Because God can stop our pain, we think He should.
So we pray. And pray. But nothing happens.
That’s what occurred with Mary and Martha. They sent a message to Jesus that their brother Lazarus lay sick. But instead of immediately traveling to Bethany, Jesus stayed right where He was beyond the Jordan River. When He finally did arrive, Lazarus had been dead four days.
In other words, Jesus had taken His sweet time showing up.
From what happened next, I see several lessons to help us reconcile pain and prayer with God’s love.
What We Want from God
“Lord, if You had been here,” Martha cried, “my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). When Mary later approached Jesus, she fell at His feet and echoed Martha’s grief, word for word, through bitter tears:
“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).
The sisters’ words revealed their faith in Jesus’ ability. But they also reveal their disappointment in His delay. Their assumption? Because Jesus could have saved Lazarus, He should have.
Pain often tempts us to view Jesus this way. We have pain and prayer should solve it.
But it wasn’t Jesus’ lack of concern that caused His delay. This story reveals that the exact opposite is true. He waited because of His love for the sisters and for Lazarus (see John 11:5-6).
What God Wants for Us
As hard as we try, wrapping our minds around that seeming contradiction is still a struggle. After all, it’s hard to feel God’s love when we’ve cried out to Him, perhaps for years, and He seems to ignore us. Our pain blurs what Jesus sees clearly.
That’s what happened with Mary and Martha. Jesus saw what they couldn’t through the jumble of their pain and prayer.
- He knew what Lazarus’s death would produce—an opportunity for nonbelievers to witness a miracle.
- Jesus knew that Mary and Martha would grow to understand that God loved them on a level that went deeper than simply removing their pain and answering their shortsighted request.
Those lessons apply to you as well.
3 Lessons on Reconciling Pain and Prayer with God’s Love
- Because Jesus waits to answer your prayer, you know He wants to give you more than relief. (Tweet that.)
- Because Jesus wept, you can know He feels your pain, strengthening you with His presence along the path He in His sovereign will sees as best for you.
- He loves you enough to delay the answer and even to let you hurt—so that you will gain what you could not otherwise.
Jesus walks with you—and weeps—along the painful road that leads to death . . . but also to resurrection.
Question: How do you deal with God’s delay with regard to pain and prayer? Please leave a comment.
Adapted from Wayne Stiles, “Mary and Martha: Waiting and Wondering,” The Wise and the Wild: 30 Devotions on Women of the Bible (IFL Publishing House: Plano, TX, 2010), 91-92.