On the darkest of days, we should remember that even Jesus asked of our Father in Heaven, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:36).
It is fairly simple to hold onto our faith when the sun is shining, but what about those quiet moments on stormy days when a loved one is deathly ill, when the bills keep piling up, when the opportunities just don't seem to be coming soon enough. How strong is our faith when God, in his infinite wisdom, loves us enough to say, "No." Most of us can be "strong" when God answers our prayers, but what about when he doesn't (at least not in the way we think we need him to)?
I don't know about you, but I've had days (or weeks or months) where the Heavens seemed closed (usually because I was looking for what I wanted instead of asking to see what God wanted). And during those times, it can be tough to not feel forgotten or abandoned or even lonely. And maybe, just maybe, we might even feel a bit of fear. We don't have God's eternal perspective since he can see the end from the beginning; usually we struggle to see two steps in front of us on the pathways of life. So when a big trial or adversity or obstacle drops down on the road we are following, it is natural to cry out, to reach for Heaven's reassuring embrace. In fact, no message appears in scripture more times, in more ways than, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” (Matt. 21:22; James 4:3; 1 John. 3:22; 1 Ne. 15:11; Enos 1:15; Mosiah 4:21; D&C 4:7; and Moses 6:52 are examples.)
However, while we may ask, a prayer is not a wish to be granted by some mystical genie; rather, it is answered by an omniscient, exalted being who knows what is best for us in the long run, the eternal run. While we ask for what we need right now, God answers in what will help us now and ten years down the road, or thirty, or seventy. Because of his love for us, God will answer our prayers in the way that serves us best as defined by his perfect perspective.
I often wonder what it would have been like for ancient Israel when they found themselves facing the waters of the Red Sea. Here they had been slaves for so long to Egypt's pharaohs and had now enjoyed roughly three and a half weeks of actual freedom. But then, after about a week of pitching their tents on the shore of the Red Sea, the mighty armies of Pharaoh were seen racing towards them and "they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord" (Exodus 14:10).
Now, many of us, when the trials of life fall heavily on our shoulders do exactly the same thing (whether we are sore afraid or not): we cry out unto the Lord, perhaps expecting the "Red Sea" of our current adversity to part. And maybe it will! Maybe the Lord will cause the way to open before us in some miraculous fashion and we will walk forward in life on "dry ground."
But what if he doesn't? What then?
That is when we need to have faith (and works) the most. We need to remember that this life is a test and that sometimes God wants us to apply all our reasoning skills into finding a solution for ourselves (think of the Brother of Jared needing light in their ships - Ether 2: 23-25) and then getting to work to make it happen. Maybe he is silent because he wants us to do our part and then he opens the Heavens to bless those efforts. Perhaps we should pray less that he parts the sea and more that he will give us the strength to swim across it. Maybe the lesson he wants us to learn is not that he will do everything for us, but that he will give us everything we need to solve the problem ourselves.
What if God had commanded newly-liberated Israel to stand and fight? What if, instead of parting the Red Sea, God has blessed the Israelites with strength and divine protection in battle against Pharaoh's armies? There are certainly several instances where he did just that in the Bible's history. And while the parting of the Red Sea was an incredible display of God's love for this covenant people and indeed his ability to deliver us from times of trial, not all divine interventions will come in such an eye-opening manner.
So when God says, "No" what he really means is, "No, I will answer your prayer another way." It may require patience, it may push us to limits we never knew we could reach or ask us to do things we are afraid to try, but in the end, when we ask God to help solve our problems we must be willing to stand firm in the faith and work our fingers to the bone in our own behalf. Sometimes he moves the mountain and other times he expects us to pick up the shovel.
As the old adage goes, "Pray as if it depends on the Lord, then get up and work as if it depends on you." Maybe the healing will come through finding the right doctor or deliverance from financial stress will come through a new job or simply tightening the budget. Does that mean God isn't in the details? Of course not! But whatever we pray for we must also struggle for, even if our efforts are a pittance in comparison to the work required. And if it is his will to help us in some miraculous Red Sea-parting fashion, hallelujah! But if his miracles are "smaller" or even harder to distinguish between the average occurrences of this life, we should still drop to our knees in gratitude for his willingness to answer our prayers in his own way and according to his own will. Indeed, that is perhaps one of the main reasons the Lord taught us to pray, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven" (Mathew 6:10). In other words, "Father, let my prayer be answered here on earth as your will is there in Heaven."
As Jesus, who was so intimately familiar with the love of his father, asked:
"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
"Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Mathew 7: 9-11).
I do not know what burdens you are carrying right now, nor what concerns are weighing on your mind, but I do know this: your Father in Heaven is not some absent dad who cares little for his children's needs, fears, hurts or struggles. No, our God is a compassionate parent whose love is far beyond anything we can comprehend. And I know of no loving parent who would ignore their child's heart-felt pleas. While he may not give you what you want when you want (simply because he knows better), he will answer you in the manner that will bless you the most!
So if you are struggling, kneel down and pray...then rise up and get to work. The sea may not part (right away), but I promise that God will deliver you through his divine power. Want a fun personal scripture study assignment? Check out this list of Biblical miracles and you'll see what God has done and can do for his people.
As the Psalmists wrote, "And call upon (him) in the day of trouble: (he) will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify (him)." (Psalms 50:15).