Persistence in prayer doesn’t contradict faith. Rather, it’s the expression of absolute faith and knowledge of God through praise, thanksgiving and worship.
As for me, I will call upon God, And the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice. (Psalm 55:16-17)
Waiting for answers is hard, in and of itself. It goes against human nature which demands results and stirs up all kinds of emotions we have to contend with. The longer we are required to wait, the worse it is. Then throw persistence in prayer into the mix, and we can end up confused as well as frustrated. From there, it’s a slippery slide to the place where we wonder if we’re not receiving answers because of what we’ve done or not done. Understanding the real nature of it can make all the difference.
Persistence in prayer is commanded by God.
The Bible is full of verses which emphasise this point. The persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) is the obvious example. This woman illustrates two points. The first is that the judge had the power and ability to grant her requests. The second is that it required persistence before her request was granted. But the passage also raises a third point – the juxtaposition of the unjust judge and the righteous Judge who avenges His people. This truth highlights the fact that God desires that His people cry out to Him day and night. By His will, persistence in prayer is part of praying and receiving the needed answers.
I think we’ve all, in our frustration and feelings of desperation, wondered why. After all, if God is going to answer our prayers anyway, what is the point of persistence in prayer? Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if we asked and He gave the answer He intends to give at the end of it? This may well be logical and true, but it skips over a critical part of the process. Everything that God commands us to do has a powerful spiritual reason or principle behind it. He never works without considering us ‘holistically,’ i.e. as so much more than our present circumstances. Despite all human logic and rationale, the Bible constantly commands us to persist in prayer. When God commands, our first response must be to obey.
Faith is not contradicted by persistence in prayer.
There are teachings that create the wrong perception that persistence in prayer somehow contradicts faith. The logic here is that if we truly believe God for it – have faith that He will do it – we don’t have to keep asking for the same thing. Continually bringing our need before God is essentially saying we didn’t believe the first time we asked, and after all, He says if we ask and believe we have received it, we shall have it. While on one level – that of the motivation behind our prayers – this is true, it’s also a great ‘spiritual excuse’ for us not to persist. The real truth is that one does not contradict the other.
Faith is essentially believing that God is able and willing to do what we ask. We are commanded to have faith, for without faith it’s impossible to please Him. At the same time, though, we’re also commanded to have persistence in prayer. If we have faith in the first prayer, it follows that we must also have faith each in each subsequent prayer. How can we do this if we’re essentially repeating the same request? If we keep coming before the Lord with the same prayer, aren’t we saying we didn’t believe Him the first, second, third, and however many other times? Absolutely not. Our faith simply determines the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of our prayer. Every time we pray, it must be on the basis of our faith, which in turn is based on the true nature and will of God.
Persistence in prayer and the will of God.
Unless our prayers are based on the will of God, they are without faith. No amount of persistence in prayer is of any value at all without real faith. Matthew 6:7-8 says this: And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. Wow. That’s pretty harsh. If we stop and examine our prayers, will we find ‘vain repetition’ – other versions use ‘useless babbling’ – or will we find real, faith-based prayer? It’s very significant that these verses occur immediately before Jesus teaches His disciples what we now call ‘the Lord’s Prayer,’ which is a prayer infused with absolute faith.
If we examine the Lord’s Prayer, we see that it is based entirely on who God is, where He is, what He is, and what He is willing to do for us. The focus is entirely removed from us and our situation. It has nothing at all to do with self. It is the perfect example of praying in the will of God – the critical factor in determining whether or not our faith is real or our prayers are simply vain repetitions. The useless babblings of the heathen are empty of real faith. They are simply words spoken over and over in the vague but desperate hope that God will act. Persistence in prayer is only relevant if it is rooted in the knowledge of the will of God in our situation.
Knowing God is critical to persistence in prayer.
We now move a little closer to the full impact of today’s verse. To know God’s will means we must first know God. This isn’t theoretical knowledge. It requires a committed and diligent pursuit of the knowledge of God. Our first source is, of course, the Bible. The Word of God is the dynamic and powerful manifestation of who and what He is. The second source is the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons He is given is so that He can lead us into ‘all truth.’ The third is spending time in the presence of God and listening to Him speak. These three things come together in one vital and empowering truth – relationship with God is the key to persistence in prayer.
