Published April 23, 2013

Paul's Epistle...
"Persistent Prayer"

Prayer is a frequent topic of these columns because I firmly believe that none of us — myself certainly included — has even scratched the surface of the potential of prayer in our lives. There is so much we need to learn about prayer.

As in all things for a Christian, Jesus is our best example. During the recent Easter season, we were reminded that in His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, shortly before His arrest, Jesus provided an example of how to pray.

This prayer of Jesus is one of the most intense prayers recorded in the Bible. We know this because Luke, in his account, says Christ was praying so fervently that even His sweat was, as it were, "great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Luke 22:44.)

So there's the first thing we can learn from this prayer – to be fervent in prayer. The thesaurus says "fervent" means "animated, earnest, emotional, enthused, impassioned, intense, passionate, sincere, wholehearted, gung ho."  ("Gung ho?")  Well, suffice it to say that if it's worth praying about (and anything is), put some energy into it!

Something else about what Jesus did in prayer that night in the garden helps us understand another important principle of prayer.

Matthew's account (chapter 26) tells us that Jesus prayed three times (stopping just long enough between prayers to check out His sleepy disciples). And each of those three times He prayed basically the same prayer – praying that "if...possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."

This tells me that God wants us to continue praying for particular needs or issues in our lives — not just once. This is the second thing – be persistent in prayer.

In fact, Jesus said as much in a parable, recorded in Luke 18:1-8. I like the Living Bible's paraphrase of this:

"One day Jesus told his disciples a story to illustrate their need for constant prayer and to show them that they must keep praying until the answer comes. ‘There was a city judge,' he said, ‘a very godless man who had great contempt for everyone. A widow of that city came to him frequently to appeal for justice against a man who had harmed her. The judge ignored her for a while, but eventually she got on his nerves. ‘I fear neither God nor man,' he said to himself, ‘but this woman bothers me. I'm going to see that she gets justice, for she is wearing me out with her constant coming!' Then the Lord said, ‘If even an evil judge can be worn down like that, don't you think that God will surely give justice to his people who plead with him day and night? Yes!...'"

There's something else to learn from this prayer — something very important to understanding the whole concept of prayer. We learn that prayer can — and does — change you.

Although Christ in the garden prayed for the same thing each time, in the two times His words are recorded (Matthew tells us merely that the third time He said the "same thing") there was a slight change. In verse 39 He says, "...if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me..." But in verse 42 He says, "..if it is not possible...."

The first time He prays, He asks if it IS possible. The second time, His petition is premised on the notion that if it is NOT possible... You have to be paying attention to catch the subtle difference.

In that way, Jesus' continuing prayers about the same issue show how persistent prayer moved Jesus ever closer to the Father's will. He was reassured. He was strengthened. His will was "recharged" with the Father's will. "...may your will be done."

As you pray about an issue – repeatedly petitioning God for some particular action on His part – you, too, will find a change in the nature of your petition. As you pray, God's Holy Spirit will place upon your heart increasing understanding of God's perspective on your petition. For some, this may happen almost immediately. For others, it may take years. But there is no room here for impatience if you truly trust God to hear and answer prayers according to His will.

Prayer brings you closer to God. Repeated prayer brings you even closer in the sense of understanding His will. And the closer your will gets to His will, the more likely it will be done. Jesus exemplified that it in the garden, and said it earlier in teaching His disciples how to pray: "Thy will be done." God answers prayers, offered in faith, that conform to His will.

But doesn't it show a lack of faith if we keep praying for something repeatedly, rather than giving it to God once and then waiting for an answer? No. Nobody can say Jesus lacked faith, and yet his prayer in the garden repeatedly covered the same issue that was burning on his heart. We can give a matter to God once and have total faith that He will take care of it, and if you accept that He will do so, it's just the first step toward drawing you closer to His will. Repeated praying will draw you even closer.

Remember, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16b.)

Do you believe this? There's one way to prove it:  Try it!

- Paul

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