Answers to prayer can sometimes be a mystery, especially when the answers are a long time coming. Sometimes the answers are not what we expect. Such was the case with the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Romans, he expresses his desire and prayer to visit them.

“For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Romans 1:9-13).

Paul’s experience in receiving the answer to his prayer provides important lessons for the church. They are lessons that shed light on the mystery of delayed answers to prayer.

  1. The answer came with a delay.

The letter to the Romans was written around 57 A.D. At that time, Paul noted his longing to visit Rome. In addition to having prayed to visit the city, he also had often planned to visit in order to be a blessing to the church. His prayer was answered but not overnight. His prayer would not be answered in a month or within a year. In fact, he would not visit Rome until a few years later. Scholars agree that Paul arrived in Rome around 60 A.D.

Sometimes we are discouraged when our prayers are not answered immediately. There are times, however, when God chooses to answer our prayers in His own time. As the saying goes, He answers by saying, “Yes,” “No,” or “Not now.” In Paul’s case, the answer to his prayer was, “Yes, but not now.” The answer, his visit to Rome, would come later.

Prayer involves faith, and “faith is often called upon to wait patiently before God and is prepared for God’s seeming delays in answering prayer,” writes E.M. Bounds. “Faith does not grow disheartened because prayer is not immediately honored. It takes God at His Word and lets Him take what time He chooses in fulfilling His purposes and in carrying on His work.” [1]

  1. The answer came with trials.

Several years after praying to visit Rome, Paul began his journey. The trip, however, would be fraught with danger. In the process of receiving the answer to his prayer, Paul endured tragedy, opposition, and persecution. While in Jerusalem, people tried to kill him. He was rescued and put in chains (Acts 21). While sailing to Rome, Paul endured a shipwreck (Acts 27). He arrived in Rome in chains and spent two years under house arrest. Some of the people who listened to his preaching believed on Christ, but others did not believe (Acts 27:24-25).

The things we pray for may come with surprises. They may come with persecution, hard times, or unforeseen trials.

  1. The answer came with ministry opportunities.

Despite the trials that Paul endured, the journey to Rome afforded him opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. In Jerusalem, he preached in the face of life-threatening persecution, and while in chains. His shipwreck on the island of Malta allowed him to experience divine protection from a snake bite and witness a miracle of healing that prompted many to believe on Christ.

While bound in chains, Paul could say, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). This may serve to remind us that God can use even our trials for our good and for His purpose (Romans 8:28). Therefore, when we pray and our prayers are not answered immediately, we do not have to fret, as the delay may indeed be an opportunity for us to bless others.

  1. The answer came with messages for Christian growth.

When Paul finally arrived in Rome, he heard from God and was inspired to write the four letters that we call “The Prison Epistles’: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. These epistles were written around 60 A.D. and 61 A.D. Paul desired to impart “some spiritual gift” unto the church in Rome (Romans 1:11). He wished to comfort them in the faith while also being encouraged by them (Romans 1:12). He also wanted to “have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Romans 1:13). From the record in Acts, and the existence of the prison epistles, we can see that Paul’s prayer was answered, but in a much larger way than he expected.

While confined in Rome, God used Paul to bless the local church. Through his writings, he blessed other churches; and by God’s grace, he continues to bless churches throughout the world through his letters. In short, Paul received far more fruit among the Gentiles than he could have possibly imagined. It’s no wonder that he could write, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20).

There is one other blessing related to Paul’s delay in visiting Rome: He wrote the letter to the Romans, the theological masterpiece that has blessed the church for nearly 2,000 years. It is the one book in the Bible that answers in detail the most important questions about salvation. According to C. Norman Barlett: “The epistle to the Romans stands pre-eminent among the writings of the Apostle Paul. It is without question the most important production of his pen … No other writing of his has so powerfully influenced the thinking of the Church.” [2]

If Paul had gone to Rome when he wanted to in the beginning, he might have never written the book of Romans. Had his prayer been answered sooner, he would have been in Rome, and therefore had no reason to write his letter. Fortunately, God had a higher purpose in mind. He allowed the delay in Paul’s visit and inspired him to write. Today, we are blessed with this powerful letter because God answered Paul’s prayer in His own time.


As we ponder these experiences in the life of Paul, we can see that the answer to his prayer was not instant, or easy. The answer came when he did not expect it, and in a way that he did not expect. Even more, it came with blessings that surpassed his greatest expectations. God answered his prayer, but in His own way, and in His own time, and for His own purpose. Indeed, there is a blessing in waiting on God to answer our prayers.



[1] E.M. Bounds, E.M. Bounds on Prayer (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1997), 110.

[2] C. Norman Barlett, Right in Romans: Studies in the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953), 13.


ROSCOE BARNES III, Ph.D., is a writer, chaplain, historian, and former newspaper reporter. He is the author of more than a dozen books and Gospel tracts. Contact: [email protected]