The Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne (d. 1843) offers four important insights on various ways God answers our prayers. In his Fourth Pastoral Letter, titled “God the answerer of prayer,” M’Cheyne writes:
First, God often gives the very thing his children ask at the very time they ask it.
Second, God often delays the answer to prayer for wise reasons
Third, God often answers prayer by terrible things.
Fourth, God sometimes answers prayer by giving something better than we ask.
The third one really struck me. He says:
Third, God often answers prayer by terrible things. So David says in Ps. 65: “By terrible things in righteousness wilt Thou answer us, O God of our salvation.” And all of you who are God’s children have found it true. Some of you have experienced what John Newton did when he wrote that beautiful hymn, “I asked the Lord that I might grow.” You prayed with all your heart, “Lord, increase my faith.” In answer to this, God has shown you the misery of your connection with Adam. He has revealed the hell that is in your heart. You are amazed, confounded, abashed. You cry, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” You cleave to a Saviour God with a thousand times greater anxiety. Your faith is increased. Your prayer is answered by terrible things. Some of us prayed for a praying spirit, “Lord, teach us to pray.” God has laid affliction upon us. Waves and billows go over us. We cry out of the depths. Being afflicted, we pray. He has granted our heart’s desire. Our prayer is answered by terrible things.
Read the whole thing here.
Reflecting on this third response, I could not help but recall this prayer from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.
Thou hast done for me all things well,
hast remembered, distinguished, indulged me.
All my desires have not been gratified,
but thy love denied them to me
when fulfillment of my wishes would have proved my ruin or injury.
My trials have been fewer than my sins,
and when I have kissed the rod it has fallen from thy hands.
Thou hast often wiped away my tears,
restored peace to my mourning heart,
chastened me for my profit.
All thy work for me is perfect, and I praise thee.
See also my 3-part series, God’s Providence, our Prayers.