Jesus taught that prayer must be with persistence—not losing heart (from Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:5-10, and Luke 18:1-8)
Jesus taught this lesson of persistence in prayer from two different stories, on two different occasions. One of His stories, recorded in Luke 11:5-10, is about a man who needed bread and who goes to his friend at midnight and begs for it until his friend gives him the bread. The other story, in Luke 18:1-18, similarly, is about a widow who goes before an unjust judge and pleads for justice from her adversary; and she continues to come to him, begging for justice, until he finally gives it to her.
We will not go into all the details of the stories (you can read the stories yourself). However, I want to emphasize the central teaching: that when we pray we must pray with persistence and not lose heart. To do this I will first show you from the two stories what persistence in pray means and how to pray with persistence; next we will discuss briefly the reason why we need to pray with persistence.
What Is Persistent Prayer?
(1) Persistent prayer is desperate prayer that is motivated by a great need. In both stories this is true. The man who was asking his friend for bread was desperate. For he had a friend who had come to his house after being on a long journey, and he had nothing to feed him; he was desperate to supply him bread. Likewise, the widow was also desperate to get justice. Therefore, in both stories the main characters recognized that their need was great, and so they were desperate in asking for what they needed. The first guideline then for knowing how to pray with persistence is that we must recognize that we have a great need, and we must be willing to petition the Father for help.
(2) Persistent prayer is shameless prayer. We get this idea both from the context of the stories and from the Greek word in Luke 11:8, most often translated as persistence. This word (anaideian) is correctly translated in the KJV as importunity, and it means to pray with shamelessness and with impudence. And wasn’t that so true of the man in the story? He went at midnight, woke his friend up, and shamelessly, with boldness, begged for bread. And the widow acted the same way.
Hence, our prayers are to be the same. We are not to feel any shame or embarrassment when we come to God. No, we should feel free to come to Him with our requests at any time, day or night (Lu. 18:7) to ask for anything (as long as it is not a sinful thing). In fact, we are to ask boldly. And of course we can do that because we have such a merciful and graceful God, who, through Jesus, our great High Priest, has given us redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. And so, because of that standing we have with Him (our justification, Rom. 5:1) we can come boldly by faith into His very presence to ask for anything we want, at any time.
(3) Persistent prayer is prayer that has a goal to receive. In both stories, the characters were intent on getting the things they needed because they had a goal to receive them. The man who came for bread would not leave without it. The woman who kept asking for justice was intent on getting it—and she would have keep coming back to the judge until she got justice. That is what we must do in prayer too—to have in our mind the goal of the answer. Hence we must be resolved to continue praying for a thing until we receive it.
(4) Persistent prayer is progressively intensive. We may not see this quality in the two stories; but at the end of the story (in Luke 11 and also in Matthew 7:7-8) we have the familiar phrase that teaches it: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.”
So here we have in these three words (ask, seek and knock) a progressive intensity in prayer. Seeking is more intense than asking. Knocking is more intense than seeking. Asking may be seen as where prayer begins. Seeking is intense prayer—prayer that is seeking why prayers are not answered, or just seeking to be closer to God. Knocking is even more persistent, as if to storm the gates of heaven.
Therefore, when we pray we ought not to be content with just asking; but we must let our prayers develop to the second level of seeking, and even to the third level of knocking. I think this is so important, because unless we knock the door will not be opened to receive the things we need. We must proceed through all three levels of prayer. This is what persistent prayer is.
(5) Persistent prayer takes work. With this kind of prayer we don’t just sit and pray. It involves listening to God and being obedient to what He wants us to do to bring the answer. This is where the “knocking” part comes in. In each of the two stories there was knocking: the man had to go to his friend’s house and knock on the door; and the woman had to go to the judge (go to the court house) day after day. Hence, persistent prayer is not just a continual bowing of the head and praying words. It is doing what ever God shows us to do.
Now briefly, here are…
Four Reasons Why We Need To Pray With Persistence
(1) God wants us to be honest about our needs. If we have a great need, God wants us to be honest about that need and to express it openly and honestly. The degree of earnestness in our prayers should always be in proportion to the greatness of our need. It is all about good communication with God, keeping a good relationship with Him, and about developing a healthy dependence on Him. The more we express our needs honestly, the better our relationship with Him will be.
(2) Difficult times require persistent prayer. The story in Luke 18 was told in the context of the last days, in an age of great difficulty (Lu. 17:20-37). Therefore, Jesus was teaching that when times are tough we ought to pray even more persistently, and not lose heart. These are the last days and Jesus is coming soon. The devil is on the rampage and persistent prayers are needed more than ever.
(3) Persistent prayer builds our faith and character. I believe it is part of God’s plan to build up our faith and character through patient, persistent prayer. Prayer has a way of purifying our motives; it intensifies our desire for God; and it makes His gifts dearer to us. The more we persist at prayer, the stronger our faith will become and the brighter our eyes will be toward Him and His gifts.
(4) God wants to give us what we need. God loves us and wants to give us all that we need. Therefore, in these difficult times, to receive those things, we need to prayer with persistence.