We have had an opportunity to learn some timeless principles about prayer. These included a series of questions that I could ask myself before I pray. We also had a chance to look at some things that we need to believe if we are to pray in faith. This week, we look at what it means to persist in prayer.
One of the things that is sometimes lost when we talk about prayer, is that prayer is about communication. That communication is one of the ways that we get to know God better. Persistence in prayer, and allowing God to have His say and His way in our prayers gives us a better chance of getting to know God. We need to give time and room for God to speak into our prayers. As we persist in a particular prayer, we can cling to the things that are important (God’s will, God’s glory) and begin to let go of the things that are less important (when something or someone has to change, or how something has to happen).
Back when we were looking at parables on Sunday morning, we used a particular parable in Luke 11 to pivot from looking at the parables to looking at prayer. It was the parable of the importune neighbor. The importune neighbor is visited late at night by a guest. He has nothing with which to feed his surprise guest, so he asks his neighbor for three loaves. Some people may think that parable means that we need to badger God the way the importune neighbor badgered his neighbor. But Jesus places some context for the parable when He talks about what a loving father desires to give to his children. We do not need to badger God. That is the wrong kind of persistence!
One of the easily missed points of the parable is that the importune neighbor had nothing. This is what made the importune neighbor persistent. This is a good truth to take with us into prayer. In contrast to that truth, sometimes we have a back-up plan. It is as if we say, “If God does not answer, then I can do this and that which will still salvage the plan, although not as nicely if God does everything for me.” We have our own plan B. If we have a fallback plan, then it is not surprising if our prayers really sound more like wishing and hoping. If not out loud, at least by our beliefs, we do not feel like God will show up in the way that we want.
Jesus said in John 15:5, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” If plan B is all in our own effort, it can be labeled “doing nothing,” not because there is not significant effort, but because it will accomplish nothing for the Kingdom of God. We have all seen those kinds of empty monuments to a person’s strong desire and efforts at creating a legacy. Persistence in prayer happens when we realize we have nothing. Because we feel we have inadequate earthly resources, we have no opportunity to create a plan B. But there is real truth in the front half of that quote from Jesus. If we abide in Jesus, we will learn to ask the right things. And the things we accomplish through those kinds of persistent prayers, great or small, will have an impact for the Kingdom of God. For that to happen, we do not rely on earthly resources. We rely on the God who not only owns those earthly resources, but also influences the human hearts that control those resources.
Praise be to God that persistence in prayer gives us a chance to get to know God better and gives God more chances to change us to be more like Jesus!