Why doesn't God answer prayer immediately? Why does he seem at times to hold back, to keep us in difficult circumstances when he could bring healing, relief, finances, reconciliation, and more - all with just a word?
There is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to this question. First and foremost, we must acknowledge and agree with God that His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours, and we're not going to understand them all the time (Isaiah 55:9). With Paul, we cry out, "Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33)
But Scripture does provide us with some examples of waiting and what God accomplished through it:
- God allowed the Hebrews to suffer 400 years of slavery in Egypt while He built them into a strong nation, so numerous that the Egyptians came to fear them. He did this while allowing the Amorites and other Canaanites time to repent before being destroyed.
- God seasoned Moses for 40 years in the desert, turning an impetuous man who took matters into his own hands into one with home He could speak faced to face as He led Israel out of Egypt.
- God allowed Hannah to suffer through years of barrenness in order to create within her a heart that would dedicate her son Samuel to his service, resulting in the dedication of Israel's greatest judge.
- God caused proud Nebuchadnezzar to graze with the cattle for seven years to humble him and turn him into a servant of the Most High.
- God allowed a woman to suffer with bleeding for 14 years, setting up an encounter with Jesus where she would find spiritual as well as physical healing.
- God caused a man to be born blind and to remain this way into adulthood in order to bring this man to Jesus and to challenge many with Jesus' identity.
- Jesus waited for two days after learning of Lazarus' sickness before going to him, in order to bring glory to himself by demonstrating power over death.
And what can happen when we don't wait for God to act?
- Abraham stepped outside God's plan and had a child by Hagar, Sarah's servant - resulting ultimately in enmity between God's people and the Canaanites, an enmity that in many places continues to this day.
- Saul grew impatient waiting for Samuel, and surrendered his kingship by offering sacrifices before Samuel's arrival.
Waiting is not always God's answer. But when he does call us to wait, we can trust that he is working in us and in circumstances around us, preparing us for his answer.