I am a wheat-free person. And I am a hopeless optimist. Hence I found myself on a train from London to Edinburgh anticipating that train buffet cars might have moved on a little. 5 hours of travel requires a little refuelling along the way. Lunchtime found me at the buffet bar searching in vain for wheat-free sandwiches, jacket potato options, even chips. But no.

Making the best of a bad job I set about putting together a wheat-free selection of whatever was at hand. Lunch consisted of: porridge, crisps, popcorn, a nut bar and coffee. Not my normal repast. At my seat I prayed a rather ungrateful prayer of ‘thanks’ and got on with it.

Surprise, surprise, I enjoyed it, and was satisfied. God taught me a parable of discovering that what I wanted was not what I needed. So much of the Christian life is like this. We pray for one thing, and God gives us another.

We pray eagerly like the Psalmist, “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalms 5:3 NIV11-GK) Eagerness in prayer is good, but are we open to the idea that God will answer, but differently?

Paul knows how this feels. What did he pray? “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8 NIV11-GK)  To take away what? “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV11-GK) I think I would pray with passion if a messenger of Satan had been sent to torment me. So would you.  But it was not taken away. God answered the prayer, but differently. Three lessons from this incident:

  1. God had a good purpose. “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV11-GK) God knew that Paul was in danger of developing pride that could endanger his salvation. God’s ‘curse’ was God’s blessing in disguise. Has God allowed something into your life, or to persist in your life that feels like a curse but could turn out to be for your blessing?
  2. God had grace on offer. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV11-GK) God was not leaving Paul in the lurch. He provided what Paul really needed. Not the removal of the problem, but the grace, or strength, to endure it. In the process Paul experienced God’s power working through his weakness. Do you want to know God’s power? Then seek his grace to be strong enough for the challenges in your life.
  3. Paul has a mind-change. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV11-GK) The result of the differently-answered prayer is that Paul experiences God’s grace-strength. This causes him to be grateful for his weakness, and the opportunity to know Christ’s power on him. 
The next time you pray for something and God answers you differently, take a moment to enjoy the adventure. The different menu might lead to a more satisfying meal. The restricted choice might turn our for your deliverance and your delight.
Malcolm Cox