When our search for God’s leading involves a specific question about direction, what to do, how to proceed or something like that, many people assume that there are two possible answers: yes or no. Some might anticipate a third answer: not yet. Knowing that there are three answers helps people in their search for God’s will.

When we receive a yes, that is probably the easiest answer to hear–and the more we ourselves want the yes, the easier it will be to hear. In fact, if we want a yes answer enough, we might even convince ourselves that we hear it when it isn’t the answer. That is why I suggested we begin by discovering what we want first so that we have at least the opportunity to allow for our biases in the search process.

Receiving a no answer is more difficult. We need to let ourselves be honest about our response to this answer from God. There is Christian peer pressure to put on a spiritual happy face and thank God for the answer when inside we are upset, angry, disappointed, hurt or frustrated. While many Christians will have difficulty with us if we voice these feelings when receiving an answer we don’t want, God isn’t going to be upset and we will have a healthier response if we are honest with ourselves. It is much easier to deal with the unwanted answer when we are honest than if we are trying to impress everyone with our spiritual maturity.

The third answer is one that some Christians really don’t anticipate. We often want a clear answer right now–but God can and does tell us that we may have to wait. The ultimate answer might be clear but include a waiting time or the final answer might not come until after we wait a while. The greatest difficulty I face when waiting is involved is that any wait is too long for me when I want a clear answer–and God doesn’t seem to share my sense of appropriate time.

David, for example, was told to wait on the question of building the Temple–and his wait was very long. He knew that the answer to building the Temple was yes but the actual work would only begin after his death. That must have been a frustrating answer for a man of action like David. (II Samuel 7)

While these three answers cover most of the requests that we make to God, there is actually a fourth answer that I have run into from time to time in my life and in the lives of others. When I am teaching on prayer, I like to call this answer “13”. The number isn’t really significant except for the fact that people aren’t expecting it–and that is the nature of the fourth answer: it is the thing that we are not expecting.

It is like we ask God if we should be a pastor or not and he tells us that he wants us to go to Kenya as a teacher. Or we ask if we should teach Sunday School and he tells us to become the head usher instead. The unexpected answer is perhaps the hardest of all to deal with because it is generally outside both our desires and our boundaries. Receiving a “13” answer upsets everything because it will take us in directions we didn’t think of and so are not ready for.

But it is a valid answer to our desire for God’s direction and is probably more common than we want to realize–it may be that many “unanswered” prayers that sit there nagging at our faith have been answered with a “13” that we are unprepared or unwilling to see. The frustration and spiritual struggle we have over the lack of answers can provide a distraction that keeps us from thinking about the possibility of a “13” answer.

When we are in search of specific answers from God, we need to keep all the possible answers in mind. This is important because it is too easy for us to determine what the answer should be and look only for that one. The more we realize that the answer we want is only one possible answer, the easier it will be for us to at least look for the others. We won’t always like the answers that God gives, but we will be better able to receive them.

May the peace of God be with you.


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