More than five hundred years before Christ, Isaiah the prophet spoke about a time when God would answer prayer before His people asked.
…they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. 24Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:23-24).
A doctor who worked in Africa shares this story of God's provision:
"One night, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward, but she died despite all we could do, leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator). We also had no special feeding facilities.
Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She returned shortly in distress to tell me it had burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates) in filling the bottle. And it is our last hot water bottle!' She exclaimed. As in the West, it does no good to cry over spilled milk, so in Central Africa, it might be considered no good to cry over burst water bottles; they do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. 'All right,' I said, 'put the baby as near the fire as possible and sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.'
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem with keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle and that the baby could die quickly if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. 'Please, God,' she prayed, 'Send us a hot water bottle today. It'll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will die, so please send it this afternoon.' While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added, 'And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl, so she'll know You really love her?' As often with children's prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say 'Amen?' I did not believe God could do this. Yes, I know He can do everything; the Bible says so. But there are limits, aren't there? God could only answer this particular prayer by sending me a parcel from the homeland.
I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever, received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send me a package, who would send a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator! Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses' training school, a message came to me that a car was at my front door. The vehicle had gone by the time I reached home, but a sizeable 22-pound parcel was on the verandah. I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the package alone, so I sent for the orphanage children.
Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. The excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. The eyes of the children sparkled as I gave them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas - that would make a batch of buns for the weekend. Then, as I put my hand in again, I felt the...could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out. Yes, a brand-new rubber hot water bottle. I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed He could.
Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying, 'If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!' Rummaging to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, 'Can I go over with you and give this dolly to that little girl so she'll know that Jesus really loves her?' 'Of course,' I replied. That parcel had been on the way for five months, packed up by my former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God's prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child - five months before, in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it 'that afternoon.' 'Before they call, I will answer' (Isaiah 65:24).
What a beautiful answer to a very specific prayer. The joy a child of God feels when a particular response to prayer is received goes far beyond the answer itself. It is also a reminder that God keeps His promises, that He is mindful of us, and that we can call on our Father in this new day of prayer. Maybe today is a good day for you to begin praying in Jesus' name for whatever you need. Keith Thomas