Chaplain Max Helton prayed beside the car of Dale Earnhardt prior to the start of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt told Helton, "Just pray that I'll be wise in putting the car at the right place at the right time . . . and be able to drive with wisdom." Holding hands, they prayed for wisdom and safety. In that very race, Earnhardt lost his life in a final lap crash.
We have all had the experience of unanswered prayer. We pray for God's healing for a loved one. We pray for God to bring revival and renewal to our churches. We pray for the suicide bombings to end and for our troops to come home. Why does nothing seem to change when God has promised us, "Ask and you will receive"? Is Jesus being totally truthful when he tells us, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it"?
We will never have all the answers to unanswered prayer, but the story of the exodus in the Old Testament provides us with some important perspectives when we are struggling with the silence of heaven. In Exodus 2:23, Israel cries out for God to deliver them from their bondage in Egypt. The people waited for twelve long chapters, a wait that must have seemed like forever, before God completely answered their prayers. What we learn from their waiting will help us the next time we are struggling with unanswered prayer or God's answer is not what we have asked for or expected.
Before the people ever pray for deliverance, God has already begun the process of providing a deliverer. A baby at the beginning of chapter two is the unknown answer to the prayer at the end of chapter two. Even when Moses goes from being a prince in Egypt to a fugitive in Midian, there is a reminder that God has a special purpose for Moses's life. In Midian, Moses drives away a bunch of bullies who are harassing the daughters of Jethro and he waters their sheep. It foreshadows precisely what Moses is going to do for Israel — he's going to confront the biggest bully of all and then spend 40 years of his life taking care of God's sheep.
When you're waiting for an answer to prayer it helps to remember that God already has the answer worked out before we are even aware enough to know our need or articulate the words of our prayers. God knows the beginning, middle, and end of every circumstance and situation. Jesus reminds us that "your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Israel needed a deliverer and the Lord knew about it before Israel even asked.