Prayer is precious to the Lord. But in Exodus 14, God directed Moses to stop praying (see vv. 15-18). God wanted Moses to do something better--to act in faith so that God could deliver his people from Pharaoh's army.
A man I know, George, was almost murdered 40 years ago on a rooftop in the Bronx. Strung out on drugs and desperate for more, George had stolen heroin from a drug dealer. When the enraged dealer, Crazy Joe, and his sidekick caught up with him, George didn't beg for his life. He said, "Do what you have to do--just let me get high."
Crazy Joe's accomplice argued that George's life wasn't worth taking, since he was nothing but a dirty drug addict. Amazingly, the irate drug dealer let George go.
George's brush with death was the experience that finally got the message through his head. Soon after, he turned away from a life of drug abuse and entered a Christian rehab program, where he learned to live victoriously through faith in God.
The change was remarkable. After completing the program, George served on staff for a year and then attended Bible school.
George married and settled down to work at a detention center run by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. His clients were 8- to 15-year-old boys.
George felt the Lord calling him to help hurting people, just as he had been helped in his time of despair. But no matter how hard he prayed and worked, he made little progress with the kids. The program seemed a complete failure.
Things got worse before they got better. Still, George kept praying for direction. His efforts met with only disillusionment and disappointment.
George had gone into social services to help people, but he felt he wasn't making a difference. Had he mistaken God's call on his life, missed some sign from heaven that would have directed his steps another way?
He didn't realize it at the time, but his fervent prayers for direction had been answered with a "not now" word from God. Everything that had happened in George's life was preparation for what he would be doing in the future.
God was about to act. He began by placing a desire in George's wife's heart that soon caught fire in his heart as well.
George Rosado, a former junkie, had married Grace, a pastor's daughter, who years before had received a burden from the Lord to see desperate women's lives restored by the gospel. Together they established New Life, a ministry that has been helping hundreds of hurting women in New England and elsewhere for more than 25 years.
Whenever we pray, it's vital to distinguish among these four different directives from the Lord. Understanding God's imperatives and His timing can help us avoid painful pitfalls and guide us into His perfect will.
There are more wonderful things to come that we can't even imagine. Beautiful, perfectly timed, life-changing breakthroughs are what God is all about.
Jim Cymbala has been the senior pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle for decades. He is an award-winning author of several books, including Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire (Zondervan). He lives in New York City with his wife, Carol, who directs the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
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