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Persistent Prayer

June 2018
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Very recently (April 28, 2018), I published a blog post on the topic of prayer titled, Prayer Changes Things.” In that post I started off by stating that there is really no formal setting or position that is required to pray, and that praying can be done at any time, any place, anywhere, and under any circumstances. It’s doesn’t have to be prayed out loud, or even with your eyes closed. It can be done in a crowd, while walking through a mall, while sitting at a desk in a workplace, and while driving your car (and you definitely don’t want your eyes closed while driving a car). It can be done anywhere and nobody around you even has to know you are doing it.

There is something else I want to add to this list for us to think about when it comes to prayer. I read it last night in a book titled, The Red Letter Life: 17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living (2014) by Bob Hostetler, an ordained minister, writer, editor, speaker, and literary agent who had written over 50 books (and eleven of them co-authored with Josh McDowell, who has been at the forefront of cultural trends and ministry for more than 50 years–see Josh McDowell Ministry). He also has a daily prayer blog titled, One Prayer a Day,” at this link.

Bob Hostetler addresses the subject of prayer in his book, The Red Letter Life,” in Chapter 7 titled, “The Word That Opens Heaven.” It’s easy to relate to the opening paragraphs in this chapter:

There are seven billion people in the world. Seven billion.

You might think that, out of all those people, there might be someone–just one–who thinks or feels the way you do, someone who understands, who “gets” you, whose heart beats in the tune with your heart, whose mind anticipates your thoughts, whose expressions mirror your emotions.

Maybe you’ve met that person. Maybe not.

Either way, you probably still feel sometimes as if no one really knows. . .or cares. . .or understands. It’s part of the human condition.

You may be surrounded by thousands of people every day. You may live in a city of millions. You may sometimes feel awash in a sea of people, and yet it’s as if no one really knows you, no one really understands you, not even your friends, not even your family.

It’s not about romance or finding the love of your life. It’s not about friendship or family. It’s about our common human longing to connect with someone on a level we seldom–if ever–seem to touch. It’s about a nagging sense of aloneness and alienation that all our gadgets and games won’t relieve.

I say that not only because there are many who harbor those kinds of feelings, but also because it is not God’s desire for you to feel that way. He has created you with a great and wonderful capacity for connection and communion–not only with other people, but with him as well. And the sense of emptiness and estrangement you often feel is a symptom, not a disease. It is an indication that your heart and soul are not getting what you long for–and what God longs to give you.

The means to meet that desire and fill that emptiness is prayer.

Don’t freak out. Don’t turn the page. Don’t give up just yet.

You’ve heard it all, of course, You’ve listened to sermons on prayer. You’ve read books about prayer. You’ve tried. You’ve failed. Just like the rest of us.

But there’s no escaping the fact that Jesus said, “Pray.” When he said “pray,” however, he was saying something new. He was revising. He was revolutionizing. Because he commanded and modeled a kind of prayer that was different. Unique. A kind of prayer that opens heaven and fills the human heart.

It was different from the type of prayer his contemporaries knew. If was different from what his closest friends and followers practiced. So much so, in fact, that it piqued their curiosity: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples'” (Luke 11:1).

It was different, too, from the prayers a lot of us have heard in church–you know, the kind that are filled with a lot of “thees” and “thous,” a bunch of fancy words and impressive Bible phrases thrown in. When Jesus said, “Pray,” he wasn’t talking about repeating the right phrases, or reciting something so many times, or reaching a certain level of consciousness–or unconsciousness!

He had a different idea. he revolutionized prayer. he changed the rules. He did to prayer what Michael Jackson did to dancing, what Picasso did to painting, what Apple did to cell phones.

When Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they weren’t saying, “We don’t know how to pray.” They had been praying all their lives–a minimum of three times a day, in fact. They were saying, “We’ve been watching you. We watch you go off by yourself. Sometimes we follow you and spy on you a little. And we listen to you pray. But you don’t pray like we do. You don’t pray like other rabbis. You don’t pray like anyone we’ve ever known. To us prayer is boring and tedious. It doesn’t seem to do much for us. But you–when you pray, it seems like heaven opens and touches you and everything around you. It’s like it fills you and fuels you. Like it refreshes and recharges you. So. . .teach us to do what you do! Teach us to pray. . .like you”

That’s what they were asking. And so Jesus answer their plea. But he didn’t respond with a seminar or a formula. He said, in effect, “Watch.”

“Pray like this,” he said.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever.
Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13, NKJV)

You may know it as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. You may have recited it or heard it recited in church. It is a masterpiece of beauty and concision–which is what we could expect from the Son of God himself. It is not primarily a prayer to be recited and repeated; it is a pattern to guide our praying. It contains the main things Jesus wanted to teach his closest friends and followers about prayer. It encapsulates the ways he wanted them to pray (“The Red Letter Life,”pp.91-93). . . .

Pray, Jesus says. But he does not insist that we memorize the pattern he provided (though many have). And he does not require us to pray it word for work (though there is nothing wrong with that) or every day (though some have found great blessing in doing so). Instead he has modeled for us prayer for us–what it can be like, how it can sound, what it can do, and how it can bless.

He says, “Pray communally. Pray relationally. Pray confidently. Pray respectfully. Cooperatively. Specifically and practically. Contritely and graciously. Submissively. Purposefully. And worshipfully.” That’s the way he prayed. That’s the way he teaches us to pray.

There are many versions of the Lord’s Prayer–formal and informal, poetic and prosaic, simple and profound. The final word in this chapter is simply to choose a version that works for you and pray it once each day for the next week. You may wish to used your favorite Bible version (you’ll find the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). You may want to GoogleThe Lord’s Prayerand find a favorite version online. You may want to write your own paraphrase (“The Red Letter Life,”p. 106).

So, why pray? GotQuestions.org states the following:

For the Christian, praying is supposed to be like breathing, easier to do than to not do. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35Acts 1:142:423:14:23-316:413:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also. If He needed to pray to remain in the Father’s will, how much more do we need to pray?

Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19).

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray.

A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer. (Quote source here.)

One of the most well known parables that Jesus taught us on prayer is found in Luke 18:1-8, known as The Parable of the Persistent Widow”:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And 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. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In a devotion on Ligioner.org regarding this parable, the devotion states:

Take the parable of the unjust judge, also known as the parable of the persistent widow, in Luke 18:1–8. Clearly, the unjust judge does not represent anything beyond himself. He is not a symbol for God, or the devil, or anyone else. Instead, he is a character that Jesus invents in order to develop a comparison that stresses the Lord’s willingness to hear and respond to the prayers of His people. This judge, who in defiance of Deuteronomy 27:19 was not at all concerned to execute justice for widows, finally gives in to the widow’s demands because she refuses to leave him alone until he does. He finally acts justly, not out of a concern to do what is right but simply so that he can have some peace.

If evil judges will act justly in such circumstances, how much more will God, who never tires of hearing the pleas of His people, do what is right? The Lord, who can do no injustice, will move quickly to help when His children cry out to Him (Luke 18:7).

We should not think that our infinite God gets tired of hearing our pleas for justice. The Lord does not forget when injustice has been done, and He will certainly rectify it, though sometimes He waits until we have persistently called upon His name before He acts. But whether God intervenes immediately or seems to delay His response, we can be sure that He will do what is right. (Quote source here.)

The key to prayer is persistence. Jesus taught us that we should always pray and not give up, so let us pray… Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name . . . 

Your kingdom come . . .

Your will be done . . .

On earth as it is in heaven. . . .

YouTube Video: “Our Father” by Hillsong Worship:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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