The Persistence of Prayer
Many people faced with problems do not persist until they have overcome them. Too many of our fellows belong to the Quitter’s Club. Like President Marcos they decide that when the going gets tough, the tough will get going…out of the place!
..Educational difficulties cause young people to leave school early dropping out of society perhaps for all time;
..marriage difficulties cause many a quick divorce and without trying to work out their difficulties to run away;
..employment difficulties cause many a person out of a job to become dispirited after knockbacks and so give up;
..spiritual difficulties cause many people to lose heart and they do not continue in their worship and faith;
..health difficulties cause many people long term suffering and they lose heart and hope bringing on early death;
..business difficulties cause some people to lose heart and quit preferring to give up rather than make a go of it.
This is no idle complaint about people who lack persistence. It is the heart-felt cry of a pastor who does not like seeing suffering because they give up too soon. One man whom I have never met, but who watches me each week on television from Cremorne, wrote to me this week about his worries and indicated that he could not go on any longer. He wrote, “By the time you receive this letter, I will have taken my own life.” He told me where his body could be found. But before I even opened the letter, his body had been recovered after he had shot himself. The sad thing is, that his problems were not that great. He had lied, and had debts of $20,000, but his situation could have been worked through satisfactorily, if he had only had persistence. We have on staff psychologists and psychiatrists who could help him with his habit of lying, and Credit Line which could have steered his way through a bankruptcy. But he did not persist in finding an answer.
His letter in my hand tonight is an eloquent testimony of those who suffer because they do not persist. Why do people lack persistence? Great discoveries in science come only after persistence. Famous athletes win only after persistent training. University students achieve only after persisting in studies. Happy marriages last only because ordinary people have worked at them. Stable family life is maintained because parents and children work at their family relationships. Prayers are answered and events are changed only because faithful believers persist in prayer. Anything worthwhile only comes because someone has stuck at it. Yet for many people in Australia, this is an era of quitters. They quit, drop out, give up, walk out, withdraw, escape, depart and lack persistence. Membership is easy in “The Quitter’s Club”. No-one promised that life was easy – but it can become meaningful.
Starting tonight on TV is the television adaptation of Albert Facey’s biography: “A Fortunate Life”. This ordinary Australian tells what it was like to grow up as an ordinary bloke in the bush of Western Australia 90 years ago. His father died when he was two and his mother deserted him not long afterwards. At eight years of life he started work and took odd jobs droving, hammering railway spikes and even joining a travelling boxing troop. He had to fight at Gallipoli and during World War 1. He went on the land after the war as a soldier settler but was forced off during the depression. He had to teach himself to read and write. It is a story of tragedy, hardship, suffering and endurance, yet at the end of his handwritten notes that has become the best selling Australian book, he writes; “I have lived a very good life, it has been very rich and full. I have been very fortunate and I am thrilled by it when I look back.” Amazing! A fortunate life? Yes – because he persisted!
Persistence is a vital quality and it is equally essential in a person’s prayer life. Too many people give up on prayer as a spiritual force simply because they quit too soon.
JESUS INSTRUCTS US TO PRAY PERSISTENTLY:
Every one of us faces tough times, but persistent prayer can handle every problem. Persistent prayer can overcome anger, anxiety, criticism, disappointment, discouragement and despair, fatigue, nervousness, temptation and sorrow. Persistent prayer can overcome anything that besets us. That is why Jesus taught us to persist.
In the time of Jesus, there existed a Jewish concept of “waiting before the Lord”. There were frequent admonitions for the believer to “Be patient and wait for the Lord to act” (Psalm 37:7). In a prayer for help from God, the Psalmist cries, “From the depths of my despair I call to you Lord, Hear my cry, O Lord; Listen to my call for help!…I wait eagerly for the Lord’s help, and in his word I trust. I wait for the Lord more eagerly than the watchmen wait the dawn.” (Psalm 130:1,5-6).
The Apocrypha has a text “Be not impatient in prayer”. (Si---ch 7:10). The Hebrew meaning is to waiting for God tense, full of anticipation, hopeful, willing to endure anything until God should grant your answer. For those who wait, God will honour, answer, and provide spiritual strength. The result of waiting patiently upon the Lord in prayer is that we are endued with spiritual strength:
“Those who wait upon the Lord…who trust in Him for help…will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.” (Isaiah 40:31). Through waiting patiently and praying persistently, a believer learnt to trust God, find strength under strain, and a spirit of expectancy.
