We like getting answers to prayer and would love a 100% answer rate! But, here’s the reality: a quick scroll up our prayer lists shows some aging requests still waiting for answers. Why the delay?

Zechariah (affectionately, Zech), knew all about waiting…waiting…waiting for an answer. Then one day he got a glimpse into why the long wait.

Zech was the incense-burning priest on duty during a major Feast in Jerusalem (Luke 1). While the assembled worshipers waited outside, he gathered coals from the altar of burnt offering into his censer and headed into the Holy Place. He was adding incense to the coals according to daily custom when an unexpected visitor suddenly showed up beside the gold-covered altar. Gabriel had come!

Zech was terrified. Sure, everything in the temple represented the realm of the supernatural, but an actual encounter with the supernatural there? Unexpected! Perhaps not much different today?

The angel’s message was: “Your prayer has been heard”. Gabriel had been dispatched from his usual station before the Throne to bring this message to a man who had been praying about something for a long time. His wife, Elizabeth was barren and Zech had been asking God to change that. By now they were “both very old”. They were of priestly stock, loved the Lord and were (God’s commentary on them) “blameless”, but as the years passed their request remained unanswered. Now, finally, news of an answer! Before leaving, the angel gave the old priest the name of his son-on-the-way (John), details of his role in history, and something else. Perhaps the years of asking and waiting had dulled expectancy of an answer. Becoming a dad at his age didn’t seem possible, and he voiced that to Gabriel. The angel left him with a temporary sign (dumbness) as a reminder to never suggest that an answer is too difficult for the Lord.

But why did God wait so long before answering? The reasons why some prayers are answered quickly, some get delayed answers, and others none at all are hidden in the mystery of prayer. It’s impossible for us to understand all the connections and consequences of a single prayer request that we place into the infinitely large and complex domain of God-at-work. But we do know that the request we place carries a weight of importance equal to the value of Jesus’ name, and it receives the full, loving attention of the Father.

Zech learned something about prayer that day: the answer serves more than the needs of the one asking. The Lord works with our asking, and manages the answers, in a way that serves his glory. Of course, God was able to give Zech a son from day one of the asking. But (Gabriel announced), the answer had an “appointed time”, and that time is not always immediately. The answer (the gift of John) would serve the plan of God for Messiah’s appearance; John would herald his arrival. The answer was time-sensitive; it was in a frame much, much larger than the couple’s felt need.

Few of us get a Zech-type encounter and revelation to explain WHY our answer is being delayed. But the Lord kindly slips stories like this one into the record, to strengthen hope while waiting for answers. The delay doesn’t mean that God hasn’t heard, or that our request is below grade. What’s more likely is that preparation for the answer is not complete (including his shaping of those to be entrusted with the answer).

Scroll back to that list of old, unanswered asking points. Filter them through a few questions:

  • Have the circumstances changed (is the asking point still relevant)?
  • Does the asking point bring joy to the Lord (does it agree with his nature & will)?
  • Is it focused on his glory (will the answer draw praise-attention to him)?

If there is still the inner witness of peace on the asking point, thank him that his love is working with it to serve something larger than you can see. Mark it as an answer waiting for its appointed time.

Resource for prayer growth: click here to order your copy of Shaped for Prayer Enjoyment