“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me” (Ruth 1: 20-21 NLT)?
Do you ever have an attitude like Naomi? Do you feel like God answers other prayers, but not yours? That God blesses other people more than you?
Naomi made this declaration when she returned to Israel after living in pagan Moab for many years. She was understandably sad. While in Moab she lost her husband and two sons.
Of course, we could ask why she was in Moab in the first place. Yes, there was a famine, but others survived in Israel. Instead, she and her husband chose to leave their homeland and other believers and live in a pagan country – allowing their sons to marry pagan women.
But God still blessed Naomi. She didn’t come back empty. She had Ruth, who was a loyal and loving daughter-in-law. God used Ruth to bless Naomi greatly during the next few years, but right now Naomi only saw the darkness and she blamed God.
What about you? Do you ever compare your life blessings with others and think you come up short? What about the popular girl from high school who continues to find success in both her personal and professional life? You almost wonder if she ever has a bad day! Then there is that woman from work who gets all the great projects while not working nearly as hard as you do. Oh, and the woman who marries the good-looking rich guy. That will never work out. She got married for the wrong reasons. Fifty years later they celebrate their anniversary with friends and family.
Of course, you pray, but it doesn’t feel like God is listening.
We pray for healing and a loved one dies.
We pray for success, the endeavor fails.
We pray for a child and every month there is no pregnancy.
We pray for a new job but are turned down again.
Where is God? Why doesn’t He answer my prayers?
These questions about blessings and answered prayer go way back – clear back to the beginning of time:
Eve had no one to compare her life to, she lived in Paradise and talked to God, but Satan was still able to plant a sliver of doubt. I can hear her saying, “You say you are blessing me God, but you are holding back something. I just know what you are holding back is the best of the best. You don’t really love me or you would give it all to me.”
Can you imagine the beauty surrounding her in the garden? Yet, in a New York minute, Satan was able to introduce discontent into her life and bring Eve’s world crashing down around her that day.
You may be more spiritual than me, and perhaps you never question God. However, I have experienced Naomiitis and Eveitis. Why aren’t you answering my prayers, God? I am not asking for much! Why is she more blessed than me?
So, as I have in the past I look at some examples of women in the Bible whose prayers were answered. Were they different from mine?
Hannah: Hannah was married to a priest named Elkanah. Unfortunately, he was also married to another woman named Peninnah. Although Elkanah loved Hannah more, Peninnah was able to give her husband something Hannah had not – children.
After making the required sacrifice during an annual trip to Shiloh; Peninnah taunted Hannah because Elkanah gave her a larger share of meat for her children. Despondent, Hannah prayed fervently, pleading for a son and promising to give the child to the Lord.
Her prayer answered, Hannah gave birth to Samuel, and eventually five other children. Elkanah had his doubts about Hannah’s ability to keep the promise. When she told her husband she would wait until her son was weaned to go to Shiloh, Elkanah answered: “…Stay here for now, and may the LORD help you keep your promise”(1 Samuel 1: 23a NLT).
But Hannah did keep her promise. When the child was of age she left Samuel at the Tabernacle to serve as the priest’s assistant. Every year she took a coat to Samuel. I am sure she enjoyed these visits, but it must have been difficult to return home without her son.
Esther: Most of us know the story of Esther. She was an orphaned Jew living during the time of exile. Both northern Israel and southern (Judah) Israel were conquered and the people were scattered. At this time in history, some of the Jews had returned to Israel, but most had settled in their new countries and did not return. Esther lived in Persia and under some very unique circumstances, she became King Xerxes wife and Queen of Persia.
The Jews were hated by many Persians and there was a man in court (Haman) who devised a plan to rid the nation of the Jews. When the plot came to Esther’s attention, through her cousin Mordecai, she knew she had to use her position to save her people.
Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.” So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him (Esther 4: 15-17) NLT)
Most of us know the end of this story. The Jews are saved and Haman was executed. Esther’s prayers were answered.
Anna: There are only three verses (Luke 2: 36-38) about Anna, but we learn a lot about this woman in these few words. Widowed at a young age she spent her life in service to God living at the Temple. Worldly things did not interest her. She never sought another husband, nor did she live a life of discouragement because she never knew motherhood; instead, she embraced the things of God. She spent her days worshipping, fasting, and praying.
