessed the Babylonians pillage Jerusalem and the temple [Jeremiah 52] and faithful believers murdered by their persecutors [Hebrews 11:37], and heaven didn’t intervene. Like Job, they also said: “though He slays me, yet will I trust Him” [Job 13:15]. The author of Hebrews tells us that many of our spiritual ancestors died without seeing the fulfilment of promises God made them, yet they didn’t waver in faith [Hebrews 11:39]. Therefore, God wasn’t ashamed to be called their God [Hebrews 11:16]. These men and women had one thing in common: Their trust in God was independent of outcomes.
They knew something about God that their lives echo to us. God is trustworthy because He is good [Psalm 34:8]. Moreover, He loves us, which means He always desires our highest good [Jeremiah 31:3]. Nothing we ever do can stop Him from loving us [Romans 8:38-39]. No one can thwart God’s purposes [Isaiah 14:27, Psalm 138:8], nor is any situation irredeemable for Him [Luke 1:37]. So, if He makes a promise, it will be fulfilled, irrespective of present circumstances [Isaiah 55:10-11]. Is there anything causing your trust in God to waver today? Take your eyes off your desired outcomes and place them on Jesus. Doing so unburdens us in this world of uncertainties [Matthew 11:28-30]. So, let’s pray with Paul for the opening of the eyes of our understanding by the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 1:18]. When He opens them, we’ll see what our spiritual ancestors saw as they placed their trust irrevocably in the God who has the indescribable in store for those that love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].