By Tyson Thorne

October 6, 2016

The Samarian Ministry at Various Cities (9.51-18.34), 11.5-13

Jesus answered the question his disciples had put to him, “Teach us to pray” (see last week’s article, The Lord’s Prayer). Along with his lesson on how to pray, Jesus relates a story and other principles that are instructive regarding the topic. He begins, as Jesus is want to do, with an illustrative example that puts each member of the audience in the middle of the action. “Suppose one of you…” he began, received an unexpected visit from a distant friend who arrived in the middle of the night. Being unprepared, you immediately visit a neighbor to ask for some bread.

Being such a late hour, the neighbor is not inclined to get out of bed, but persistence pays off. This is the first lesson on prayer, to not stop coming to the Lord in prayer for things you genuinely need – especially if it to do right by another. This might be the first time Jesus gives this lesson, but it isn’t the last (Luke 18.1-8), and I confess that, for me at least, it is one of the more confounding teachings in the New Testament. Why should we go to God repeatedly with the same request?

God does not forget, nor is he hard of hearing.

Furthermore, it seems opposed to faith to pester God with a request rather than to bring it to him and trust he has heard us.

That said, there are many examples which prove Jesus’ teaching – the greatest of which may be the rescue of Israel from Egypt. For 300 years Abraham’s children were enslaved until the majority of them repeatedly prayed for deliverance. Their prayers resulted in the Exodus, which is perhaps the grandest act of God in history with the exception of Creation itself. Other lesser examples abound, including women who pray earnestly and frequently to have children. So there are many examples of God not answering our request the first time, or even the second or third. Instead he wants to see us come to him over and over again, many times perhaps even for years before granting the blessing. But why?

I can think of only a few possible reasons. The first is to teach us that he is not a genie who grants wishes. We need to learn to give God the honor he deserves when asking him for things. The second is to teach us to know what we are asking for before we ask it. Our requests of God should not be for fanciful or fleeting interests. Sometimes we must prove, to ourselves and to God, that our request is a genuine longing or need. Third, it may be a useful measure of our faith. If we lose heart and give up praying for something we lose it, whereas if we persist – even if we do not receive what we ask – we win in the arena of faith. And while all these possible answers may be a part of a larger whole, none are very satisfying,

I suspect, however, the answer has more to do with our nature than with Gods. Humanity has a greater tendency to use others than it does to love others. Persistent prayer is like meditation in that it teaches us to continually evaluate what we are asking for. Is it within the realm of God’s will? Is it a need or only a desire? Are we asking for something that God would be inclined to provide? Persistence in prayer requires patience, and continual prayer, even for the same thing, builds our connection with God in a special way. Ask yourself, when God answers your prayers and provides what you ask do you continue to pray to him as faithfully? Or to put it another way, do you stop praying to God once you have what you want? These questions get to the heart of one’s relationship with God.

This last explanation fits nicely with Jesus’ conclusion to his teaching on prayer. Our Lord’s characterization of us as “evil” speaks to our ability to use God and others for our ends. His reference to God giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask may refer to the wisdom that God imparts when we pray repeatedly. We should remember then, that success in prayer comes in faithful persistence and a desire for God that is greater than our desire for what we ask for.

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