You sense she was keeping watch for the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies; never losing hope. As a prophetess, she was sensitive to God’s message, and this was the most profound, important announcement of all.
Notice when God gave her insight and she recognized Jesus, she didn’t stop and talk to the couple or even take a minute to admire the baby. It was if she was unable to contain herself, she lifted her voice in praise immediately. God was delivering on His promise of a Messiah!
The Bible tells us she also proclaimed the Good News to everyone who waited expectantly for this great day. She wanted everyone to know that the most important prophecy of all was fulfilled.
Syro-Phoenician Woman: Her daughter was possessed by a demon. Tormented constantly this girl most likely had seizures daily. This mother begged Jesus for mercy. It took courage for a woman to approach a man in such a forward manner. Not only was she just a woman, she was a Gentile. The disciples were annoyed by her begging, but she persisted.
Notice that she calls Jesus “Son of David.” (Matthew 15: 21-28) She knew this man was special with power beyond that of any normal person. Despite Jesus ignoring her at first, telling her he was here for the Jews, and calling her a dog, she did not give up. She used the dog analogy and said she would accept the crumbs that fell to the floor. Jesus answered her request and her daughter was healed.
Looking at the prayers of these women I realize that each one is different, but there is one similarity. They all had confidence in God’s answer. Not necessarily the desired or expected answer, but confidence that God knew best. They were willing to accept God’s answer.
The Bible tells us when Hannah finished praying her face was no longer downcast. (1 Samuel 1:18) She didn’t know that she would later have a son and five other children! But just talking with God lifted her spirits. She had given her problem to God and that was enough.
Esther was willing to die in her obedience. She fasted and prayed and asked others to do so also. Like Hannah, she didn’t know the outcome of this venture. Until Xerxes raised the scepter to welcome her into his presence, she didn’t know how her capricious husband might respond. Fasting and prayer were all that was needed. Esther trusted that God would take care of the rest.
Anna spent her life in prayer and fasting. She could have been like Naomi – bitter because her life didn’t turn out as expected. She married when she was young and like most brides probably looked forward to raising a family. This was not to be, but instead of bitterness, she gave her life to God, praying for the most important child of all – the coming Messiah. God answered her prayer allowing her to lay eyes on the child prior to her death. It brought her such joy she couldn’t contain her praise.
The woman with the demon-possessed daughter surely was frantic. Her daily life was caretaking and watching in anguish as her child suffered. She heard about this Jesus and his healings. She knew He was a Jew. I might have shaken my fist at God, asking why he loved the Jews more than me? I would certainly have been offended if Jesus compared me to a dog.
Instead of pridefully turning away from this embarrassing encounter, she continued to approach Jesus with courage and persistence. This woman realized Jesus was God and that she was undeserving. On the other hand, she knew that crumbs were enough from an Almighty God. She was grateful, not insulted.
God deals with us individually and there is no cookie-cutter prayer that will give you everything you want. Probably because everything you want is not best for you. God has a master plan. I am sure if we did know the details we wouldn’t have the capacity to comprehend its greatness. However, we can be assured it will work out for the best because God is in control.
I think back to another woman who had a request. (Matthew 20: 20-27) John and James had a mother who wanted the best for her sons. In her mind, the request was simple enough. Let her sons sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. Of course, the other disciples were indignant. Not because the request was outrageous, but because they thought they should have a position of honor.
Jesus told them: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT).
So when I ask about my “lack” of blessings and answered prayers I must look at the motivation behind my requests.
Am I like Hannah? Do I leave my requests and burdens with God and walk away uplifted?
Am I like Esther, willing to sacrifice all to obey God and fulfill His will?
Do I allow bitterness to infiltrate my thoughts and life, or like Anna do I turn my life over to God?
When things get tough do I react like the Syro-Phoenician woman by praying and not giving up? Do I recognize that even God’s crumbs are more than I deserve? Yet, He gives so much more to me every day!
Psalm 37: 1-6 (NLT)
Don’t worry about the wicked
or envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
Trust in the LORD and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the LORD.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Word of the Week is nostalgia. Take a look at what God tells us about the “good old days.” The children study Job this week.
As always, I welcome any comments below.