I am often impatient for God’s answers to my prayers. It doesn’t help any that when people asked Jesus for what they wanted or needed, they usually got it the same hour, or if not the same hour, at least the same day. Sometimes I read the Gospels and wonder why those folks got such quick answers when some of my prayers seem to have been going on for years.
But God showed me something the other day that encouraged me. It came from Exodus. It wasn’t exactly about prayer, but it was about seeing God’s promises fulfilled.
Early in their wilderness journey, God told the Israelites that He would go ahead of them and move the Canaanites out of the way. Then they could possess the land He’d promised them. But He warned them that it would not happen overnight.
“I will not force them out of your way in one year,” He said. “Otherwise, the land would be deserted, and wild animals would take over. Little by little I will force them out of your way until you have increased enough in number to take possession of the land” (Exodus 23:29-30, God’s Word Translation).
When I read that, it was a holy aha! God wasn’t stalling just so the could develop a little more patience (although that may have been a by-product). He was intentionally delaying so that the Israelites would be able to move into and actually maintain what He was giving them.
If He’d cleared the place out overnight, it would have been too much for them. They wouldn’t have been able to fill the land fast enough to keep the weeds down and the bears out. They needed to take the land incrementally, little by little.
God showed me how some of my long-term prayers are like that, especially prayers for my own spiritual transformation or someone else’s. If He were to do what I ask in one fell swoop, it might not last. The thrill of victory might turn too soon to the agony of defeat because I would not have developed the spiritual disciplines necessary to maintain what God gave. The triumph I long for might be lost as I slide back into old habits.
Spiritual transformation, I realized, is actually a lot like taking possession of a new land. When you move into new territory, the land needs to be cleared. Brush needs to be hauled away. Crops need to be planted. Houses need to be built. In the same way, when you move into new spiritual territory, certain habits need to go. Wrong thinking needs to be replaced with life-giving truth. New habits need to be developed. Relationships need to be nurtured.
All this takes time.
I thought about some of those long-term prayers I’ve been praying. And I noticed something—although I’m a long way off from possessing the land, there are definitely signs of progress. Sure indicators that God is at work. It hasn’t happened overnight—but it is happening little by little, bit by bit. And that is all I need to keep on praying.