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THE PERSISTENCE OF PRAYER
Matt 7:7-11

17th November 2002

Do you know who was responsible for capturing the two snipers who terrified USA by shooting dead a dozen people during October? The true story has only just come out. A truck driver alerted police to the whereabouts of two men later arrested in the "Beltway Sniper" case. He said he and a group of truck drivers had prayed about the case just prior to his spotting the suspects' car in a rest stop.

Ron Lantz, 61, of Ludlow, Kentucky, called authorities after seeing a car sought by police in the string of shootings that left 10 dead and three wounded since Oct. 2. The two suspects, were arrested at the Maryland rest stop where Lantz spotted them. Lantz, who is about to retire after 35 years as an interstate driver, said, "Who would have thought that all this would happen just when I'm fixing to retire. I just thank God that I was where I was and that I was able to help. I now know that God answers prayer." After calling 9-11 to report the suspicious car, Lantz was directed by police to block the vehicle from leaving the rest stop until police could arrive. He spent several tense minutes waiting for police to arrive. "I just sat there and waited ... It was a long 15 minutes, I'm no hero. I don't even want to be classified as a hero. Just let it go like it is. I did my job." Lantz was willing to give credit where credit is due, however. "You don't think the Lord works in mysterious ways?" As to the possibility of his receiving any of the $500,000 reward offered for the arrest of the sniper, Lantz said, "I'll probably take it right back to the families that all this happened to." The point that captures my imagination is what was happening while he was praying?

Where-else but in America would you find a group of interstate hauliers - truck drivers - meeting at a roadside truck-stop, ending their meal-break by joining together in a prayer for the capture of the snipers and for peace in their country? But I have seen in the US, a semi-trailer pan tech. rig with the whole cargo space fitted out as a chapel, driven by the Chaplain to truckies, who sets up at trick-stops and ministers to the drivers. Christian truckies who meet and pray together! In this case, a group saw their persistent prayers answered as they climbed into their rigs and were about to hit the road.

Many people faced with problems do not persist until they see an answer. Too many of our fellows belong to the Quitter's Club. Educational difficulties cause young people to leave school early dropping out of society perhaps for all time. Marriage difficulties cause many a quick divorce without the partners trying to work out their difficulties before they run away. Employment difficulties cause many a person out of a job to become dispirited after knock-backs and they give up too soon. Spiritual difficulties cause many people to lose heart and they do not continue in their worship and faith. Health difficulties cause many people long term suffering and they lose heart and hope bringing on early death. Business difficulties cause some people to lose heart and quit, preferring to give up, rather than make a go of it.

This is no idle complaint about people who lack persistence. It is the heart-felt cry of a pastor who does not like seeing suffering because they give up too soon. One man whom I have never met, but who watched me every week on television from Cremorne, wrote to me about his worries and indicated that he could not go on any longer.

He wrote, "By the time you receive this letter, I will have taken my own life." He told me where his body could be found. But before I even opened the letter, his body had been recovered after he had shot himself. The sad thing is, that his problems were not that great. He had lied, and had debts of $20,000, but his situation could have been worked through satisfactorily, if he had only had persistence. We have on staff psychologists and psychiatrists who could have helped him with his habit of lying, and our counsellors at Credit Line could have steered his way through a bankruptcy. But he did not persist in finding an answer.

His letter was an eloquent testimony of those who suffer because they do not persist. Why do people lack persistence? Great discoveries in science come only after persistence. Famous athletes win only after persistent training. University students achieve only after persisting in studies. Happy marriages last only because ordinary people have worked at them. Stable family life is maintained because parents and children work at their family relationships. As we have travelled the dry, brown outback of our country, I have met farmers who know that drought occurs once in every seven years. They put aside fodder, and reduce their herds and crops, and invest money for such a year, because they are determined to survive. Prayers are answered and events are changed only because faithful believers persist in prayer. Anything worthwhile only comes because someone has stuck at it. Yet for many people, this is an era of quitters. They quit, drop out, give up, walk out, withdraw, escape, depart, lack persistence. Membership is easy in "The Quitter's Club". Consider what Jesus teaches about our persistence in prayer.

1. JESUS INSTRUCTS US TO PRAY PERSISTENTLY:

Persistence is a vital quality and it is equally essential in a person's prayer life. Too many people give up on prayer as a spiritual force simply because they quit too soon. Every one of us faces tough times, but persistent prayer can handle every problem. Persistent prayer can overcome anger, anxiety, criticism, disappointment, discouragement and despair, fatigue, nervousness, temptation and sorrow. Persistent prayer can overcome anything that besets us. Hence Jesus taught us to persist.

