I was number twenty in the telephone call system. I don’t mind waiting on the phone – after all, with a mobile, it is mobile so I could walk around in the interim. But, it’s very hard to concentrate on anything else when lift music (or some other benign noise claiming to be music) is playing on the other end of the line.
Peppered in the waiting music are the words spoken with the softest, most charming Northern Irish accent whose dulcet tones assure me, “your call is important to us, please continue to hold.”
For the first ten minutes, it is easy to believe that my call is, indeed, important to them. However, as the time passes, it becomes clear that, despite the assurances from my new sweet friend on the other end of the phone, my call is not as important to them as it is to me.
Then I’m faced with an impossible dilemma. Do I hang up and lose my place in the queue and have nothing to show for the last half an hour of my life, or do I persevere however long it takes for my call to become important to them? What would you do…?
The Bible promises us that if we call to the Lord, He will answer us – see Jeremiah 33 for example – and many of us can testify to the wonderful ways in which the Lord has answered prayers. Sometimes He is gracious and answers according to how we have asked, other times He is even more gracious and answers in ways that we have not asked but turn out better for us. He reads between the lines of our prayers and longings, sees the beginning from the end and knows what’s best in every situation.
But then there are those times when we feel like I did on that telephone line; hanging on with no answer and far from convinced that our call is important. What then? Do we ‘hang up’, stop praying and reason that He has not heard or chooses not to answer us, or do we persevere for however long it takes? Oftentimes it seems that the calls to my Heavenly Father that go unanswered are some of my biggest asks, gravest doubts, most difficult struggles. Is, then, my call (especially of distress) not important to Him?
These questions the Psalmist David struggles with too:
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I plan what to do in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God. Psalm 13
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible.” That might be hard to hear if you are waiting for God to break in and listen to your calls. But when we boil it down, it is not about whether we are heard – we know we are – but whether God responds. Philip Yancey says, “most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.”
So rather than hang up; we wait, we persevere, we keep on keeping on – knowing that we are heard, even if we don’t hear or get the answer that we’re hoping for. We trust, knowing that in His grace and wisdom He works it all out, speaks when the time is ripe and acts according to His perfect will. That takes a special kind of courage, one that you may well need to ask for right now.
Lord, you have always spoken when the time was ripe, and though you be silent, today I believe.