March 10, 2014

Fervent, persistent prayer . . .

Most of us have heard the sing-song of a child saying a memorized prayer before a meal, or heard the lofty words of a written prayer recited at the end of a church service. I have to admit that I can recite the Lord’s prayer without really thinking about the words. Today’s devotional reading suggests that we do not see great answers to prayer because of the difference between saying prayers and praying.

Think of a mindless conversation with strangers on an elevator about a recent change in the weather, or the “how are you” questions that seldom wait for answers. Compare those with the conversations between lovers or listening to someone describe the deepest desires of their heart. God wants me to talk to Him, not at Him, not into the air with my mind on tonight’s menu or next week’s plans.

Most of us tend to pray fervently when trouble comes. Consider the description of Peter being thrown into prison and guarded by four squads of soldiers. At this, “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” Then, “when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals’; and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’ So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, ‘Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod . . .’” (Acts 12:4–11)

Fervent prayer instead of just praying often means incredible results, just as James said, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5:16–18)

Those who pray this way know two things: One, fervent prayer is exhausting. When I get up in the morning after a good night of sleep, just before I go to prayer, I often feel as if I could sleep again. I am unexplainably tired, at least until after I pray. Second, I also know that God gives special strength to those who are exhausted from even the idea of praying this way and for me when I persist even when weary . . .

He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29–31)

Jesus told His disciples to pray with persistence. He illustrated with a short story, then said, “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:8–13)

Is such persistence about persuading God? I don’t think so. It seems to me that persistence is more about me discovering the desires of my own heart; is this thing that is on my prayer list important enough to me that I will keep praying? It is also about discovering the will of God; am deeply convinced that this is what He wants so I will talk to Him about it until I am exhausted?

Those are the prayers that often fall into the category of spiritual warfare, of wrestling with the enemy who does not want me to pray, nor to persist in prayer. Does he know that God will give amazing answers and be glorified? I am certain that he knows my limits and thinks that if he pushes me beyond them I will quit. But today, God promises something else . . .

Do not grow weary while doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you do not lose heart. Therefore, as you have opportunity, do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9–10, personalized)

God says a harvest is coming . . .  but I must persist to experience it.

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