Waiting on unanswered prayers can be so frustrating. Nobody likes being unsure of what God's answer will be—especially when we live in a world of instant gratification when it comes to knowledge. If we have questions about anything, the answer is usually just a quick Google search away.
But God is not limited by time constraints and cannot be rushed. He does things in His own time. If He sees that someone must wait 39 years to see the fruits of their labor, then so be it. I believe there are some prayers God may choose not to answer at all in our lifetimes—that the results of our efforts may not come to fruition until many, many years after we are gone from this earth. Or maybe it does occur during our lifetime but in a location where we will never see it. Our timing and criteria is not often in alignment with God's, but His timing is always more trustworthy than ours (Isaiah 40:31; Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalm 27:14).
YES. I do believe it is possible to try and become more aware of God's will in order to help make better decisions about where we're headed, better assumptions about whether any given prayer will be granted or not. Romans 12:2 gives us the proof right here: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
I'm someone who generally likes to know the exact plan, so "waiting on God" is not always the most welcome advice. But as my faith has grown, I've gotten better and better at recognizing when God has something "brewing" in my life, and I've learned to prepare and make intelligent decisions based on observations and guidance from the Holy Spirit (Psalm 143:10).
Being aware of God's will for our lives helps us inform us on how God answers our prayers. So how can we know God's will? Here are some steps to take. I'm not saying these are fool-proof, but they're definitely a start.
How would you build a relationship with a new friend? You could have conversations with them, read what they've written, observe how they interact with others. It's the same with our relationship with God. Read the Bible, talk to Him, look for Him in your life and in the lives of others. Get to know God's character better through His Word (Hebrews 4:12). Surrounding yourself with God's love letter to you will turn His "absence" into His presence and strengthen your faith (John 16:13). Our God is a relational God; He would like you to trust Him and communicate with Him (which involves talking AND listening) (Philippians 4:6-7).
The Holy Spirit dwells inside every believer and is your source of strength when your faith feels weak (John 14:16-17; Ephesians 3:16). He is the One who can help you choose a godly life when faced with temptations and produce godly character, which is the "Fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23), when faced with trials. When you hear the Holy Spirit convicting you or urging you to act, then TRUST Him and OBEY right away (John 16:8; Proverbs 3:5-6). He guides us from evil and toward righteousness (John 16:13).
This may take some time, but as you see God working in your life—things that you recognize have no explanation other than God—then keep track of those things. You're collecting data for a study of how God works in your life specifically.
If you can remember, tuck it away in your memory bank for future analysis. If you have a bad memory for those things or tend to forget during hard times, then write them down in a journal or on a list you keep in plain sight. I try to write in a daily journal, reflecting on the prior days, talking about today, and planning for the days just ahead. It makes me stop to observe what's really going on in my life and keeps the days from slipping into obscurity.
As we begin to discover and compare these instances, we'll start to recognize what it looks like when God is at work in our hearts, relationships, work, and daily interactions.
"Waiting on God" doesn't mean that you're sitting around, twiddling your thumbs, and watching for a flashing a neon sign that tells you what to do. God wants us to live our lives and make good choices while doing it (James 4:17). No, He isn't always going to be 100% clear about what to do, but that is because He knows you are a capable, intelligent child of God who CAN make good decisions (John 1:12; 1 Corinthians 2:16).
If the answer isn't clear, He may very well be giving you that freedom to be independent and move forward with a good decision. A parent doesn't help their little child move each leg to walk for the rest of their lives. They teach them to stand, to walk, and then they let them RUN—all on the child's own!
Over the years, I have come to realize that when I receive a financial windfall, it's usually because God is preparing me for some level of financial hardship to come. So rather than spend that unexpected money frivolously, I save it. I watch and wait. Because sure enough, something in my house will break, or one of my kids will need money for a school thing, or the car will need a repair, or I'll have unexpected guests I need to buy food for.
To be clear, I'm not saying this is how God works for everybody; this is how God works in MY life. I've observed it happen again and again. Now it's something I recognize as provision from God and that the situation is under His control (Psalm 37:4). With this knowledge, I can confidently expect that He will take care of me.
This is what I'm taking about in learning how God "works" in your own life. Following these steps, especially taking note of times when you DO recognize God's hand in the unfolding of your life, will help you develop a better picture of your relationship with God—how He interacts with you and how you respond to Him.
As you begin to discover how God works in your life, you can better predict how He might answer your prayer and if what you're asking is in alignment with His will for your life. You'll also begin to recognize how your prayer has been answered—if it's a "yes," a "no," or a "not now." Again, keep in mind that this is going to take time, practice, and observation of your notable interactions with God. Developing any relationship with a loved one can be important and beneficial; developing a close relationship between you and God is absolutely the most beneficial work you could ever do.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.