The Power In Persistence
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Persistence in prayer will pay off. Persistence is not just the continuation or repetition of an act. Persistence implies that the act is done repetitively with the same type of fervency in which the act was initiated. In this lesson on prayer, which happens to be Jesus second lesson on the subject, he characterizes the prayer life of the disciple as being persistent.
The reason our prayer lives lack power is because we either don’t pray long enough, or we don’t pray strong enough. Effective prayer requires both intensity and consistency. The New Testament requires both frequent and fervent prayer. James tells us that the:
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Prayer seems seemingly ineffective because we refuse to commit to the type of prayer that is effective. This problem of commitment is neither unique nor is it novel. Although it is common for saints to say that they’ve prayed, and God hasn’t answered their prayers. This disappointment isn’t exclusive to prayer. We deem prayer to be ineffective when it does not produce our desired result. Much in the same way we deem the church ineffective when it has not produced our desired result. The church is supposed to magically fix our lives. The Church is supposed to solve all of the issues in the community. The church is supposed to fix my marriage. The church is supposed to fix my children. The church is supposed to fix my finances. Beloved, the church cannot do anything until you give yourself to the church. Effective prayer requires you to give yourself to prayer, both consistently and passionately. The problem with prayer, is our commitment to prayer.
The fact that this is Jesus’s second lesson on prayer during the Sermon on the Mount says a lot about the importance of prayer. Another important observation that we must make about this text and the Sermon on the Mount in general Jesus attempts to characterize our relationships with our brothers and sisters, and our relationship with God. He addresses attitudes. He tells us to value the eternal more than the temporary. He encourages us to avoid anxiety. He teaches us to be compassionate judges. Now, he exhorts us to be persistent prayer warriors. Our attitude toward prayer should be such that prayer has power if we remain persistent. Prayer has power, if the prayer has persistence. Perhaps, our prayers lack both power and persistence because our attitude toward prayer and the God who answers prayer is wrong? I believe this pericope addresses that problem in three ways.
First, we lack persistence in prayer because we do not rightly understand the act of praying. I’m sure that at this point you have a basic understanding of the mechanics of prayer. That is prayer is the channel of communication that God has given us to communicate with him. It’s not that we don’t understand the mechanics. I believe we also have some understanding of the occasion of prayer. We know how to pray when we get in trouble. We know how to pray when we get a bad report from the doctor. We know how to pray when our pockets are empty. We know how to pray when people hurt us. It’s not that we don’t understand the occasion of prayer. The reason we do not have the correct attitude about prayer is because we don’t understand the act of prayer. That is, we don’t understand that prayer requires the person asking to be as active as the person giving. Prayer is an intense act that requires the prayer to be as invested in the answer as the one he is praying too.
If we pay close attention to what Jesus is saying in verse 7 we see that the person praying is both the subject and the object. That is to say that the person praying is the one putting something in, and the one getting something out.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
If you ask, then you will get. If you seek then you will find. If you knock then it will be open to you. So many of us want God to do things for us without asking him to do it. You cannot expect God to turn it around if you don’t first turn to God.
14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
The Bible says only then will he respond. You can’t keep expecting the prayers of everyone else to carry you. Grandmother can pray, but one day grandmother won’t be around. Mother can pray, but one day mother might not be around. The Pastor can pray, but one day the Pastor may not be around. You can’t keep accusing God of being an absentee father if you’ve been an absentee prayer. When you practice prayer, you profit from prayer.
We must be active participants in prayer, but there is something else that verse teaches us about the act of prayer. This verse also teaches us about the intensity of prayer. If you notice, the act of prayer is described using three verbs: act, seek, knock. These verbs are listed in an ascending scale. That is the verb which expresses the least amount of physical effort is listed first, and the verb which implies the most physical effort is listed last. The act of prayer requires perseverance. Our prayer lives lack persistence because we fail to understand that the act of prayer requires perseverance. It is amazing to me how easily we give up on God, but will persevere for no good people in our lives. We have more faith in people who have proven themselves unfaithful, than God who is faithful. The act of prayer requires perseverance. It requires the same type of perseverance that we have when we keep letting people who hurt us back in our lives. The act of prayer requires the same type of perseverance that we have when we keep lending them money and they haven’t paid us back yet. The act of prayer requires the same type of perseverance that we display keep saying we’re going to quit, but we show back up at work everyday.
