I can’t remember too many traffic slow-downs in the small town of 16,000 where I used to live. Now that I live in a city of 300,000, traffic patterns are a daily consideration. Rush hour. All the traffic lights on Nicholasville Road. A 5-mile detour because of an accident.
My siblings who live in the Denver area, Dallas area, and Chicago area would probably laugh that I consider this to be a big city, but they can surely identify with my point, which is: when I am traveling around this town, I often wonder, What’s the hold-up?
I met someone this week who was wondering the same thing–about what was happening to his prayers. Had God heard? Had he asked something that wasn’t God’s will? Did God expect him to do something in order to receive his answer? What’s the hold-up?
It would be impossible to give a simple answer that would fit the situation of anyone who has not received an answer to prayer. But an important general answer is this: When there’s a hold-up to receiving something from God, there’s probably a blockage in that person’s faith-pipeline. Because faith is the pipeline through which God sends the things we’ve asked for.
A story in Mark 9 shows how this works. A man had brought his son to Jesus.
But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked.“Anything is possible if a person believes” (New Living Translation).
Did you catch that? The father said, “If you can do anything . . .” and Jesus said [allow me to paraphrase], “The question isn’t whether I can do anything. I can do anything. The question is whether you believe I can. If you believe [in Me] everything is possible.”
Well, how are you supposed to believe, if you don’t already?
First of all, believing isn’t mental or spiritual gymnastics. When we try to conjure it up, it’s not real. True belief (or faith) is based on solid information and experience. To have faith in God, we need to know what he is like, what he has promised to do for us, and what he wants of us. God gave us the Bible so that we don’t have to guess, but we can know, everything we need to know about him and how he relates to us.
The problem is, we can read the Bible but not believe what it says. Our ability to believe God is blocked by ideas such as, “If God intended to answer my prayer, he would’ve done it by now. Since nothing has happened, it must not be his will.” Or, “God answers other people’s prayers but not mine.” Or, “The promises in the Bible must have been for people long ago, not for now.” Or, “I’m not surprised God didn’t answer my prayer. He’s probably angry with me for [whatever].”
If our minds are saturated with a life-long accumulation of doubts and fears, it will take deliberate exposure to the truth in the Word to cleanse our minds.* The Bible describes this process in such passages as these:
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8 NIV, emphasis added)
Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (Psa. 1:1-3 NIV, emphasis added).
Notice that the process of getting truth into our minds includes not only reading the Word but speaking it and thinking about it–day and night! When the truth saturates our minds and the wrong thinking is gone, we can hear Good News and believe it! And “anything is possible if a person believes.”
*Also, in order to believe the Bible, we need to make up our minds to turn loose of any idea we have that is different from what God says is true.