When we understand this, we begin to see the reality of persistence in prayer and why the vain repetitions of heathens are pointless. All our sources of the knowledge of God and His will require us to not speak – to read the Bible, to sense the leading of the Spirit, and to hear the voice of God. Our verse in Matthew reminds us that God already knows what we need before we ask. What this means, in practical terms, is that we don’t even really have to ask at all. The first step is to be still and know that He is God. That’s the beginning of the faith required. Read, sense, and listen, determine the will of God, then apply this in obedient prayer. It may well be that our answers take a lot longer because we’re ignoring these vital components in our relationship with God.
Persistence in prayer has divine purpose.
From the above, we can see that the fundamental drive behind persistence in prayer is relationship with God. From a purely logical perspective, if we were to receive our answers the first time we asked, would we really spend more time with Him? If we’re honest, the answer would be a definite no. We’d ask, receive, maybe give a quick thanks, and move on until the next time we need something. It’s rather like having a relationship with a vending machine. It’s there when we need it, but it’s little more than a handy source of provision. We don’t give it another thought. When we have to persist in prayer, however, we’re drawn into a loving relationship and our knowledge of God increases. As it grows, so does our faith. The more we know of God, the greater our faith.
The other powerful supernatural outworking of this dynamic is that we start to see beyond our circumstances. Our eyes are turned from self to God and His limitless power and sovereignty. We see His will rather than our immediate needs. Our prayers transform from a simple need for self-gratification to a desire to see His will done in our lives. When we lift our eyes to God and off our situation, something incredibly powerful happens. We let go. When we let go, we effectively ‘let God. In letting go we focus on who God is and what He can and will do, and we allow Him the freedom to work His perfect will according to His perfect purposes. The reality, though, is that we’re so very human and it usually takes a while for us to get to this point. Persistence in prayer is the process that gets us there.
The ‘how’ of persistence in prayer.
Of course, there is no ‘magic formula.’ We can’t simply follow a recipe or ritual and, hey presto, it’s all automagically worked out for us. Persistence in prayer has to be learned by living, and this is the powerful message of today’s verse. Morning, evening, and noon aren’t ritualistic prayer times. They simply define ‘at all times’ or ‘without ceasing.’ Relationship with God isn’t governed by the clock. It’s intimate and personal and is present always, not matter where we are or what the time may be. Prayer is essentially spiritual communication as is never limited by the restrictions of the world. It transcends everything because it takes place with God, who exists in eternity, not the confines of time and space.
First, though, is our choice – the ‘as for me’ in today’s verse. We decide to call upon the Lord based on the absolute faith that He will save us. Time is of no consequence here. All that matters is that ‘He will save.’ Our second choice is persistence in prayer – at all times, in every place. This is based on the absolute faith that when we pray and cry out to Him, He will hear us. What our verse reminds us of is that it’s God who is the focus. It’s His perfect will that determines that He will save us and hear us. We can therefore pray with the supernatural assurance that He has already provided what is needed and will release it in His perfect timing. In the meantime, we respond with obedience faith.
Persistence in prayer brings us into deeper worship.
I have learned to keep the Lord’s Prayer in my mind, not as a ‘fool proof method’ but as a beautiful example of true prayer. Whether it’s simply a single prayer or persistence in prayer, it teaches us that God is the centre of our prayers. When we pray, it’s never simply asking. Prayer is worship, which is giving God the glory in all things. Our asking should always include praise and thanksgiving, and must acknowledge the sovereign will of God. Faith-based prayer – that which is based on the intimate knowledge of God and His unlimited power and majesty – is worship. Persistently trusting God in our most desperate need is perhaps the most powerful definition of faith. Morning, evening, and noon, we can be sure He will hear and save.
Father God, we thank You for Your infinite grace and mercy. We praise You for Your sovereign power, knowing that You are always ready to hear and to save, no matter how desperate our need. Help us to come continually in faith, not in useless babbling but in the full assurance of who and what You are. Draw us close to Your heart so that we can know You and Your will. Grant us the strength and courage to let go, to look beyond our circumstances and to look only to You, the creator and sustainer of all things.