In the time of Jesus, there existed a Jewish concept of "waiting before the Lord". There were frequent admonitions for the believer to "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him." Psalm 37:7 In a prayer for help from God, the Psalmist cries, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning." Psalm 130:1,5-6 The Hebrew meaning is to wait for God's action, full of anticipation, hopeful, willing to endure anything until God should grant your answer. For those who wait, God will honour, answer, and provide spiritual strength. The result of waiting patiently upon the Lord in prayer is that we are endued with spiritual strength: "Those who wait upon the Lord…who trust in Him for help… will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31 Through waiting patiently and praying persistently, a believer learns to trust God, find strength under strain, and a spirit of expectancy. Many congregations used to have "tarrying meetings" where they "waited upon the Lord in prayer."

2. WHY DOES GOD WANT US TO PERSIST?

Successful people are not people without problems, but people who have persisted until they have outlasted their problems. God is absolutely faithful. Jesus stressed God's faithfulness and His desire for us to persist in prayer. Jesus told parables to encourage us in our persistent prayer. Luke 11:5-8 Jesus wanted us to understand that His Father will "give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking." Luke 11:8GNB Jesus stressed we should be persistent in our prayer in the parable of the woman who kept pleading for her rights before an obstinate judge. Luke 18:1-8 The Bible says, "Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up."

There are two clear expectations:

  1. We are to travail in prayer. That means we must grimly labour and agonise over the concerns of our prayers. Spurgeon explains: "God does not hear us because of the length of our prayer, but because of the sincerity of it. Prayer is not measured by the yard, not weighed by the pound. It is the might and the force of it, the truth and reality of it, the energy and intensity of it." God expects us to use energy and intensity in our prayers. Jacob wanted God's blessing. He wrestled with God and said "I will not let you go until you bless me." Genesis 32:26 He travailed in prayer.
  2. We are to prevail in prayer. That means we must desire persistently what we pray. Jesus said: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24 We are to pray with confidence and tenacity, believing that we have already received it, even though we may not see it.

Travailing in prayer is how we feel when we pray; prevailing in prayer is how we fight when we pray. Prevailing in prayer means to confidently, optimistically, patiently, tenaciously pray until God opens Heaven's gates and the opposition to our prayers crumbles before us. Jesus said "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." Matthew 7:7-8 The grammatical construction of this sentence is the continuous present tense meaning "keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking."

George Mueller, that great English man of prayer who built a wonderful caring program for orphans based on prayer, said: "The great point is never to give up until the answer comes. I have been praying for 63 years and 8 months for one man's conversion. He is not saved yet, but he will be. How can it be otherwise? I am praying." But Mueller never saw him saved, because it was only as Mueller's casket was being lowered into the grave that the man gave his heart to God. George Mueller's prayers were answered. He never quit.

Elijah was earnest about his praying. James says about Elijah who prayed that God would show Himself to be the Master of the weather and break the drought that had lasted three years: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly … again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops." James 5:17-18 The passage means "he prayed his prayers". Some of us say a prayer, but Elijah prayed his prayers with persistence.

Epaphras was a companion of Paul. He was also imprisoned with Paul and was praised twice for his devotion to the ministry. At the end of his letter to the Church at Colossae, Paul praised Epaphras: "Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you." Colossians 4:12 Epaphras was a faithful, persistent pray-er.

Jesus was committed to His prayer life. In the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most poignant scenes in all of literature. Our Lord and the disciples are weary from the stress and tension of the late night plotting of enemies to have them murdered. The disciples are asked to wait in the security of a dark olive grove. Weariness overcomes them and they fall asleep. But Jesus "withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." Luke 22:41-44

3. WE THEREFORE SHOULD PERSIST IN OUR PRAYERS.

Make a commitment now to devote yourself more persistently in prayer, and that in every area of your life you will have great resolution and will to continue. Write to me for your free copy on my book on "PRAYER". As Jesus said: "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." Matthew 7:7-8 Pray! Pray persistently!

REFERENCES.

"SPIRITUAL RESOURCES FOR RESILIANCE: Prayer" Gordon Moyes.
Open Book. 2001.
"TWELVE SERMONS ON PRAYER" C.H. Spurgeon p.88

Wesley Mission, Sydney.