God is always working, even when we don’t see

One morning last week, I was a little discouraged as I prayed for a long-term prayer request. I hadn’t seen any movement on that front in a long time. It didn’t look like anything was happening.

I felt sure that I was praying according to God’s will. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” That doesn’t mean He will answer everything in just the time and way we want. Sometimes He might even say no if that is better for us than a yes. Sometimes He has something different and better in mind. Sometimes He wants us to wait.

But as I was praying for His working in a heart to bring a person to faith in Himself, I felt sure that He would do all in His power to answer that request.

Sometimes sin can hinder answers to prayer, but I wasn’t aware of anything I needed to confess to the Lord or anything that would hinder answered prayer.

I’ve had enough experience with the Lord that I know He’s working, even if I don’t see any evidence of it. So I encouraged myself by reminding myself of times in Scripture or in my own life where I saw His answer after an extended period of seeming inactivity.

From the garden of Eden, God promised Adam and Eve that a redeemer would come to defeat Satan. It was thousands of years before that redeemer came. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). God was at work all those years, preparing people for the coming of His Son.

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years before the son God promised them arrived. Why did God make them wait so long? Perhaps to strengthen their faith.

David was anointed king years before actually coming to the throne. Meanwhile he had to flee for his life while the current king, Saul, sought to kill him.

Daniel and others were in exile in Babylon for seventy years before God brought some of them back to Israel.

Hebrews 11 lists several more who saw God do great things after long years. Some of them even “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (verse 13). They trusted God would answer and bring about His will even though they never saw the answer in their lifetime.

In my own life, I remember aching over the breakup of my family and the loss of all that was familiar when we moved to a new city when I was a teenager. I clung with all my might to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I am not even sure I was saved then. I had made a profession as a young child, but had not been in church or in the Bible regularly. I couldn’t remember much about what I prayed when I came forward in a friend’s church in third grade. But I knew enough that I could go to God for help. After a very long and lonely summer, God led us to a school and church where I was regularly taught His Word and where I made sure of my salvation in my teens. God had been drawing me to Himself all the while, even when I felt so alone.

I didn’t have a long period of singleness, but it felt plenty long at the time. I spent several years in a Christian college with eligible young men all around me. But none of them seemed interested in me. Then after several years of praying for the right one, a friendship blossomed into something more. God had been laying the foundation and preparing both of us for each other, even when we were unaware of what He had in mind.

One of the biggest demonstrations of God’s unseen working occurred in my father. I knew my father loved me, but he also got angry easily. He was big on respect and authority, and he took any arguments or disagreements from his children as disrespect or “sass.” Consequently, I was afraid to talk to him about things he might disagree with. He had always believed there was a God, but as far as I knew hadn’t believed in Him in a personal way.

When I went off to college, I’d share verses at the end of letters to my father. I always wrote them out because I didn’t figure he’d look up the references. He never responded to them. I pictured him either skipping over them in disgust or shaking his head and thinking, “There she goes again.”

Several years after my husband and I got married and had a couple of children, my father came to visit us in SC for the first time. He wasn’t well. He had gotten out of the hospital with pneumonia not long before flying out, so we felt maybe he just traveled too soon. But on the day he was supposed to fly back to TX, he ended up in the hospital.

One evening as we came down the hospital hall to visit him, the nurse told us they had almost lost him, and he was in ICU. When she took us to him, he said, “I know one thing. When I get home, me and the pastor are going to have a long talk.” We asked if he would like our pastor in SC to come and see him. He said yes.

On an interesting side note, before he got so sick, he had come with us to the field day at my oldest son’s elementary school. He met my pastor and his wife there, as they had a child in the same school. My pastor’s wife was from west TX, as my dad was. She knew the little town he was from, a town most people had never heard of. I think that little detail drew him to them and caused my dad to be open to the pastor’s coming when he might not have been if he had never met them.

While my dad was in ICU, we could only visit with him 15 minutes at a time once or twice a day. My pastor came often—I think he may have come every day for a while.

Finally my dad was moved out of ICU into a private room. The first day we visited him there, almost as soon as we walked in, he said something like, “I just want you to know that the pastor came by today, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

I almost fell over. To have my father express faith so clearly and openly was something I hadn’t expected.

Later, as we talked with my pastor, he shared with us some of the discussions he’d had with my dad. He said at one point, my dad talked about the verses I used to send him and said, “My daughter has been trying to get me to do this for years.” To my shame, I had been praying for his salvation but had not wanted to push. I think I might have written out the full plan of salvation once or twice. But mostly I just sent verses as a postscript without comment. All that time I thought my dad had just skipped over those verses, God had been using them to plant seeds in his heart.

He came with us to church before he went home. I wish he had lived closer, so he could have come with us more and we could have encouraged him spiritually. For some reason, he never got into the church back in TX.

So there wasn’t a dramatic change in his life. My pastor encouraged me that when someone is saved later in life (my dad was 61), they’ve had more years on the other side of things. It takes a lifetime to grow spiritually, and my dad had had more time on one side than the other.

But there were subtle changes. He liked to read, and he was open to my sending him Christian books. One of them was about Christians behind the Iron Curtain. On the phone we discussed the amazing ways God helped and encouraged those people in such hard circumstances.

As I hung up the phone, I thought, “I just had a conversation with my dad about the Lord.” A miracle.

When seeds are planted, they remain underground for a while before anything of the plant comes up. Different plants grow at different rates: some take a long time. The flat ground looks lifeless. But underneath, things are happening. Then that first green blade appears and rejoices the heart of the planter.

I love John Piper‘s quote that “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Though sometimes we have to wait long, we can wait in faith and hope, knowing God is at work behind the scenes.

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