Reading the devotions in Augsburg Press' The Word in Season booklet (the January, February, Marcy 2011 issue), I enjoyed the March 7 devotion by Katherine Olson, reflecting upon Psalm 78:18. She writes, "Imagine that you put correct change into a vending machine, pressed the button for the soda you wanted, and ended up getting another kind instead. 'Lousy machine!' you'd grumble."
She continues: "Do we have a temptation to treat our gracious Lord like a faulty vending machine when our prayers are not answered exactly the way we imagined? We might think that by praying a certain way, we are putting in correct change and pressing the right button. When we don't get what we are looking for, we assume the fault lies with God." Olson concludes that we can seek daily to trust God to know what we what we need.
I enjoyed this devotion partly because of a personal experience. During a weekend trip, I tried to get a diet cola from a motel vending machine. Watching calories, and mildly allergic to corn (and thus the corn syrup used in soft drinks), I stick with diet varieties. But on two attempts, mindful that I pushed the correct vending machine button, I got regular rather than diet colas. Three's a charm, I thought.... but I got a regular lemon-lime drink! "Damn machine," I shamefully grumbled. Giving up, I took the sodas home in case my daughter wanted them when she returned home from college.
I hesitate to use myself as a devotional example for anything, but when I read Olson's piece, I thought that my experience might be a good way to think about unanswered prayer. If we don't feel like God is answering our prayers quickly enough, if at all, we might ask: what positive thing can I do with this disappointment? Could someone else be helped by this experience? What positive things can I be doing with my life (including helping other people) amid this situation of unanswered or not-yet-answered prayer?
The answer to your prayer might be found in the things you do while waiting! This may not always be the case, but it's worth being open, flexible, and watchful. God answered some of my prayers in amazing serendipitous events that happened while I was waiting to see why God was taking so long to help me!