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|4th July, 1999|
Many people face problems but do not persist until they have overcome them. Too many of our fellows belong to the Quitters Club. They decide that when the going gets tough, the tough will get going, right out of the place! Educational difficulties cause some young people to leave school, perhaps dropping out of society for a time. Marriage difficulties cause many divorces without the spouses trying to work out their difficulties before running away. Employment difficulties cause many people out of a job to become dispirited and give up working altogether. Spiritual difficulties cause some to lose heart and not continue in their worship and faith. Health difficulties cause many long term suffering and hope bringing on early death. Business difficulties cause some people to quit preferring to give up rather than make a go of it.
This is no idle complaint. It is the heart-felt cry of a pastor who does not want people suffering because they give up too soon. Why do people lack persistence? Discoveries in science come only after persistence. Athletes win only after persistent training. Students achieve only after persisting in studies. Marriages last only because ordinary people have worked at them. Stable family life is maintained because parents and children work at their family relationships. Prayers are answered and events are changed because believers persist in prayer. Anything worthwhile comes because someone has stuck at it. It is a law of life that it is always too soon to quit.
Yet for many people in Australia, this is an era of quitters. They quit, drop out, give up, walkout, withdraw, escape, depart and lack persistence. Membership is easy in "The Quitter's Club". No-one imagines life is easy - but it can become meaningful. Persistence is a vital quality and it is equally essential in a person's prayer life. Too many give up on prayer as a spiritual force simply because they quit too soon.
1. JESUS INSTRUCTS US TO PRAY PERSISTENTLY.
Everyone faces tough times, but persistent prayer can handle every problem. Persistent prayer overcomes anger, anxiety, criticism, disappointment, discouragement, despair, fatigue, nervousness, temptation and sorrow. That is why Jesus taught us to persist. In the time of Jesus, Jews "waited before the Lord". Believers were to "be patient and wait for the Lord to act" Psalm 37:7. The Psalmist cries, "From the depths of my despair I call to you Lord, Hear my cry, 0 Lord; Listen to my call for help! I wait eagerly for the Lord's help, and in His word I trust. I wait for the Lord more eagerly than the watchmen wait the dawn." Psalm 130:1,5-6
The Apocrypha has a text "Be not impatient in prayer" Sirach 7:10. 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 find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak." Isaiah 40:31.
Through waiting patiently and praying persistently, a believer learns to trust God, find strength under strain, and a spirit of expectancy. Successful people persist until they outlast their problems.
2. WHY DOES GOD WANT US TO PERSIST?
Jesus stressed God's desire for us to persist in prayer. Jesus encourages us in our persistent prayer. He said that His Father will "give you everything you need because you are not ashamed to keep on asking." The parable says that God is like a man who gets up in the middle of the night to give a neighbour some bread because he had unexpected visitors. "I tell you, he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 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.´ LK 11:9-10´
Jesus stressed we should be persistent in prayer in another parable about a judge who has been very slow in giving his judgements. A woman who was being disadvantaged pestered him constantly until he gave judgement. If an unjust judge responds to persistence how much more quickly will God who is totally just. "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." LK 18:7-8 Luke says "Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." LK 18:1
There are two clear expectations:
a.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. That is how we should feel in prayer. The Jewish patriarch Jacob wanted God's blessing. He wrestled with God and said "I will not let you go until you bless me." He travailed in prayer.
b. We are to prevail in prayer. That means we must desire persistently what we pray. Jesus said: "I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mk 11:24 We are to pray with confidence and tenacity. 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, and tenaciously pray until God opens Heaven's gates and the opposition to our prayers crumbles before us. George Mueller 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 praying.
3. PERSISTING BUT NOT PESTERING?
There is a difference between persisting and pestering God. Jesus taught us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread." That meant we should pray daily for our needs. But when God has given us such an answer to our prayers, we must accept His answer and go ahead trusting God even if we cannot see the answer.
For example, Jesus prayed three times: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." LK 22:42 From that time on, He went to the Cross without asking for it to be removed from Him. He had accepted God's answer. He refused to pester God. Paul wrote about what was troubling him: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2CO 12:8 Paul had the answer, so he refused to pester God. He went ahead in God's power which enabled him to cope.
When should we persist in prayer? The Bible gives many examples requiring persistent prayer which is not pestering God. We should persist in prayer for:
- believers who fall into sin that they might repent;
- illness of body or mind which God is willing to heal;
- peace on earth and God's blessing upon peacemakers;
- spiritual growth so we can conform to Christ's image;
- enemies who persecute us, for their forgiveness;
- workers to bring people to God's salvation.
In our persisting we are not pestering God, but we are doing what He wants us to do.
James the brother of Jesus says "Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly."JAS 5:17 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 and a prisoner with Paul. He was praised twice for his devotion to the ministry. In his letter to the Church at Colossae, Paul wrote: "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." COL 4:12 Epaphras was a faithful, persistent prayer.
Jesus was committed to His prayer life. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord and the disciples are weary from the stress 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. But their weariness overcomes them and they fall asleep. Jesus went from them about the distance of a stone's throw and knelt down and prayed. "And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. n LK 22:44 His example encourages us to persist even when tired.
I received a reply the other day from a friend of many of us here at Wesley Mission. Keith Walkerden wrote: "Dear Gordon, Thank you for your kind note to me concerning my operation. I have two further minor operations to undergo after which my sight should be back to normal. Your prayers and those of our family and friends have been extremely important to myself.
I know that many worry about the efficacy of prayer, and we all have the experience of knowing that in many cases the outcome for which we have prayed so fervently doesn't occur. I want you to know that Sheila and I have benefited from your prayers; and not only because the operation was successful.
The sequence of events was bewilderingly fast. On a Friday afternoon we heard that, while they were confident of saving my life, the tumour in my eye was inoperable: then that there was one person in England who was doing a controversial operation that might save my sight. On Thursday we were flying to Manchester for an examination on Monday; and if given the go-ahead an operation on Tuesday. That week was one of tremendous stress for both of us. Yet in spite of all the pressure we felt both hopeful and comforted. I remarked to Sheila: "I feel bathed in prayer".
We had a wonderful sense of being supported and buoyed up by the prayers and thoughts of our family, our Church, and groups of friends around Australia. It was for us a strong spiritual experience. While the tumour was larger than our surgeon had previously operated on, it was possible to perform the surgery. We felt buoyed up by prayer. I told my surgeon I felt surrounded by love and prayer. Irrespective of whether the operation was successful or not your prayers were vital to our well being. They were a positive force that met our need at a most traumatic time in our lives. Thank you. Keith Walkerden." The persistence in prayer releases the power of prayer. That is why prayer must be repeated if we are to spiritually breathe.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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