Question Box

Persistency in Prayer

Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.—Luke 18:1

Question: How long should we pray for a particular request?

Answer: In the parable recorded in Luke 18:1-8 Jesus describes the attitude of an unjust judge who finally hearkens to the pleas of a woman because of her importunity. Similarly, he informs us that our loving heavenly Father always answers proper prayers offered by his children, even though the responses may not be forthcoming immediately.

Two of the many scriptures which affirm this promise of God to the spirit begotten are: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you" (John 15:7); "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that are desired of him" (1 John 5:14, 15).

In contrast we read of the Apostle Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9: "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

James 4:3 reads as follows in the Jerusalem Bible: "When you do pray and don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed in something to indulge your own desires."

In view of the many texts cited in support of God’s willingness to answer the prayers of his people, we conclude that when the Apostle Paul made the foregoing petitions he was not yet spiritually mature regarding what is acceptable prayer. To his credit, however, when the Lord informed Paul that he had a sufficiency of grace to compensate for his infirmity, the apostle immediately acquiesced to the will of the heavenly Father.

The reference in 2 Corinthians 12:7 concerning the "thorn in the flesh" which the Apostle Paul sought to have removed illustrates the kinds of things for which we should not pray, as evidenced by God’s denial of this request.

Since Paul had consecrated his all and, being in Christ, was required to crucify the flesh (Gal. 5:24), for God to have granted this petition to have the thorn removed would in effect have been a withdrawal of a part of his sacrifice. It was for this same reason that Jesus, though hungry, refused to heed the adversary’s temptation while in the wilderness to command that stones be made into bread. The operating principle for all new creatures to note is that spiritual means are not to be employed for the satisfaction of human desires. Thus, if we have petitioned the Father repeatedly about some burden of our hearts, used our best consecrated judgment to bring about a change in these circumstances, and no answer seems to be forthcoming, we would be well advised to reconsider the content and motive of our prayers. If they relate to earthly concerns in our lives rather than the setting of our affections on things above, we may well conclude that the answer is "no" since the granting of that request would not enhance our spirituality.

The scriptures give many examples of things for which we should pray including those items found in the model "Lord’s prayer"—more of the holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding, peaceable and quiet lives, for all the saints, and for strength to endure our trials. Nevertheless, answers to our petitions, even in these areas, may be delayed to help us develop greater earnestness, to test our humility, to measure our faith, or to foster increased patience on our parts. If we discern needs in our character along one or more of these lines, we should continue to "wait upon the Lord" and reflect upon the import of such texts as Mark 11:24: "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."

As we grow in our spirituality our expressions to the throne of grace should largely be in the form of thanksgiving for the many blessings received. Assurances from such texts as "My God shall supply all your needs (Phil. 4:19), and "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psa. 23:1), should further confirm our faith that if we sincerely ask for our desires to be granted according to God’s will instead of attempting to dictate how we would like our heavenly Father to respond, there can be neither delay not the disappointment of unanswered prayer, for truly "He knows best."

Homer Montague