Have you ever gone through a time when it seemed like your prayers went unheard? Have you ever needed some help or direction from God only to find that He didn’t seem to listening to your prayers? If you’ve ever felt that way, then you may be interested to read about a time when a call to Jesus went unanswered- or so it seemed…
But when Jesus heard about it he said, ‘The purpose of his illness is not death, but for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this situation.’ Although Jesus was very fond of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days and made no move to go to them” (John 11:1-6).
So here we have a man named Lazarus who was apparently so sick that he was about to die. This desperate situation caused his sisters to send word to Jesus informing Him of his illness. Now notice that Mary and Martha didn’t actually ask Jesus to do anything- they simply made sure to talk to Him about the situation.
You see, Martha and Mary knew that all they had to do was make their need known to Jesus and they could count on Him for help. But instead of rushing to be with His friend, Jesus did something that seemed to be totally out of character for Him- He stayed where He was (which was at least 25 miles [40 km] away) for two more days.
Think about that for a moment- Jesus’ friend was dying and Jesus refused to go to him. That doesn’t seem right, does it? Is that really how a friend should treat another friend? Well, before we jump to conclusions, let’s stop and see if there’s something that we can learn and apply from Jesus’ actions here.
After all, haven’t there been difficult times in your life when it seemed that God wasn’t listening to your prayers? Perhaps you have prayed regarding a difficult situation in your life only to find that Jesus seemed to respond in much the same way that He did here with Lazarus. In these situations it’s easy to say, “God haven’t you heard me? Why haven’t you answered me? Why haven’t you gotten involved in my situation? Don’t you care about me?”
If you’re feeling this way then The Doctor can tell you that it’s definitely not because God doesn’t care. And it’s certainly not because God doesn’t hear. It just might be that God has a higher purpose in mind concerning that thing that you’ve been praying about.
You see, God may sometimes allow things to come to the worst stage you can imagine -and then beyond that- in order to display His ability and give you a better understanding of who He really is. Or perhaps God is delaying His answer in order to give you what you really want instead of what you think you want.
Nevertheless, it’s not easy to be in a situation where God hasn’t responded in the way that we hoped He would. If this describes the way that you feel then you are certainly not alone. After all, this is the exact situation that Mary and Martha found themselves in as seen in the Scripture quoted above.
The important thing to remember is that you may not be able to control your circumstances but you can control the way that you react to them. So what should be our response to those times when it seems like God is unresponsive? Well, here’s some good advice from the book of 1st Peter: “…if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 4:19).
But let’s get back to our story because things are about to get real interesting. You see, Mary and Martha are about to jump on an emotional roller coaster. The good news is that things will get much better for their brother Lazarus eventually. The bad news is that things are about to get much, much worse first…
Then he said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has gone to sleep, but now I will go and waken him!’ The disciples, thinking Jesus meant Lazarus was having a good night’s rest, said, ‘That means he is getting better!’ But Jesus meant Lazarus had died.
Then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I am glad I wasn’t there, for this will give you another opportunity to believe in me.
Come, let’s go to him.’ Thomas, nicknamed ‘The Twin,’ said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let’s go too– and die with him'” (John 11:7-16).
So Jesus’ decision to go back to Judea met with some opposition from His disciples who basically told Him, “Jesus, the last time you were in Judea some people there wanted to kill you- why do you want to go back?” Jesus’ answer was simple but packed with emotional and prophetic meaning: “Our friend Lazarus has gone to sleep, but now I will go and waken him!“
This is important because you’ll sometimes see the word “sleep” used in the Bible to describe someone at their time of death. An example of this occurred when Jesus went to heal the daughter of a local religious leader as seen in Mark 5:22-53. When Jesus got to the man’s house, he found it filled with people who were mourning because the child had died.
In response to this, Jesus said, “The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.” The people there laughed at Him because they knew that the little girl had died; but they stopped laughing after Jesus put them out and returned her -alive- back to her parents.
Unfortunately in this case, the disciples misunderstood Jesus to mean that Lazarus was enjoying a good, healthy rest. Now you can’t really blame the disciples for misinterpreting Jesus’ meaning here. After all, the idea of a good night’s sleep for Lazarus must have been very appealing to them. It would be healthful for Lazarus because it would help him get better and it would be healthful for the disciples because it meant that they would not have to go back to Judea and risk getting killed.
Jesus however, had bigger things in mind: “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I am glad I wasn’t there, for this will give you another opportunity to believe in me.” You see, Jesus wasn’t happy about His friend’s death but He was glad about the good things that He knew would come from it.
But Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let’s go too– and die with him.” Because the religious leaders were so openly hostile to Jesus, Thomas probably expected them to try and put Him to death if they returned anywhere near Jerusalem. But you have to give Thomas credit- he may not have thought that it was a good idea to go back to Judea but he was determined to follow Jesus, even at the cost of his life.
So things look pretty bad, but Jesus had a plan for Lazarus- and He has a plan for you also. Are you willing to allow Jesus’ plan to unfold for you even though things look pretty difficult right now? Remember that just because God hasn’t answered your request doesn’t necessarily mean that He has denied it. Delays aren’t always denials- sometimes they bring greater honor to God.