I remember a story from way back that went a little something like this. A man was in his house when a storm brought floodwaters to his doorstep. The National Guard was wrapping up evacuation tasks in his neighborhood, and their last stop was his house. "Come with us!" they shouted. "No, God will provide for my safety," the man responded.
The waters continued to rise, and shortly the man climbed out his 2nd story window to sit on the roof of his porch - where the water was now lapping. A stranger with a boat came along and said, "come with me! I can take you to safety." "No, God will provide for my safety," was the reply.
The waters continued to rise more, and the man found himself on his rooftop, water lapping at his feet. A National Guard helicopter hovered over him, and over the loudspeaker he heard, "we can lower a line and pull you up. You don't have any time left!" He waved them off, shouting, "no, God will provide for my safety."
Suddenly the floodwaters knocked loose his house, and it collapsed underneath him. He was pulled under the flood waters and drowned. When he stood before God, he asked, "Lord, I trusted in you and you didn't save me. Where were you?"
To which God replied, "but I sent the National Guardsman, the boat and the helicopter!"
Too often I find myself looking for the miraculous answers to prayer instead of the mundane ones. Even more often I find myself looking only for the "yes" answers instead of, well, the answers God gives. Instead of accepting the boat ride, I want God to transport me to higher ground with an Angelic color guard. And sometimes God doesn't send even a neighbor with a boat, but instead asks me to "drown" (metaphorically speaking, to be sure.)
Complaints about unanswered prayer abound. We wonder why illness isn't healed instantaneously, never mind that God gives us doctors and medicine. We wonder why God doesn't remove our job situation, never mind that God sometimes has us in places we wouldn't choose for a greater purpose. We wonder why we are persecuted (well, not so much in this country) when God is building us into greater witnesses for His glory.
We ask and do not receive the miracle, and so believe God doesn't answer prayer. We pray and things, from our perspective, get worse. We start to think we are speaking to an invisible, unhearing, uncaring God.
What we need to remember is that "no" is an answer to prayer. What we need to remember too is that "later" is an answer too. God sends boats and helicopters instead of angels. Or He lets us "drown" for a greater purpose.
We need to trust Him in the "no" times. We don't know better than He does. What seems like unanswered prayer to us is a better-answered prayer from God's perspective. No is sometimes better than yes. The mundane is oftentimes more useful, for His purposes, than the miraculous.
God loves us. Whatever the answer He gives to our prayer, trust He is right and knows best. Don't be disappointed (he says, knowing this is a struggle in his own life) when we don't get the answer we want; we're getting the answer we need.