Sometimes our circumstances, ranging from annoying to heart-stopping, drive us to a familiar and well-loved verse, Philippians 4:6.

Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

We might read it often when something is weighing on us. I find comfort in this verse because it reminds me God cares about my “stuff”, no matter how small. But one day as I read the verse, something new hit me.

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. I have always assumed that meant, “Thank God for all he has done in the past in answer to your prayers.” Of course, it does mean that, as we recall his faithfulness, and that bolsters our confidence in him to trust him anew for the current challenge.

But suddenly, I saw it on a different plane. A parallel meaning, yet related and not at all contradictory. We know God dwells in eternity, and time exists only for us humans. God is outside of time. What if part of the meaning of the above verse is that he has answered your request already, but has yet to show it to you? What if the very thing you asked him just now has already been answered in eternity, but it’s not yet the moment to unfold it for you?

Hmm. That sheds another light on the idea of “unanswered prayer.” Maybe there are no unanswered prayers.

A verse from Isaiah shines a spotlight on this thought: “I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!” Isaiah 65:24.

Let that settle in a moment. As we’re talking to him about a need, he has already answered it. Before we ask, he has answered. But in his outside-of-time way, as he surveys the big picture into eternity future. Into your future. He sees the puzzle pieces like a chess game, where one move isn’t wise until another one occurs first. Or maybe a future change will affect the outcome of the thing you prayed for, so waiting is crucial.

But we don’t like it when he waits. We think he hasn’t answered. What are the reasons he might wait?

Some reasons are easy to imagine. Like there might be something better he has for us. Yes, that’s surely true in many cases. What if we aren’t ready yet for his answer? What if we have more to learn, more to get rid of? Like a stronghold. A sin. An idol. Or heal from something that left scars he wants to remove?

What if the manner by which he wants to answer isn’t ready yet? Like grapes ripening on a vine. They can’t be picked too early, or it will ruin the wine. The sugar must be just right, the moisture content, the exact number of days needed for the perfect product, the days of sunshine. So many factors we don’t know unless we are in the profession.

Imagine how much more God sees and knows. Each of us is a unique vintage, a special varietal, and all the timing must be perfect according to his perfect plan for us, and for everything else too.

And yet, he has answered, planned, prepared, and provided in eternity, outside of time. Outside of our time. Because everything in our lives is that important to him.