Some things just go together.
Peanut butter and jelly. (Even better, peanut butter and chocolate.)
Milk and Oreos.
Strawberries and cream.
Oh, and this: Popcorn and movies.
That’s what my two-year-old thinks anyway.
This week, we trekked down the aisle at the theatre, searched for an empty row, and plopped down into our seats. They were the cushioned kind that pop up as soon as you stand. Then we waited for the movie to begin as other strangers filed in around us.
That’s when my son announced, “Popcorn!!”
I hastily leaned over and in a whispered voice tried to explain. This wasn’t THAT kind of movie theatre. We weren’t there for the latest Disney flick.
We were tourists preparing to watch the free 20-minute movie for visitors to Jamestown.
No popcorn, buddy.
But this, of course, didn’t make one bit of sense to my little guy. We’ve taken him along to a few movies and this is what he knows: Theatre seating, big screen in the front of the room, people all around = popcorn and a cartoon.
And popcorn is pretty much his favorite food on this entire planet.
So, he asked again. And again. And again.
No, babe, I’m sorry. No popcorn for this movie.
The movie hadn’t even started yet and I was failing to keep the two-year-old quiet. I could hear the family behind me snickering.
But that’s just about when the movie started up (thankfully) and he was (temporarily) distracted by some film clips of animals and ships.
I understood his confusion. Sometimes, the equations in life and in faith don’t seem to work out the way we expect. Or maybe the way they’ve worked before. Or the way everyone tells you it’s supposed to all work.
Pray with faith.
Pray the promises of Scripture.
Pray with honesty.
Pray with fasting.
Pray with confession and repentance…with worship…with others.
Pray first thing in the morning. Pray on your knees. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray for mercy.
This should be like movies and popcorn. You go to the movies; you get popcorn. They just go together.
In the same way, you pray correctly and you get answered prayers.
We know the truth of this. Sometimes the wait is long. Sometimes the road is treacherous and uncertain.
And sometimes you go to the movies, you sit in the theatre seats, you stare at the big screen…but you don’t get popcorn.
What do we do when we have prayed faith-filled, persevering, worshipful, honest prayer and God remains silent or even tells us “no”?
What happens when we’ve done exactly what we’re supposed to do and the miracle delays or doesn’t come?
Adam S. Hogue in his book, The Listening Life, writes:
.Although we are tempted in times of agonizing silence to think of God with an icy stare on his face, refusing to make eye contact, I have found it comforting to think of God simply sitting with us in our pain, quietly listening. Maybe what feels like awkward and anxious silences to us are actually full and gentle silences… When God is listening to us, even if we do not experience the results we hope for, he is actively disposed toward us.
This image of God sitting with me in my sorrow doesn’t solve every problem. Pain is still pain. Need is still need. Disappointment is still disappointment.
But God doesn’t stand far off, oblivious to my hurt, hard-hearted and unmoving, or deaf to my pleas.
Perhaps He is closer than ever.
The Psalmist says:
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116:2 ESV).
We pray and we keep on praying, we open our hearts to Him, because He listens and because He loves us.
David knows the anguish of unanswered prayers. He wrote in Psalm 22:
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest (verse 2 ESV).
And then He prayed for the same grace we need:
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help (Psalm 22:11 ESV).
Even in the silent seasons, we have His presence and we rely on His nearness, and that makes a difference for us.
It changes everything.
I’m not arguing my case in a courtroom before a stern and unmovable judge.
I’m with the God who loves me. He wipes my tears. He holds me close. He hears my cries. He knows my need. And even when I don’t understand, He still cares for me with compassion and mercy.
As Max Lucado says,
‘God is God. He knows what he is doing. When you can’t trace his hand, trust his heart.’ (Grace for the Moment)