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When Answers to Prayer Don’t Make Sense

November 20, 2019

It all started with a hurricane. We’ve been through many, having lived in South Florida during Hurricane Andrew and then moving to coastal North Carolina, where wind and rain pummeled our homes and our wallets.

The timing of the last storm was particularly bad. Hurricane Florence hit us just as our home went under contract to sell and just as we learned of a medical issue that brought all work to a halt. As we contended with one issue, we found ourselves facing another.

With each new crisis, we prayed for God’s will and we watched as He showed us His deliverance. And yet, before we could rest, the very thing we thought was the answer to prayer seemed to vanish and we found ourselves facing yet another crisis.

We knew God was in all of the details, but the details didn’t make sense. As He was answering prayer, the answer disappeared. The home sale fell through. The medical issue needed further treatment. The rain just wouldn’t stop.

The Example of Joseph

Thank God for the example of Joseph.

Joseph’s example comforted us as we went from one crisis to the next. In each chapter of Joseph’s life, God seemed to bring deliverance and fulfill His will, only to have the situation deteriorate.

Shown in a dream that he would be a ruler of his family, Joseph recognized God at work. And yet, the next thing that happened wasn’t the power and authority he expected. Instead, he found the opposite: rejection by his family and slavery far from home.

Despite being sold as a slave into Potiphar’s household, God elevated Joseph to a position of authority. Perhaps he thought that God was delivering him and fulfilling the plan He showed Joseph in the dream. And yet what a surprise the new crisis must have been when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of misconduct, and prison became his new home. The unexpected accusation and subsequent imprisonment couldn’t have made sense.

While Joseph was in prison, God showed Himself yet again, elevating Joseph to a new position of authority. Once again, the circumstances suggested that God must be delivering Joseph from betrayal at home and at work. Surely this time, God would fulfill the plan He showed Joseph in the dream. How disappointing the cupbearer’s betrayal must have been.

Where was God?

Joseph was given a dream that he would be the prince of his family, but the slavery that followed must have been confusing and disappointing. The rise to authority in Potiphar’s house could have seemed like God’s deliverance, but then Joseph’s hopes would be set aside yet again as he faced prison.

The rise to authority in prison might have seemed like God’s deliverance, but maybe his hopes were crushed a third time when he experienced the abandonment of his fellow inmates. As God was answering prayer, the answer seemed to vanish. None of it made sense.

In the end, God completed the mission. The cupbearer remembered Joseph, and Joseph was delivered from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. God raised him up as a prince of Egypt, and gave him final authority not just over his family, as the original dream suggested, but over the prison, Potiphar’s household, and all of Egypt.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)

God’s Promises When the Answers Don’t Make Sense

Our town faced a record rainfall that year of over 100 inches, breaking the previous record set in 1877 of 83.6 inches. That’s over eight feet of water in a coastal town where the water table is no more than a scratch away from the surface.

Many friends and neighbors continued to be displaced as contractors were in short supply. We remained in that crisis for many months with more unexpected medical and financial issues. But God has finally delivered us. We thank God for the example of Joseph, and we believe what God says in His word is true.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 11:12)

God has answered prayers, and some of those answers have been confusing. With each new wrinkle, we are comforted to know that “His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers” (Nahum 1:3-4).

Photo Credit: Unsplash

The Author
Nivine Richie

Nivine Richie is a women’s Bible study author and teacher in Wilmington, N.C. She is the author of Enduring Faith: An 8-Week Devotional Study of the Book of Hebrews. A university finance professor, she is actively involved in the Christian faculty association on campus. Nivine has participated in and taught many small group studies over the years, and she seeks to help others launch their own small groups. She loves the coast, camping, and a good cup of coffee. Find her at

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