A couple of months ago, as my husband and I spent a typical evening watching our twin toddlers play after dinner, I turned to him and said, “Can you believe we have twins?” Like many parents of multiples, I’m regularly amazed we got two kids at one time—and are able to watch them learn and grow through the same stages in different ways. But my wonder as I watched them play that night was loaded with history, our history of becoming parents.
Our journey to parenthood was a difficult one, so when we finally got a positive pregnancy test (that by all appearances wasn’t going to end in miscarriage) we were simply hopeful to see a heartbeat at our first ultrasound. Instead we saw two. And our lives have never been the same.
In the painful years of waiting for God to answer our prayers for a child this side of heaven, we never dreamed he would have given us two at once. When we stare at the faces of our twin boys, in all their boundless energy of toddlerhood, and now as we stare too at the face of our newborn son, we are regularly brought to worship the God who not only answered our prayer, but answered more abundantly than we could have imagined.
When God Is Silent
Sometimes God answers our prayers immediately. We pray for a job offer in the morning and get a phone call by dinner. We pray for clarity in a difficult circumstance and find resolution by week’s end. But sometimes he answers prayers more slowly. Sometimes he’s working behind the scenes of our trials, yet we can’t see his handiwork—leading us to feel like our prayer has fallen on deaf ears. When we are in the position of waiting for God to act—to remedy a situation, to heal an illness, to bring a wayward child home—and we don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, it can overwhelm us and cause unbelief to surface. Like most people, many prayers leave me wondering if I’ll ever hear an answer in this life.
We aren’t the first to experience such silence.
Abraham waited years and years for God to provide the promised son (Gen. 21:1–7). Joseph suffered silently and alone in Egypt until adulthood, waiting for God to reunite him with his family. On more than one occasion the Israelites faced captivity for hundreds of years as they waited on God to deliver them. They waited for the promised land in the wilderness. And they waited on the Messiah to be born.
In each of these circumstances, the waiting lasted far longer than anticipated. And at many points Israel trusted in what was seen, not in what was unseen.
When God is silent, we’re often tempted to doubt his goodness. We’re tempted to doubt his promises can really be true. We doubt he will answer our prayers.
But then there are moments when light breaks through and we see glimmers of hope that God is answering prayers we’ve uttered more times than we can count. We see a friendship gone cold begin to thaw after years of misunderstanding and fighting. We meet a man who seems he could be God’s provision of a husband after thinking the ship of marriage has long since sailed. We get a new job after months of unemployment and closed doors. Or we get twins after praying for an open womb.
Scripture brims with stories of God answering prayers that lead his people to marvel at the magnitude of his might and care. He gives children to barren, elderly people (Luke 1:5–25). He divides bodies of water so his people can escape from their enemies (Exod. 14). He defeats a giant with a few stones in the hand of a shepherd boy (1 Sam. 17). He tumbles walls in obscure ways, like marching around in circles (Josh. 6). He provides a redeemer for two widows (Ruth 4:13–17). He creates food out of nothing (Matt. 14:12–14). He raises the dead (1 Kings 17:17–24; John 11:38–44). God is in the business of answering prayers that seem impossible, and he often does so on a timetable different than our own.
However, the answers to prayer in our own lives pale in comparison to the greatest answer that arrived following four centuries of silence and hope (Luke 2). But did they know it would be God himself? Could they have imagined this Messiah would be not only a great man, but the God-man? Could they have dreamed that when they held that boy in all his newborn sweetness, they were holding God? Or that when they ate and walked and talked with him, they were in the presence of the Almighty?
Isn’t that how our God works, though? The architect of all creation can dream up things we never would imagine.
No Unanswered Prayers
This is our hope when our prayers go “unanswered.” The reality is there are no unanswered prayers. A “no” now doesn’t mean a “no” forever. As John Piper helpfully reminds us, God is often masterminding a thousand details behind the tapestry of our lives, and we only get to see three of them. Sometimes we see them immediately. Sometimes we don’t for years. Sometimes we don’t see them until we’re with him in eternity. And yet the truth remains: he is still in the business of answering our prayers.
My sons remind me of this reality. When I can’t see God working, he is there. When I think my prayers are going unanswered, he is not silent. When I wonder if he has forgotten me in the pain of my circumstances, he is present.
I don’t know the end of my story, but he does. As the great architect of my story, he is crafting one I’d never dream to write for myself. And it will be better than I can now imagine. All I need to do is look at my twins and remember.