Prayer is an act that requires perseverance, but it also requires active involvement. The text says ask, seek, and knock. All three of these verbs are active verbs, not passive verbs. That means that the person who receive, the person who finds, and the person to whom the door is open is the person who initiated the effort. Many of us pray with the attitude that once we ask God we’ve done enough and now it’s God’s job to do all the work. It’s this passive attitude that is hurting our prayer lives, our children, and our homes. We do just enough to say that we did something, but then we take a passive role. We send them to school, but never ask them about grades or about homework. We show up at church, but we never spend time with the Lord when we leave. We do just enough to say we did it, but never put in any real effort. If you want to experience the power in prayer you have to get off the bench and get in the game.
The Bible says that Jacob wrestled with the angel all night long. He touched Jacob’s hip and his hip was put out of joint, yet Jacob kept wrestling. When day came the angel said, “Jacob let me go”. Jacob said to the angel, “I won’t let go until you bless me”. Brothers and sisters, we have to learn how to pray like Jacob. We have to pray when it convenient. We have to pray when it’s convenient. We have to prayer when it hurts. We have to pray with tears in our eyes. We have to persevere in prayer. We have to be active in prayer. We have to put something into prayer if we are going to get something out of prayer.
Secondly, our prayer lives lack power and persistence because we do not have faith in God’s assurance. I believe that our attitude toward prayer would be different if we believed the assurances of prayer. That is, the fact that God has promised to answer prayer in God’s own way. The plea to act is followed by the promise to provide.
8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
We have this promise that we will receive, and find open doors. But sometimes our experiences have something different to say. We’ve asked, didn’t get it. We have sought, and didn’t find it. We have knocked, and the door remained closed. How do we reconcile the two? Jesus telling me that if I simply ask I’ll receive, and if I seek then I’ll find. Life has taught me that I don’t always get what I ask for, and I find what I’m looking for. I think in order to properly diagnose this problem we’ve got to ask a couple of questions. Who did you ask? What were you looking for?
This will sound like an oxymoron, but this assurance is conditional. Answers are only promised to children. Verse 8 begins, “For everyone”. When Jesus says everyone, he cannot literally mean everyone in the whole wide world. There are two reasons for this. Number one, we must consider the context in which he is speaking. Jesus is delivering the sermon on the mount. This sermon is a handbook to his disciples, for his disciples. Jesus had left the crowds, went up on the mountain, and there his disciples had joined him.
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
So as he is teaching his teaching is pointed at his audience. This is the equivalent to me saying everyone who shows up at Logan’s after service this evening will have their food paid for. I would be implying that everyone in attendance in this gathering would have the assurance of a free meal. But then secondly, Jesus goes on to illustrate this assurance in verses 9 - 11.
9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
In this illustration Jesus clearly defines the type of relationship that ensures an answer. If you’ve asked and haven’t received, my question to you is who did you ask? Jesus says that if a son asks for bread, the father will give him bread, and if the son asks for fish the father will give him fish. Your requests must be made to the Father, which is in heaven. Which also means, if you want answers you better be ask God as a son, not as a stranger. Maybe you haven’t recieved an answer because the Lord hadn’t seen you in his house in awhile? Maybe you haven’t received an answer because you don’t look like a child of his? Maybe you haven’t received an answer because when you’re outside of the four walls of the sanctuary you don’t act like a child of his?
Who did you ask? What were you seeking? Verse 8 promises that those who seek will find. Some of us have been seeking for a long time, but still haven’t found an answer. The question is what were you seeking. In Jesus warns us against anxiety and he concludes this promise to provide us with what we need by saying,
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The assurance of finding what you are looking for is contingent upon what you are looking for. In other words, if you’re asking God for Godly things then God will never fail to give you a Godly answer. Solomon in all his wisdom understood that the secret to answer prayer is that in your prayer you must be seeking the one who answers the prayer. If I can borrow from one of my favorite illustrations allow me to illustrate this point. In elementary is was good math student. I learned how to add. I knew how to subtract. I had mastered my multiplication tables. But in middle school I encountered my first real struggle with mathematics. We were introduced to what they call the order of operations. All of a sudden, it wasn’t enough to know how to add, and subtract, and multiply. Now we had parenthesis and we had adding, subtracting, and multiplying all in the same equation. I struggled because I just wanted to go along adding, subtracting, and multiplying things in my own order. I kept getting the wrong answer. It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I had to honor the order of things in order to get the right answer. Such is the case with prayer, we must honor the order of God’s will in order to receive answered prayer. The goal of prayer is not to bend God’s will to our will, but for God to bend our will to his. Solomon was a perfect example of what productive seeking looks like.
