Every week, I gather with a small group of women to pray for our children. One of the things we do first is thank God for prayers He has answered. I’ll admit though, I’ve often glossed over these times, seeing them as just the “good manners” of prayer time, the “please” and “thank you’s” of our time with God.
But then something happened that helped me understand just how essential prayers of thanksgiving really are. My sweet friend had just watched as a medical procedure, the culmination of years of prayer, had accomplished nothing. She was at the bottom of an emotional roller coaster and confessed to being heart-sick over this unanswered prayer. I went scrambling to Proverbs 13:12 to find the gut-wrenching words my friend used to describe her disappointment:
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”
When Hope is Deferred
“Hope deferred” is when a prayer feels like it has gone unanswered too long. Or maybe it feels like there’s no hope at all. And heart sickness is the natural result. Sorrow. Discontent. Even cynicism. These are words that describe the spectrum of emotions my friend had. And frankly, we’ve all been there. Watching a friend give in to a persistent addiction. Seeing a sister in Christ struggle with debilitating chronic illness. Decades of prayer for a prodigal child. These deferred hopes can threaten to overwhelm our hearts.
On the Other Hand
The writer of Proverbs 13 doesn’t just leave us there. He shows us the flip side of the coin.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick… but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” And with this line, the proverb suddenly begins to connect us with a source of healing and joy.
Look more closely. What’s hiding inside the “fulfilled longing” that Proverbs 13 mentions? Well, ideally, in the life of a praying Christian, fulfilled longings are answered prayers, right? We open our hearts to our Heavenly Father, “God this is what I long for. This is what I need.” And He has answered. He has fulfilled our longing.
Our Fulfilled Longings
No matter how many hopes you have that feel deferred right now, even if it’s so many longings and burdens that you’ve lost track, I challenge you to remember the answered prayers. I don’t know about you, but my focus gets so narrowed by discouragement sometimes that I forget the hundreds, maybe even thousands of blessings and benefits I enjoy right now, that are distinct answers to prayer (whether my own, or someone else’s for me).
A Tree of Life
As we’ve seen, Proverbs 13:12 stirs our sensory imagination. We can immediately connect with the imagery of being sick at heart. But then, the proverb holds out this unusual promise of a Tree of Life. Remember the Tree of Life from children’s story Bibles? The fruit of this tree that God created in the center of the Garden of Eden was so powerful that eating it would bring eternal life. After Adam & Eve sinned, God divinely fenced off the tree of life from humankind—Adam and Eve would never return to pluck fruit from this tree.
But, there’s another incredibly significant appearance of the Tree of Life in the Bible. Revelation 22 describes the glorious heavenly city that awaits those who trust in Christ, “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Did you catch that? Twelve crops of fruit, a different one for each month of the year? And leaves. For the healing of the nations. Our world could use that right about now, don’t you agree? But how can a fulfilled longing be a tree of life?
Imagine a fruit tree on your property. If you are not regularly drawing on its resources, it is of little value.
In the same way, if we are not regularly drawing nourishment, satisfaction, fulfillment, strengthening, and even healing from our answered prayers, we are not experiencing their full benefit.
Its Fruit & Its Leaves
THINK OF AN ANSWERED PRAYER AS A TREE:
- Admire its beauty! We are made to worship: “Oh Lord, You’re beautiful!”
- Eat of its fruit! “Taste & see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) As you reflect on those answered prayers, find renewed satisfaction and joy. Savor the richness of God’s goodness.
- Be nourished! “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10) If you’re discouraged right now, look back and be encouraged and sustained by what God has done in the past.
- Apply its leaves to your wounds. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
Regularly remembering answered prayers, eat of the fruit. Take a huge juicy, slurpy, drippy bite, as you savor the remembrance of God’s goodness. Meditate on answered prayers to bring healing. Apply them as a salve to the wounds of your heart, to heal the festering of doubts and soothe the inflamed irritation of cynicism.
Pause to Practice Thanksgiving
So, what does this all have to do with including thanksgiving in prayer? When we stop to thank God for prayers that He has answered, we are again finding satisfaction in how He fulfilled that longing.
As we get ready to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, let it be a time when we revel in the fruit of our answered prayers. Not just for that lost set of car keys we prayed for last week, but how about the bid on the house that came through, the loved one who survived that harrowing car accident, the conception of our now-teenager, that we prayed fervently for years ago. Each is worth our repeated thanks.
I suspect that as we all get better at this over time, we will be able to take a stroll in the forest of God’s goodness. We’ll be surrounded on every side by trees that have sprung up, some of them decades old with trunks we can’t get our arms around, others little saplings just beginning to take root; each one a living reminder of God’s faithfulness. Then, after we have taken a walk through that grove of trees that God is planting in our lives, we will be more and more ready to pray for those things that we are still hoping for.
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Jen Costanzo lives in small-town Pennsylvania with her husband Mike and three kids. She loves supporting the body of Christ in her work as a church secretary and has led a Moms in Prayer group in her community since her oldest began kindergarten in 2015.