Persistent prayer

The Lord's Prayer

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'

He said to them, 'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation." ' (Luk 11:1–4)

John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray and our Lord's disciples also wanted to know how to pray. So Jesus said to them, 'When you pray, say this…' and he taught them what we refer to as the Lord's Prayer.

I was taught that prayer as a child and recited it regularly in the Anglican church I attended. But, when I was born again, I found I didn't pray it during my private devotions, and it bothered me. I prayed about many other things but, when I tried to pray that prayer, it just didn't seem to come from my spirit.

Didn't Jesus tell his disciples that when they prayed they should pray that prayer, and wasn't I now a disciple of Jesus Christ? So why wasn't I praying it? I couldn't understand it. At first I thought I was disobeying the Lord, but then my eyes were opened.

Jesus' disciples didn't know how to pray because they weren't indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In Joh 14:17 Jesus said (referring to the Holy Spirit), 'The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you [future tense].'

The Holy Spirit was with the disciples at that time, but he wasn't in them. If you haven't the Holy Spirit, you don't know what God's will is unless someone tells you. That is why Jesus had to teach his disciples how to pray; and he taught them a model prayer—a prayer that was in accordance with the will of God.

You will note that Jesus said, 'When you pray, say this…'. He didn't say, 'When you pray, pray this…' There is a lot of difference between saying a prayer and praying a prayer.

Before I was born again I used to say prayers: they came from my mind and my unregenerate heart. But when I was born again I started to pray. When a born-again Christian prays it comes from their spirit as the Holy Spirit leads. All true prayer is inspired by the Spirit of God.

After his crucifixion, Jesus appeared to his disciples and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit (Joh 20:19–22).' At that point the Holy Spirit entered each of them and they were born again. The disciples would have prayed the prayer the Lord had taught them up to that time; after that they would have prayed as the Spirit led.

Praying (or saying) the Lord's Prayer is not wrong. If you pray that prayer you are praying in accordance with God's will, but it may not be what the Holy Spirit wants you to pray at that moment in time.

Now we have the Holy Spirit we can be more accurate in our prayers, and when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit we can be even more accurate by praying in the heavenly language he gives us.

That language bypasses our minds completely and comes from our spirit (1Co 14:14) as the Holy Spirit enables, so we are always praying perfectly in the will of God (Rom 8:26–27).

Ask, and keep on asking

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray and he taught them the Lord's Prayer, but that was not all he said about prayer. In answering their request he'd taught them what to pray; now he was going to teach them how to pray.

Then he said to them, 'Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, "Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him."

'Then the one inside answers, "Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything." I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.' (Luk 11:5–8)

The Greek word translated 'boldness' in v8, can also mean shamelessness. It describes the persistent pursuit of an objective that ignores the risk of offending someone. His friend said, 'No, it's inconvenient, I'm not going to help you.' But the man kept asking until he received what he was asking for.

Then Jesus said:

'So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.' (Luk 11:9–10)

The Greek verbs translated 'ask', 'seek' and 'knock' are in the present, active, imperative tense, which commands progressive action. So Jesus was saying:

Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray persistently.

Jesus came to reveal the Father's will to us, and that is how the Father wants us to pray. Are there any examples in Scripture of people who prayed persistently until they got what they were asking for? Yes there are.

The healing of the blind men

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?'

'Yes, Lord,' they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, 'According to your faith will it be done to you'; and their sight was restored. (Mat 9:27–30a)

I find this the most touching example of healing in the Gospels. Imagine yourself as a blind man, standing in the main street of your town, and you've heard the news that Jesus of Nazareth is going to pass by.

Isn't this the Jesus who has cleansed the lepers, made the lame walk and opened the eyes of the blind? Yes it is! Faith leaps within your heart. What Jesus has done for these people, he can also do for me.

You hear the sound of the crowd getting closer and you start to cry out, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' You shout all the louder but no one pays attention and the crowd passes by.

What do you do? Do you conclude that it wasn't God's will to heal you and go home? Surely if it was God's will, Jesus would have stopped and called you over (Mar 10:46–52). But he hasn't, so what do you do? The two men didn't go home, instead they followed Jesus down the road, crying out, 'Son of David, have mercy on us!'

Now Jesus and his disciples were fit, able-bodied men who walked everywhere, and Israel is not a flat country, it's a land of mountains and valleys (Deu 11:10–12).

The Bible doesn't say that anyone accompanied them to help them on their way. Could there have been a more pitiful sight than two blind men stumbling behind Jesus up hills, down into valleys, across streams on rough, unmade paths, desperately trying to keep up with him and crying out for mercy? I don't think so.

The Bible says that when Jesus reached his destination and went indoors, the blind men came to him. You will note that he didn't ask them what they wanted, he knew what they wanted: Jesus always hears the cry of faith. He heard them cry out to him when he walked passed them, but he'd been testing their persistence.