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
Our prayer lives lack power and persistence because we have no faith in God’s assurance. However, we must comply with the Lord’s conditions to receive the Lord’s answer.
Lastly, we lack persistence in prayer because we have an improper view of God’s answer to prayer. Answered prayer is a gift from God. Jesus completes the lesson by describing God as a judicious father.
11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
God answers prayer not because he owes it to us but because he loves us. God does not answer prayer according to our goodness but according to his goodness. If evil men know how to give good gifts, then how much more will the father who is in heaven give good gifts to his children? To be persistent in prayer you need to properly understand the outcome of prayer. We must appreciate God’s answer to our prayers as a gift. We must also appreciate that gift, even if it is not the gift that we asked for.
The Bible says that he gives good gifts. Jesus makes the argument from the lesser to the greater, much in the same way he makes the argument against anxiety when he states that the birds of the air neither sew nor reap yet your heavenly father feeds them. The lilies of the field grow and they neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like on of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field then will he not much more clothe you? He makes a similar argument here but he compares earthly father with heavenly fathers. If earthly fathers who are weak and limited in comparison to God know how to give good gifts to their children then how much more does the Heavenly father who has all power know how to give good gifts to you? He is a judicious father who knows how to give us what is good for us. That is also to say that he withholds things that are not good for us.
God is able to discern what we need and when we need it. He gives good gifts. He’s good because he won’t give us a stone when we ask for bread. He’s good because he won’t give us a serpent when we ask for fish. But God is even better than that. For there are times when we asked for serpents and God didn’t give it to us. There are times when we asked for for stones and instead he gave us what we needed. The Lord gives us good gifts which means he hears our prayers from his throne in heaven and always sends us what we need and not necessarily what we ask for. He gives good gifts. Beloved, we would approach prayer differently if we changed our perspective on the outcome of prayer. Prayer is a gift from God. Understanding that prayer is a gift should change our attitude toward remaining persistent in prayer. Remaining steadfast.
There was a young boy who enjoyed eating pound cake. He enjoyed it so much that the kitchen committee took notice of his affinity for pound cake, and every time there was a second program they would put an extra piece of pound cake on his plate. One day the boy happened to be at the end of the line, and when it became his time to be served, all of the pound cake was gone. He was distraught. There was a mother of the church who noticed the distress on the young boy’s face, so she went over to console him. The mother told the young boy, “I know how much you love pound cake, and today all the pound cake is gone. But I’m the one who usually makes the pound cake, so if you come by my house I will give you your own pound cake.”
This young lad took that mother at her word and on Monday he walked down the street to her house and knocked on the door, only to be find that the mother would not answer the door. Tuesday came, and the young boy went to the mother’s house to retrieve his pound cake, and the mother did not answer the door. Wednesday rolled around and the young man went knocking on the door, only to walk away rejected because the mother did not open the door. On Thursday he was sure that he was going to get his pound cake so he strutted down the road, he knocked on the door louder than he had knocked all week, and stayed longer than he had stayed before. He walked away Thursday without his pound cake. Friday came and he sat sulking in his room because he felt that the old woman had let him down. He finally mustered up the strength to give it one last shot. He walked down the road with his head hanging and his feet dragging. He got to the woman’s address and before he could knock, the mother opened the door. When the door opened the young man collapsed in tears. She asked the young man, “why are you crying? I thought you might be happy to have your own pound cake.” The young boy said to her, “you don’t understand what I had to go through to get this pound cake. I walked down here on Monday in the rain. I strutted down here on Tuesday in the snow. On Wednesday my knuckles began to hurt because of all the knocking. On Thursday I didn’t feel well because of the rain on Monday, and the snow on Tuesday. But on Friday you finally answered the door. I thought maybe you had forgot about me and that I would never have my own pound cake.” To this the mother replied, “Son you need to understand, for while you were knocking, I was baking. Had I answered the door when you wanted me to, the cake wouldn’t be as sweet as it is.”