This post on waiting on God is the third in a series on learning how to pray. Be sure to check out 1. How To Pray When You Just Can’t Focus and 2. Things To Pray for When You’re Distracted, Overwhelmed & Don’t Know What To Say, 4. How Do You Pray When You’re Overwhelmed? Real Women Answer as well as my free prayer journal (click below).
Today’s post is an excerpt from a new book by my honored guest, Elizabeth Laing Thompson.
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. See here for more information.
Waiting on God: How To Pray When He Seems Slow To Answer
Ever waited a long time for God to answer a prayer? I have. Ever waited a really, really, really long time for God to answer a prayer? I have.
Prayer gets complicated when we are waiting. It goes like this: If we could have gotten The Thing we want for ourselves, we would have gotten it already—a long time ago. We have done what we can, as much as we can, but now it’s up to God to give the final divine thumbs-up. When days stretch into months and months melt into years, feeling close to God, feeling heard and loved by Him, grows increasingly difficult.
When Prayer Becomes a Battleground
When we are waiting long term for something, we face a unique set of struggles in our walk with God.
We may feel:
- out of control
- ignored by God
- insecure with God
- confused by God
- disappointed in God
- disillusioned by God’s promises
- resentful toward God
- sinful before God, searching our hearts for hidden sin
- guilty about how we feel toward God
Each of these emotions affects our prayer life in some way. I have experienced each one during waiting seasons—sometimes every one of them all at once! And the longer we wait on an answer, the more distant God feels. His silence fuels our suspicions: Does He even care? Is He unmoved by my tears, my pleas? Just as in the Garden, the evil snake whispers doubt through gaps in our shield of faith.
After a while, God may start to feel like the enemy. The Great Giver? Yeah right. More like the Great Disappointer. The Great Withholder. He is holding out on me on purpose. He doesn’t want what’s best for me. He probably doesn’t even like me.
In the middle of my long struggle with infertility, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Our entire family was left reeling, terrified, while we waited to learn just how bad her diagnosis was. It was one of those times when you half expect your brain and heart to explode from stress and fear.
One afternoon my husband, Kevin, not knowing what to say or how to comfort me—about Mom, about the baby we couldn’t have, about all of it—suggested we pray together. There on the floor of our guest room—the sad, sterile room that should have become a nursery long ago—we knelt and prayed. I don’t remember what I said, but I was angry, and I didn’t hold back. When I opened my eyes, Kevin sat there blinking at me, shocked. I’m pretty sure he scooted a few inches away from me, in case God decided to take me out with my own personal tornado. Defensive, I snapped, “What? I’m telling God what I really feel!” We got up from our prayer, both of us feeling worse, not better. I walked away fearing that not only was I never going to become a mother, but now I was never going to make it to heaven either.
We don’t like to admit this, lest we get struck by lightning, but the truth is, some of us get mad at God. Bitterness begins to wrap icy tentacles around our hearts—suffocating hope, strangling trust—till only anger remains. And what a terrifying place that is, when you feel resentment toward God clouding your vision, darkening your heart: not only are you wandering in the unmarked wilderness, but now you have lost your compass.
The Psalms: Carving a Path Through the Wilderness
Thank goodness we are not the first of God’s people to suffer through confusing times in our walks with God. Others before us, David chief among them, have also had to find a way to pray through pain.
God has devoted an entire book in His Word to prayers, and David wrote more than half of those prayers. When we read the book of Psalms, something in us rings with familiarity, echoes our own amen. David and the other psalmists beg, plead, question, wonder, fear, lament, praise, rejoice, worry, anguish, mourn, celebrate, rant, curse, and bless. Their prayers run wild: unbridled, unashamed, sometimes even unrighteous. Freely they roam the full gamut of the human experience.
Through the Psalms God is inviting us to pray real prayers. To bring everything to Him—to bring ourselves to Him. He wants to hear us out. He can handle it.
If you are suffering through a bleak waiting season and you have hit a wall in your prayer life, borrow the Psalms. Take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Let the psalmists whisper (and sometimes shout) your own fears. Let them teach you to pray prayers that peel the paint off the walls. Prayers that strip your soul bare.
As you begin praying through psalms, take note of this: many of the most despairing psalms still find a way to praise and thank God from the darkness. (See Psalms 37, 40, 42, and 89 for a few examples.) The best way to keep the right posture in prayer, to maintain a spirit of humility and surrender even as we are hurting, is gratitude.
When we are sad and frustrated and tired of waiting, how easy it is to forget to thank God. We have to choose to praise God for His kindness, generosity, and power. We have to remember to thank Him for gifts already given. If you are stuck in your walk with God, waiting for a blessing that won’t come, try bringing gratitude and praise back into your prayer life. That simple discipline will transform your perspective: Praise reminds us of His power; gratitude reminds us of His goodness. Together praise and gratitude protect our hearts and restore our hope.
When Satan conspires with fear and insecurity to turn prayer into a battleground, let’s fight back. David fought many enemies in his life, but God wasn’t one of them. By fighting alongside God, not against Him, David enjoyed prayer as a lifelong refuge, a haven where he waited out and waded through the lonely wilderness years. You and I can experience the same.
Let us never give up on prayer, even when God feels far away.
Let us bring our real feelings to God honestly and humbly.
Let us borrow words from David and others who have waited and prayed before us.
Let us remember to thank and praise along the way.
And when our waiting season ends, however it ends, let us celebrate with the One who has seen us through, heard us out, and never left our side.
This post is adapted from Elizabeth’s new book, When God Says “Wait.” Reprinted with permission.
Elizabeth Laing Thompson is the author of When God Says “Wait.” She writes at LizzyLife.com about clinging to Christ through the chaos of daily life. As a minister, speaker, and novelist, she loves finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four spunky kids, and they were totally worth the wait. You can connect with Elizabeth on Facebook and Instagram.
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