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In thinking about Elijah’s prayer for rain (the account found in 1 Kings 18 and discussed repeatedly in earlier posts), I’ve been reflecting some on Elijah’s persistence. He keeps praying, keeps sending his servant to look for an answer to the prayer, continues to intercede. I wonder. How long would Elijah have kept at it? He prayed and sent the servant to look for any indications of the prayer’s answer seven times. The seventh time the servant saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand on the horizon. And with that Elijah concluded the prayer was being answered and went on his way. But would Elijah have prayed a dozen times? Thirty times? For days on end? Over a few weeks?

Jesus tells a parable about prayer, likening prayer to being a “friend in the middle” (the account is found Luke 11:5-10 and discussed repeatedly in earlier posts). The point of the parable seems to be persistence in prayer. In Luke 18:1-8 he tells another parable about prayer that Luke explains as being about showing people that the should “at all time pray and not to lose heart.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 the apostle Paul calls followers of Jesus to “pray without ceasing.” He repeatedly writes about his ongoing, unending prayers for others (as mentioned, for example, in 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3-4).

So I wonder, what is the reason for persistent praying? Why keep on praying? Why pray seven times . . . a dozen times . . . for days on end . . . for weeks or months or years?

It seems that some think that in their praying, the persistence somehow turns the tide. By such longevity, the one praying finally wins over the Lord to do what the one praying wants to be done. Although such a view seems to be prominent in some contemporary popular teaching about prayer, I see little warrant for such a view in Scripture. Our God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). He works all things according to the good pleasure of his own will (Ephesians 1:11). We do not prevail upon him, bending him to our will . . . no matter how persistent we might be in prayer. (If, in fact, we bent God to our will by the way and length and persistence in our praying than God would become merely some celestial genii, no different from the pagan false gods who are manipulated by their worshippers to give to the worshippers what they want. Such is not the picture of God given us in Scripture.)

Perhaps the persistence is, in some sense, meritorious. That is, by our unceasing prayer we end up “deserving” the answer for which we are longing. Again, this view seems to pervade some teaching on prayer, but I find it hard to justify from Scripture. Every spiritual blessing has already been graciously granted to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-4). Not only our salvation, but every other blessing that is our comes by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Because of that God’s response to prayers cannot fundamentally be a payment we have merited but remains gifts of his grace. (If, in fact, we merited answers by the way and length and persistence in our praying than God would become a debtor to us, being obligated to do what we insisted he do. Such is not the picture of God given us in Scripture.)

So why be persistent in prayer? I am not sure, but I have a thought that seems to resonate with the teachings of Scripture and the character of God and the nature of ministry.

In the parable Jesus told in Luke 11, the friend who beseeches his neighbor for bread does so because of the need he is aware of in the life of another and the resources he knows his neighbor has. The friend in the middle is the conduit of lovingkindness from the neighbor with bread to the friend with need. And the persistence that is portrayed appears to be rooted in two things.

The friend in the middle is persistent in prayer because he recognizes that he has absolutely nothing to offer his friend who is in need. Persistent prayer is an expression of genuine and whole-hearted dependence. What this suggests is that my lack of persistence in prayer for needs I am aware of in the lives of others is due to my abdicating my radical abandonment to God and my deciding that there must be some other way to have the need met. If I were convinced that there was no other way for need “A” to be met than for God to answer the need, I would persist in prayer about “A.” When I stop praying, I have to either overlook the need or conclude that the need can be met some other way.

The other controlling factor in the persistence seems to be the affection the friend in the middle has for his friend in need. Persistent prayer is an expression of sincere love for those for whom we pray. Jesus explains that great love looks like laying down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). What this suggests is that my lack of persistence in prayer for needs I am aware of in the lives of others is due to my unwillingness to “lay down my life” for them and their needs. I go only so far in my praying; I won’t let it become dominant in my life. I’ll “give it a go” and then, if answers don’t come quickly enough or clear enough for me, I will give up on the praying and “get on with my life.”

It seems to me that these two things might well have been what drove Elijah’s persistent prayer. He was absolutely dependent upon God to bring rain. Nothing else would do. He was desperate for God because he saw no other way forward. He genuinely cared for the nation for whom he was praying. They mattered to him. He would pray until their great need was met. Persistent prayer appears to be rooted in dependence upon God and a “laying down one’s life” kind of love for those in view in prayer.

And so I ask, would you pray that the Lord would teach me to be persistent in prayer?

3 Comments

  1. Yes, and I will pray for myself too–that we will recognize our lack of ability to meet needs; depending wholly on His infinite resources to meet them instead. And I will pray that He will give us the same kind of strong and sincere affection that He has for us!!

  2. This was very thought provoking. Thank you for sharing such an enlightening post! :)
    I found you via mtssweat, I will visit again!

  3. Yes, I will continue to pray for you!


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] the author at Summathetes, offers his thoughts in a recent post titled, Why Pray Without Ceasing? Many of you are aware of my […]

  2. […] Brian, the author at Summathetes provides an interesting take on this here, here, and here. […]

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