This is Part 3 in a series of posts from Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Fourth Pastoral Letter.
Second, God often delays the answer to prayer for wise reasons. The case of the Syrophencian woman will occur to you all (Matt. 15.21–28). How anxiously she cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou son of David! But Jesus answered her not a word.” Again and again she prayed, and got no gracious answer. Her faith grows stronger by every refusal. She cried, she followed, she kneeled to Him, till Jesus could refuse no longer. “O woman, great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” Dear praying people, “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgivings.” Do not be silenced by one refusal. Jesus invites importunity by delaying to answer. Ask, seek, knock. “The promise may be long delayed, but cannot come too late.”
You remember, in the parable of the importunate widow, it is said, “Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18.1–8). This shows how you, who are God’s children should pray. You should cry day and night unto God. This shows how God hears every one of your cries, in the busy hour of the day-time, and in the lonely watches of the night. He treasures them up from day to day; soon the full answer will come down: “He will answer speedily.”
The praying souls beneath the altar, in Rev. 6.9–11, seem to show the same truth, that the answer to a believer’s prayer may, in the adorable wisdom of God, be delayed for a little season, and that many of them may not be fully answered until after he is dead.
Again, read that wonderful passage, Rev. 8.3, where it is said that the Lord Jesus, the great Intercessor with the Father, offers to God the incense of His merits, with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which is before the throne. Christ never loses one believing prayer. The prayers of every believer, from Abel to the present day, He heaps upon the altar, from which they are continually ascending before his Father and our Father; and when the altar can hold no more, the full, the eternal answer will come down.
Do not be discouraged, dearly beloved, because God bears long with you–because He does not seem to answer your prayers. Your prayers are not lost. When the merchant sends his ships to distant shores, he does not expect them to come back richly laden in a single day: he has long patience. “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” Perhaps your prayers will come back, like the ships of the merchant, all the more heavily laden with blessings, because of the delay.