Successful people are not people without problems, but people who have persisted until they have outlasted their problems.
WHY DOES GOD WANT US TO PERSIST?
God is absolutely faithful. Jesus stressed God’s faithfulness and His desire for us to persist in prayer. One parable Jesus told to encourage us in our persistent prayer is found in Luke 11:55-8. Jesus wanted us to understand that His Father will “give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.” Jesus also stressed that we should be persistent in our prayer in another parable found in Luke 18: 1-8. Jesus told that parable, “to teach them that they should always pray and never become discouraged.” There are two clear expectations:
We are to travail in prayer. That means we must grimly labour and agonise over the concerns of our prayers. Spurgeon explains: “God does not hear us because of the length of our prayer, but because of the sincerity of it. Prayer is not measured by the yard, not weighed by the pound. It is the might and the force of it, the truth and reality of it, the energy and intensity of it.” (“Twelve Sermons on Prayer” p.88). God expects us to use energy and intensity in our prayers. It is how we feel in prayer. Jacob wanted God’s blessing, he wrestled with God and said “I won’t unless you bless me.” He travailed in prayer.
We are to prevail in prayer. That means we must desire persistently what we pray. Jesus said: “When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for.” (Mark 11:24) We are to pray with confidence and tenacity. Travailing in prayer is how we feel when we pray; prevailing in prayer is how we fight when we pray.
Prevailing in prayer means to confidently, optimistically, patiently, tenaciously pray until God opens Heaven’s gates and the opposition to our prayers crumbles before us. Jesus said “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks will receive, and anyone who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to him who knocks.” (Matt. 7:7-8) The grammatical construction of this sentence is the continuous present tense meaning “keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.” George Mueller said: “The great point is never to give up until the answer comes. I have been praying for 63 years and 8 months for one man’s conversion. He is not saved yet, but he will be. How can it b e otherwise? I am praying.” But Mueller never saw him saved, because it was only as Mueller’s casket was being lowered into the grave that the man gave his heart to God. George Mueller’s prayers were answered. He never quit.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PERSISTING AND PESTERING?:
There is a difference between persisting and pestering God. For example Jesus told us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread”. That prayer was to be persistently prayed as we raise to God our needs daily. But there are other matters which we pray---------
When God has given us such an answer, it is important for us to accept His answer and to go ahead trusting God even without our prayed-for desire.
Jesus prayed three times: “Father, if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done.” (Luke 22:41) From that time on, he went to the Cross without asking for it to be removed from Him. He refused to pester God.
Paul prayed three times: “Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked Him to take it away. But His answer was: ‘My grace is all you need for my power is strongest when you are weak.” Paul had the answer, so he refused to pester God, and went ahead receiving God’s power to enable him to cope.
When should we persist in prayer? The Bible gives us many examples that require persistent prayer which is not pestering God. We should persist in prayer for:
*believers who fall into sin that they might repent;
*illness of body or mind which God is willing to heal;
*peace on earth, for God’s blessing is upo0n the peacemakers;
*spiritual growth so that we conform more to Christ’s image;
*enemies who persecute us so that they might be forgiven;
*workers to bring on God’s harvest of souls to salvation. Elijah was earnest about his praying. James says “Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly…” 5:17. The passage means “he prayed his prayers”. Some of us “say” a prayer, but Elijah “prayed his prayers” with persistence.
Epaphras was a companion of Paul. He was also a prisoner with Paul and was praised twice for his devotion to the ministry. At the end of his letter to the Church at Colossae, Paul praised Epaphras: “He always prays fervently for you, asking God to make you stand firm, as mature and fully convinced Christians in complete obedience to God’s will. I can personally testify to his hard work for you.” (Colossians 4:12) Epaphras was a faithful, persistent prayer. Jesus was committed to his prayer life. In the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most poignant scenes in all of literature. Our Lord and the disciples weary from the stress and tension of the late night plotting of enemies to have them murdered. The disciples are asked to wait in the security of a dark Olive Grove. There their weariness overcomes them and they fall asleep. But Jesus “went off from them about the distance of a stone’s throw and knelt down and prayed…In great anguish he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:41-44). These examples encourage us to persist.
WE THEREFORE SHOULD PERSIST IN OUR PRAYERS.
Make a commitment tonight to devote yourself more persistently in prayer, and that in every area of your life you will have great resolution and will to continue.
“More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”
As Jesus said: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks will receive, and anyone who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to him sho knocks. How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:7-11)
Pray! Pray persistently!