Prayer Lesson 8: Persistence in Prayer

An early Wesleyan preacher called “Praying Johnny” once preached from the text. “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” He commented on that verse and made the application. “Some people, in praying go round and round the throne, and never come up to it; but I go right up, and reach out my hand, and take what I want.”

Even well meaning believers sinfully pray. They battle selfishness in prayer and violate God’s sovereignty. Though persistence in prayer is not wrong, praying in a demanding fashion is wrong.


The illustrations below show modern, yet erroneous, forms of persistent prayer.

prayerwheeltibet

Three prayer wheels at the Sakya Monastery in Tibet. Each revolution of the drum constitutes a prayer.

 

prayerwesternwall

Ritual prayers are prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

 

latest-evangelical-rosary
Bruce Wilkinson has popularized the Prayer of Jabez and promises great blessings for those who repeat this prayer daily.

 

Though these practices are clearly wrong, failing to persist in prayer is just as humanistic. The prevailing theology behind pestering prayer is that man’s persistence can move God. The prevailing theology behind the lack of prayer is that man does not need God.

Persist in prayer without pestering God

Persistent Prayer is not the same as having marathon prayer sessions

A preacher that went to a Jack Hyles preaching conference in the ‘70s found that marathon praying is dangerous. At one session the preacher learned that he should “wait on God” meaning, he should pray, pray, and pray, until God revealed something to him. The preacher went home, excited to practice this kind of “waiting on God.” He did not sleep for three days as he “waited.”

By the third day, this preacher began hallucinating. He became panicked that the governmental authorities were going to storm his house and take his family away. His behavior became so bizarre that he was a threat to his family. A biblical counselor took this preacher to a cottage and forced him to sleep. After much sleep, the man came to his senses and the counselor was able to teach him about the error he had learned.

Did you know that three days of sleeplessness could produce the same hallucinogenic effects as cocaine? Is there biblical warrant for one to “wait on God” by praying in marathon fashion?[1] Let’s consider the phrase “wait on God” some passages used by those who teach that marathon prayer is legitimate:

The phrase “waiting on God” is not equivalent to persisting in prayer. The phrase “waiting on God” has the idea of “patient, faith-filled trust.”[2]

(Psalm 25.2, 3,5,21) O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause…. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day…. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee. Waiting means trusting; cf. v 2

Psalm 27.13,14
I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. Waiting means patience to wait for God’s goodness, cf. v. 13

Psalm 33.13–21
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth –
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.

Waiting means faith and trust to do what was advocated in v. 13-19; cf. v. 21

Psalm 37.7–9
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. … For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. Waiting has the idea of trust and patience for God to vindicate (vv. 3, 5)

Psalm 104.27
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat Even animals wait on God in dependence in due season.

Isaiah 40.31
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Context seems to be Israel in tribulation, but the waiting means having faith and trust to go forward and persevere

Christ persisted in prayer

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Mt 26.39 nasb95)

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. (Mk 14.35)

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, (Lk 22.41)

Jesus Christ practiced persistent praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three of the four Gospel writers record (and thus emphasize) Christ’s persistence in prayer.

Our English translations fail to convey the exact Greek language. All three writers use specific language to describe Christ’s persistence. Note the chart:

Mark 14.35,39 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed (lit. “kept on praying”) that if possible the hour might pass from him … And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.
Luke 22.41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed (lit. “kept on praying”).
Matthew 26.39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

 

This particular prayer session lasted through the night. According to Matthew and Mark, the prayer was so lengthy the disciples could not stay awake. Three times, Jesus went to the disciples and exhorted them to stay awake and pray.

Mark recorded that Jesus, after exhorting the disciples to wake up, returned to prayer and prayed the same thing.

Thus, Jesus Christ, in the garden of Gethsemane practiced persistence in prayer. However, since this was the only recorded “all-night” prayer of Jesus, we should not assume that this is a model for effective praying. It simply teaches that Christ did this, and is a legitimate way to pray.

The Apostles and early believers persisted in prayer

The Apostle Paul exhorted the early believers to persist in prayer

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5.17

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6.18

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4.2

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Romans 15:30

Against whom or what was Paul struggling? It could not have been God Himself whose reluctance must be overcome. The foes here are the enemies of God of Christians, and of prayer itself. The foes are the world, the flesh, and the devil (1Jn 2.16), not God.

This struggle is the fervent prayer, which is a striving of the inner man against the hostile or dangerous powers, which must be overcome (H. A. W. Meyer). Anything that would frustrate the work of God is a foe.

There is value in struggling in prayer. That is not the same as pestering God until He relents.

The Apostle Paul persisted in prayer for his weaknesses

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12.8–9

Conclusion

Next week we will consider two passages which some use to teach that we are to persist in prayer, even to the point of pestering God.

  • What about the persistent widow in Luke 18.1–8?
  • What about Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32.22–32?

 


[1] This kind of praying is also called “praying through,” “tarry in prayer,” and “prevailing prayer.”

[2] The following points are by Dr. Rolland McCune.

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