There are times when we should be thankful that the Lord does not give us what we ask for.
Unanswered prayer. We’ve all experienced it. What we really mean when we speak of unanswered prayer is that we did not receive the answer we asked for. People in the Bible also had this experience. I am not talking about unbelievers but godly people who were great servants of God. And the truth be told, sometimes it was a good thing that their requests were not answered.
In the Old Testament we find just such an individual. I am referring to the prophet Elijah, who was mightily used of God. In 1 Kings 18 he had a mountaintop experience, both geographically and spiritually. On Mount Carmel he had a showdown with the prophets of Baal. He challenged them to call upon their god and he would call upon his God. The one who answered by fire and consumed the sacrifice, that one is the true God. The prophets of Baal called upon their god for hours but to no avail.
When Elijah’s turn came he had his sacrifice doused with water three times before he prayed. After this he prayed once, the Lord answered, and consumed the sacrifice. The prophets of Baal were killed shortly after that. What a glorious victory, what a spiritual mountaintop in Elijah’s experience! Though greatly outnumbered Elijah, by the power of God, had been used of the Lord to judge wickedness and bring honor and glory to the Lord.
When we get to 1 Kings 19 we do not find Elijah in victory mode. Jezebel sent a messenger to him to deliver a death threat. Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. In 1 Kings 19:4 we find these words “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (NIV).
This is an interesting text, Elijah doesn’t want Jezebel to kill him but he asks the Lord to take his life. He, thus, prayed a foolish prayer. He was tired, he was scared, and he did not like his circumstances at the time.
The only way out that he could see was death. This is what he asked for, but this is not what he received. Sometimes we do what Elijah did; we pray unwise prayers because we are tired, fearful, or in emotional turmoil. We want out, we want to quit. However, as 1 Kings 19 makes clear the Lord did not give Elijah what he asked for. The reason? The Lord had more for Elijah to do. In 1 Kings 19:15-16 we read that the Lord gave Elijah further instructions; his ministry for the Lord was not over.
There are a couple of lessons here for us.
First, it is possible to have a very powerful and intense experience with God where He displays His power and uses us mightily and then fall into a deep depression. This happened to Elijah, and he was a powerful servant of God. But as some of the other verses in 1 Kings 19 make clear the Lord knows how to pull His servants out of such negativity. Elijah was given food, rest, and a fresh encounter with God.
Second, God will not let anyone cut short what He has purposed for us to do. Jezebel was not able to have Elijah killed as she had said. The Lord also will not help us opt out of our service for Him. There are times when we should be thankful that the Lord does not give us what we ask for.
John P. Lathrop - United States
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.