I had a student at my college who was an extremely devout Christian. I got to know her pretty well since she was a member of the speech team I coached. I also got to know her parents. I know that her father and mother raised her to pray. She also had a personality trait that some may call “obsessive” which really means that once she set her mind to something, she did not give up. I remember her telling me one time that her heart hurt for an older brother who had fallen away from his faith in God. She said she prayed for him morning and night and had done so for years. She wanted him to come back to his Christian faith upbringing.
This is what I would call persistence.
God values the trait of persistence. Just look at James 1: 1-5 as James talks about not giving up during trials in our lives. He says we should welcome situations where we have to persist or persevere.
In Romans, Paul prays for the opportunity to go to Rome and he asked God to arrange it. Every time he got ready to go, his plans were ruined. Yet Paul continued to pray. His desire to go to Rome was not diminished but God was not helping him reach his destination. He finally received assurance that he was going to go, but he was imprisoned at the time. Paul was in prison for two more years before he began his trip. When he finally boarded his boat, he set sail through a two week storm, the boat wrecked and he was delayed for three months on an island due to foul weather. God got Paul to Rome but Paul’s prayers took two and a half years to be answered. His persistence paid off.
In other places in the Bible, Paul prayed for a physical discomfort to be eliminated and God replied that He would not remove the weakness. Paul found that answer sufficient and he did not persist. Moses prayed for God to allow him to enter Canaan. God had already said he would not. The Lord said “That is enough. Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.” Maybe Moses did not have the same peace as Paul about this matter but he knew not to persist.
When do we continue to pray when we don’t receive an answer? When do we continue to pray when we get a negative answer? W. Bingham Hunter* says we should persist in prayer when the opportunity for God to act is not gone and He has not told you to stop praying. If we don’t continue to pray our request will never be granted. In my opinion, this idea is based on Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” If you don’t ask, you will not receive. One never knows when God will be gracious to us.
A mistake we can make is the attitude that we can wear God down. We should not treat God as if He is a stubborn friend who could easily grant us a favor. We just need to keep asking and asking until the friend is so irritated that he relents. We need to be careful that prayers not get mechanical over time. They can become meaningless. Sincere prayers can become rote over time and I cannot imagine that God is pleased with that type of prayer. If your heart is no longer in your request, you have to ask if you are merely going through the motions.
We need to remember that we are totally dependent on God. He is our Savior. He is our sovereign Lord. He is in control. We are not.
If we are not getting an answer to our persistent prayer request or the answer is a repeated no, maybe there is a good reason. God knows what is best for us. God knows what we need better than we do. Sometimes persistence is just stubbornness on our part and I am not sure that God honors human stubbornness.
We must always remember that we are the petitioner. We are not God.
Persistence can be good if it does not fly in the face of a clear negative response.
If God says “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.”
Accept things as they are and move on…
To other prayers.