Monthly Archives: February 2014

Keep on Praying – For Your Own Good

What’s the point of persistent praying? I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question. I truly wonder whether we grasp why Jesus and Paul specifically tell believers to keep on and keep on praying . and then pray some more. Is God hard of hearing, as some skeptics might derisively claim? What happens as we repeat again and again the petitions we present to God, whom we worship as omniscient and almighty? Why keep on praying about what we have already prayed about before?

To be sure, Paul and Jesus enjoin us to pray repeatedly and persistently. Paul is quite direct: “Never stop praying.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 GWT) Or as most everyone knows the verse from KJV and other Bible translations, “Pray without ceasing.” Paul appears to address both the spiritual character of prayer and its protracted practice when he instructs participants in the vibrant church at Ephesus, “Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers..” (Ephesians 6:18 NCV) For Paul, prayer was far more – and lasted much longer – than perfunctory words addressed to God to open or close a meeting.

Jesus set his call for persistent prayer primarily in parables. Many Bible scholars give the one in Luke the title “The Importunate Widow.” The story was shocking to his original audience, but many today assume to get the point already from hearing it repeatedly. Luke introduces the story of the widow by saying, “[Jesus] gave them an illustration to show that they must always pray and never lose heart.” (Luke 18:1 J.B. Phillips) So we are conditioned to get the “keep on praying” message from the parable. As the story goes, the corrupt judge doesn’t care about the widow’s insistence on justice, but she wears him out with a non-stop barrage of petitions and he finally rules in her favor. Most of us accept quizzically that persistently asking God to answer our prayers is the way we finally get some positive action.

Another parable in Luke presents a man pestering his friend at midnight to loan him some snacks for another friend who has shown up unexpectedly. The first friend has already gone to bed and his kids are settled for the night, so he repeatedly tells the guy banging on his door to go away. But Jesus observes, “because of his shameless persistence and insistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 9 So I say to you, Ask and keep on asking and it shall be given you; seek and keep on seeking and you shall find; knock and keep on knocking and the door shall be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks and keeps on asking receives; and he who seeks and keeps on seeking finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened. (Luke 11:8b-10 Amplified Bible) The quoted text incorporates the grammatical note we have heard innumerable times that present imperative verbs in Greek (like ask, seek, find) indicate ongoing, persistent action. It seems a bit odd to pester God like a neighbor with an empty cupboard, but we get the lesson that praying and praying and praying finally moves God to action.

But is that what Jesus had in mind? When Jesus was teaching about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, he clearly said something very different. Before offering the short, simple model prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus debunked ostentatious displays and belabored speeches too often regarded as impressive praying. Jesus said, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again. {8} Don’t be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:7-8 NLT) Since God already knows what we are praying about no lengthy, repetitive recitations of our prayers are needed. The Bible reminds us that God is infinitely faithful, that God always hears our prayers, and our performance in praying is not the issue in God answering our prayers.

So why pray persistently? I am convinced that a major principle is that praying repeatedly changes us, thereby accomplishing a major part of God’s grace – transforming us more and more to be like Jesus. The parables in Luke present the persistent actions of the pestering neighbor and the nagging widow as almost laughable absurdities. Yes, Jesus says, the neighbor and the judge finally succumb to the endless petitions and do the right thing. But in both cases Jesus says that God is not at all like that. God is not reluctant to meet needs. On the contrary, God is far more gracious than the most persistent prayer can ever influence. Jesus emphasizes that while persistence might be what turns the head of an unjust judge finally to do what is right, God’s grace is always present and available to those who seek it. Jesus applied the parable this way: “Even he rendered a just decision in the end, so don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who plead with him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? {8} I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly!” (Luke 18:2-9 NLT)

So – again – what is the role of persistence in prayer? Jesus and Paul do commend persistence in praying, although Jesus says that just repeating the prayers is not the point. Think about what happens when we take the time to talk an issue out thoroughly and persistently with another person. In a conversation that holds our attention and active participation over a span of time several helpful changes can take place:

. talking through the present issue can help us to understand if we are making some petty, self-serving demand rather than truly seeking God’s goodness and grace for ourselves and others. Repetition may reveal just how silly our request or notion might be!

. Persistent prayer can help us to recall how God already has acted to meet our need. For example, praying Psalm 78 – all 72 verses – can remind us of God’s ongoing story of salvation from creation through the godly rule of King David. Continual prayer helps to remind us that God is now and always has been the One acting in our lives and in the world with love and grace. Sometimes we need repeated reminders of that.

. praying continually can help us to understand how God has equipped us for participation in his works of grace and how we can be part of God’s answer to our own prayers or the prayers of others.

.Maybe we need to exhaust our verbiage in persistent prayer before we get it out of our system and settle down to listen for what God has been ready to reveal to us all along. God promises to guide us into lives supplied abundantly with all we need and more with which we can help others. Persistent prayer gives God the opportunity to speak to us that we may speak of his grace.

Persistent prayer keeps us in active relationship with God. That’s at the heart of what God had in mind for us all along. Cultivate the practice and watch for how persistent prayer changes you.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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