Prayer that Persists

Originally published Friday, 08 May 2015.

I prayed the same prayer for almost ten years.

Ten years.

Some days I prayed on my knees with tears streaming. Other days I prayed the prayer merely out of habit. Sometimes I prayed with great faith in what God could do and other days I prayed with barely any faith at all.

And then one day, completely by surprise and when I least expected it, God answered my prayer.

Jesus taught the importance of persisting in prayer in Luke 18:1-8:

"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

As I've reflected on the past decade of praying and what God has done, I am struck by several things:

1. God's grace in our prayers: My prayers were far from perfect. Sometimes I begged and pleaded. Sometimes I was angry that he hadn't answered. Sometimes I couldn't pray at all. There were times that I doubted his love for me. I questioned whether he cared and was even listening. I'm sure I sounded just like a two year old having a temper tantrum. But God was so gracious! He heard each and every prayer. He taught me lessons through my prayers and strengthened me by his grace. His silence was itself an act of grace. As was his answer to my prayer. As John Calvin noted in his Institutes, "Even our stammering is tolerated by God, and pardon is granted to our ignorance as often as anything rashly escapes us: indeed, without this indulgence, we should have no freedom to pray."

2. God was at work the entire time: All those years while I waited for an answer, God was at work. He knew just what I needed and it wasn't for my prayer to be answered. At least not yet. I needed to see that my greatest need was him. I needed to yield and trust in his perfect will and plan. And so during those years of praying and waiting he slowly chipped away at the sin in my heart that kept me from loving him most of all. He opened my blind eyes to my real need and showed me that joy came from an unexpected place, not in my plans or my comfort but in abiding in him. By the time he answered my prayer, I had come to a place of peace. I still prayed my prayer but it was out of a place where I could truly say, "Thy will be done."

3. God's timing is perfect: God's word documents the thousands of years that passed from the time he made his promise in Genesis 3:15 to the day when our Savior arrived. The Israelites longed for the Messiah for generations. Galatians tells us that Christ came in the fullness of time, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law" (4:4).

God's timing is not our timing. But it is perfect timing. There are many things we wait and long for and wonder why God hasn't provided but we must trust that he is doing all things well. Only he knows the end from the beginning and only he is all wise, all knowing, and all good. However he chooses to answer our prayers, even if we have to wait years, he only gives us just what we need.

Tim Keller in his book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, comments on the timing of prayer:

"We should be confident that God will hear us, but we should also be extremely patient with God's timing. We should be willing to pray with temerity and perseverance, waiting months or years for God to answer some things. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness" (2 Peter 3:9) means, quite simply, that our time frames are not in touch with ultimate reality. Our perspective on timing compared with God's is analogous to a two-year-old's with an adult's. God has good reasons for making us wait a long time to see some prayers answered.

However, it usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God's timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases is becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament. There are other nuances and beauties to God's wise schedule that we can just barely glimpse" (p.236).

I have learned that prayer is a lifetime commitment, a journey that accompanies our growth in faith. It is a way of life for the believer. I've also learned that God uses our prayers in ways we would not imagine. While he often uses our prayers to carry out his will in this world, sometimes those prayers are also used to change our very selves.

What are your thoughts on persistent prayer and God's timing in answering your prayers?