He said to them, 'Do you believe I am able to do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, 'According to your faith will it be done to you,' and their sight was restored. Jesus regarded their persistence in asking as faith in action. True faith never gives up until it receives what it's asking for.

Can we draw a conclusion from this? Yes we can. If these men had not persisted in asking to be healed they would not have been healed. That is the plain teaching of the passage.

The Canaanite woman

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.'

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.'

He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.'

The woman came and knelt before him. 'Lord, help me!' she said.

He replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.'

'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.'

Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Mat 15:21–28)

The first thing we notice from this account is that this woman addressed Jesus in the same way the blind men did. That means that, even though she wasn't a Jew herself, she'd recognized Jesus as the Messiah and had put her faith in him. 'Lord, Son of David,' she said, 'have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.' Jesus didn't say a word to her.

Have you ever prayed to God and the heavens have seemed like brass? It feels as though your prayers have got no higher than the ceiling, and you wonder whether it's worth continuing to pray. But this woman did continue. She started to plead with the disciples, so much so that they came and asked Jesus to send her away from them.

Then the Lord did speak. He said: 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' In other words, 'It's not God's will that I heal her daughter.' That would have silenced most of us. If God had said, 'It's not my will to grant your request,' then I'm sure most of us would have stopped praying at that very moment, but not this woman.

She came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, help me!' He replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.' That comment was a rebuke and was made to remind her that she was a Gentile and not one of God's chosen people.

But that didn't stop her. 'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus said, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.'

Jesus didn't say that the woman had faith, but that she had great faith. She persisted in asking even when it wasn't God's will to grant her request, and she was given what she asked for. Can you see what God is teaching us through this?

Jesus often rebuked the Jews for their lack of faith, but there were two people in the Gospels whom he commended as having great faith—a man and a woman—and both of them were Gentiles (the Centurion in Mat 8:5–13, and this Canaanite woman).

Do you want God to commend you as having great faith? Then persist in asking until you receive what you're asking for. God answers persistent prayer!

The persistent widow

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luk 18:1)

In the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luk 18:1–8), Jesus told of a woman who kept coming to a judge and asking him to grant her justice against her adversary. At first he refused her, but finally he said, 'Because this woman keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so she won't eventually wear me out with her coming.'

That is how Jesus wants us to pray. It's not a matter of wearing God out with our prayers but, by praying persistently, we demonstrate that our faith is genuine (1Pe 1:6–7).

Jesus said that we should always pray and not give up. Would he tell us to do that if our prayers were not going to be answered? It would be a complete waste of time. We'd be better employed doing something else in the kingdom of God. No, Jesus has promised that if we pray persistently our prayers will be answered, even beyond all we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

Jacob wrestled with God

However, the greatest scriptural proof that God answers persistent prayer is found in Gen 32:22–30. Genesis is a book of beginnings. Many spiritual truths are revealed in Genesis that are later expounded in the New Testament. The truth that God answers persistent prayer is one of them.

The Bible says that Jacob was left all alone and wrestled with a man until daybreak. Who did Jacob wrestle with? The Bible says it was a man (v24), and the man was God (v30). Jacob wrestled with a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ. Jesus appeared to Jacob in a human body seventeen hundred years before he was born in Bethlehem.

So what is the picture? The New Testament uses the word 'wrestle' to describe the action of prayer. Paul said that Epaphras was always wrestling in prayer for the believers at Colosse (Col 4:12). The Greek word used (agonizomai) means to wrestle or to struggle.

Jacob was wrestling and struggling in prayer with Jesus all night long, and said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me (v26b).' So Jesus, seeing his persistence, blessed him there (v29b).

The man said to him, 'What is your name?.' 'Jacob,' he replied. The man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and have overcome (v27–28). The Hebrew word 'Israel' means he struggles with God, and the Hebrew word translated 'overcome' means to gain the victory.

The spiritual truth that God answers persistent prayer is so important to us that God has named a whole nation after it—his own people. Why? To be a constant reminder to us of the importance of the truth.

God wants us to be like Jacob; he wants us to be like the blind men; he wants us to be like the Canaanite woman, crying out, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'

If we were all Hebrew speaking Jews, every time we heard, or read, or said the word 'Israel' we would know exactly what it means and the event it refers to. When you read your Bible and come to the word, substitute the phrase 'he struggles with God' until you get the message. And remember that Jacob struggled with God until he overcame and got the victory.

The word 'Israel' and its derivatives (Israelite, Israelites etc) is used 2,594 times in the Bible. That's 2,594 reminders that God answers persistent prayer. I think it's something he wants us to remember.

Michael Graham
August 2008

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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