Aug 1, 2012
Two days ago I raised the question of unanswered prayer.
I shared a passage that encourages me when my prayers seem unanswered — Matt 7:7-11 —
In this passage Jesus teaches that —
Whenever we pray, God will either give us exactly what we are asking for — or something even better.
I illustrated this with Paul’s unanswered prayer about his thorn in the flesh — that God did not remove this thorn, but gave Paul something even better — a greater experience of Christ’s grace and power (2Co 12:7-9).
And today I want to share another illustration of the same truth —
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus
Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus was seriously sick.
But they knew Jesus healed the sick — so they sent Him an urgent message —
Lord, he whom you love is ill. (John 11:3)
What did Jesus do?
It’s shocking when you first read it —
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6)
You read that right.
When Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, and that they’d like him to come immediately to heal him — he decides to stay where he is two days longer.
Not two minutes. Or two hours. Two DAYS.
Sounds unloving, doesn’t it?
Especially when we read that during those two days – Lazarus died. Sounds very unloving.
When our prayers go unanswered — it’s easy to think Jesus is unloving.
But John goes out of his way to show us that Jesus is —
Not unloving at all
Look at verse 5 —
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11:5).
He loved them.
And then notice the first word of v.6 — the word “so.”
That word “so” shows that Jesus’ love is THE REASON WHY He stayed two days longer.
To see this, read verses 5 and 6 together —
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So [because He loved them], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
So why did Jesus say No, stay two days longer, and not answer their prayer?
Because He loved them.
How is this loving?
It’s because instead of giving them what they asked — He gave them something even better.
He raised Lazarus from the dead.
How is that better? Jesus’ delay cost Lazarus physical suffering — and cost Mary and Martha emotional suffering.
So how was it better for all of them to have Lazarus raised?
It’s because through Lazarus’ resurrection Jesus gave them a greater display of His glory than they otherwise would have had.
That’s what Jesus said when the messenger first came to Him —
This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. (John 11:4)
Jesus said No to their request — so He could give them something even better — a greater display of His glory.
How was this a greater display of glory?
- It allowed Mary to experience Jesus looking her in the eyes and saying “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Think of how those words would have consoled her as she faced death.
- It allowed Mary and Martha to see Jesus troubled and weeping at the tragedies of death and unbelief (John 11:33-35). Never again could they see death as natural — or unbelief as acceptable.
- It enabled Mary and Martha to see with their own eyes Jesus raising Lazarus and conquering death (John 11:43). Think of how often that memory empowered their worship.
- It allowed Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to see many brought to faith (John 11:45) — more Gospel-advance than would have happened apart from Lazarus’ resurrection.
Every time you pray, God will either give you exactly what you ask for — or something even better.
From doubt — to worship
Before Lazarus’ resurrection here’s what Mary said to Jesus —
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (John 11:32)
Can you feel the doubt? The struggle? The unbelief?
That’s how we can feel when our prayers are unanswered.
So — how does Mary feel AFTER Lazarus’ resurrection — when she what Jesus had been planning all along?
We get a clue from the next chapter of John — where Jesus is having dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Martha serves the meal. Lazarus is at the table with Jesus.
And what does Mary do?
She takes a vial of perfume worth thousands of dollars — pours it on Jesus’ feet, and wipes his feet with her hair (John 12:3).
She worships Jesus.
Why? Because she now sees — what He did was better than they had asked.
Because she now sees — Jesus loved them.
You will worship, too
Maybe your unanswered prayer is giving you doubt, struggle, or unbelief.
So use this story to help you fight the fight of faith.
Because it’s not that your prayer is unanswered.
It’s just like with Mary and Martha —
- Jesus is loving you
- Jesus is answering your prayer
- Jesus is bringing you something even better than you are asking.
And one day you will see it — and join Mary in worship at Jesus’ feet.
So — fight the fight of faith to trust Him now — and worship Him now.
Do you have feedback? Comments? Thoughts?
I’d love to hear them — leave a reply below. Thanks!
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And here’s some related posts you might find helpful —
Praying With Faith
Are You Discouraged In Prayer?
Does Faith Mean Believing I Will Receive Exactly What I'm Praying For?
Praying -- But Distracted
(Picture is by Gustav Dore and is in the public domain.)