24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.
We know that Heavenly Father loves us and that He hears and answers our prayers. However, there are times when He is slow to answer us, or at least to give us the relief we seek. One such case is when we persist in sinning and fail to repent until we begin to experience the natural consequences of those sins. (See Isaiah’s dramatic warning in Isaiah 1:11-18.) Heavenly Father still loves us under those circumstances and still wants us to be happy, but He will allow us to suffer some of the consequences of our poor choices.
We can understand this principle in the context of parenting. Parents learn that it is not wise to bail their children out every time they make a mistake. Parents do have a responsibility to protect their children, but they also need to give their children enough independence that they can learn from their mistakes. Sometimes a parent chooses not to intervene so that meaningful learning can take place.
How long will the Lord delay answering our prayers? Until we repent, says Abinadi. This can take time, because it is not always easy for us to achieve a state of true penitence. Sometimes we need to suffer for a while in order to be ready to receive God’s grace. As soon as we arrive at that state of penitence by humbling ourselves and praying diligently, He is willing and able to deliver us.
Today, I will remember that Heavenly Father will not always shield me from the consequences of my decisions. I will remember that it is far easier to heed His warnings and repent early than it is to seek deliverance from the consequences of my sins. And I will remember that He is always able to deliver me, but He will not always do so on my timetable.