St Paul calls us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 17) and yet sometimes our prayers do not seem to be answered.
Looking to scripture for answers, the story of Lazarus comes to mind. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary, recall that Mary had anointed the feet of the Lord so this family were known to Jesus. Lazarus was ill and the sisters sent a message to Jesus, but he delayed coming to them. His disciples didn’t help the situation by reminding Jesus that the last time he had gone to Bethany where the family lived, the people there had tried to stone him!
By the time Jesus decided to undertake the journey and visit, he knew that Lazarus was already dead. Nevertheless, Jesus said he would go and ‘wake’ him so that his disciples would believe. In fact on his arrival, Lazarus had lain in the tomb for four days. Again, they tried to dissuade Jesus from entering the tomb, but he isn’t easily swayed. After telling the sisters that their brother will rise again, the sisters respond, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’
Jesus then says, ‘I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me, will never live. Do you believe this?’
Martha replies, ‘Yes Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
Jesus then continued to the village, enquired where Lazarus was laid, and the stone sealing the tomb was moved away. Jesus gave thanks to his Father and called Lazarus to come out of the tomb. The dead man came out, still wrapped in the burial cloths.
Returning to the original prayer, Jesus delayed coming and as a result of this, Martha revealed him to the Jews who were comforting her, Jesus taught them about the resurrection and then raised Lazarus from the dead, prefiguring his own resurrection that was to come following his passion and death. (John 11). If Jesus had come when he first received the message, none of this would have been possible.
So, if you are waiting for a prayer to be answered, wait patiently, for you do not know what God has planned for you, you do not know how he will use your prayer to do even greater things that you could ever imagine. But pray without ceasing.