The early church had been praying for Peter’s release from prison, yet they were surprised when God actually responded (Acts 12:1-17). The story would be comical if it didn’t so clearly describe us, too. It happened to me, in fact, this week—God answered a long-term prayer, and I was astounded. Here are some reasons we’re sometimes surprised when God answers our prayers:
- We haven’t studied enough of the Bible’s stories of answered prayer. God’s always been a prayer-answering God. In the scriptures He answered prayers for Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Hannah, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hezekiah, Jesus, Paul, and so many others. When we don’t know the stories, though, we don’t always expect God to hear us.
- We fail to consider the incredible truth that God welcomes us coming to His throne boldly (Heb 4:16). He WANTS us to come to Him. He’s a good, good Father who wants to give us good gifts for His glory and our good. Indeed, He gave Himself to us that we might have a genuine relationship with Him! When we forget these truths, God’s answers to our prayers might catch us off guard.
- We struggle believing prayer works. We know prayer matters because we know it’s in the Bible. We talk about it. We read about it (though not enough, as #1 shows us). We hear sermons about it. We might even write about it but still battle unbelief. Prayer demands faith, and faith is sometimes hard—and we’re pleasantly surprised when God responds.
- We’ve prayed prayers—sometimes for a long time—God hasn’t answered yet, and the delay hits at our faith. I suspect that the longer we wait for an answer, and the deeper the need that evoked the prayer, the harder it is to keep trusting that God’s listening. We cling to what seems to be diminishing hope—and when God comes through, we have not been expecting it.
- We know our hearts—and we know we’re hardly perfect. Perfection is not a requirement for answered prayer, but obedience does matter if we expect God to listen (Isa 59:1-2, Psa 66:18). We’re still sinful people, however, so we wonder if God will respond to us. When He does respond, we’re surprised.
- We don’t always hear of answered prayers even when God does answer. Most of us are guilty here. Even when God does indeed meet our requests, we’re not inclined to let others know of His gracious response. Churches do the same thing when they publish a prayer request list but never update the congregation when God answers a prayer. We never hear these testimonies—so it sometimes surprises us when God intervenes in our lives.
May God help us to be amazed—not surprised—when He answers our prayers!