True prayer is prayer with importunity. The word “importunity” is a King James word used in Luke 11:8. It is translated now in most other versions as “persistence,” however I think importunity is really a fuller and better word. Well, here in five points, is what importune prayer means.
1. Importune prayer is prayer made in faith, which is continual and persistent, with a goal of receiving what we desire. This first definition is proved well in Luke 11:5-10 and in Luke 18:1-8; however, I like the stories in Matthew 15:21-28 and Luke 18:35-42 better, because the aspect of faith is included. In both stories (if you will read them for yourself), the Canaanite woman and the blind man cry out persistently and continually for mercy; and in both cases Jesus commends them for their faith, and He heals the woman’s daughter and the blind man.
Here we see that these characters, by their continual persistence in crying out for mercy, demonstrated their faith in God—faith that He would give them mercy. And this is the way true prayer always has to be—persistent and with continual asking as is necessary to show our faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
2. Importune prayer has a shameless boldness. We see this clearly in the Parable of the Persistent Friend (Lu. 11:5-10). In this parable, when the man came to his friend at midnight and persistently asked him for bread to feed a hungry traveler, his asking was not with reluctance, that is, with any sense of guilt or embarrassment because of the lateness of the hour. He asked boldly and shamelessly, because he was not thinking of himself; he was thinking only of his poor hungry guest who desperately needed nourishment.
This is the nature of true prayer—to cry out to God boldly and selflessly for others. And if we are praying for our own needs, we would pray shamelessly for the kingdom of God and for the glory of God, and not just to please ourselves.
3. Importune prayer is intense and increases in intensity. In the parable mentioned above (Lu. 11:5-10), when the man was persistently asking for bread, I believe his persistence continued to increase in intensity until he received the bread. Jesus makes this clear in verses 9-10 when he summarized the teaching of the parable by saying, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Therefore, Jesus is saying to us that if we really want to receive what we desire in prayer we must ask with a shameless persistence that increases in intensity. True prayer then is much like a well fought battle. In order for there to be victory in the battle there must not be any relenting, any relaxing lest the enemy get a foothold. Instead, the battle must persist and continue in intensity until the enemy is beat down and the fight is won.
4. Importune prayer does not give up when times are difficult or when the goal is not in view. The parable in Luke 18:1-8 of the persistent widow I think is the best illustration of this point. The widow never gave up asking for justice until she got it. Moreover, at the beginning of the parable Jesus gives us its theme, “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.”
I think this theme tells us even more then the story itself, because in the story the woman got what she asked for. But what if the goal of our asking is not in view? That is, what if there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the answer? Should we still keep praying? Yes! If we are sure that what we are praying for is for God’s will we must never, never, never quit praying for it, even if the answer doesn’t come in our life time.
This kind of importunity, this never-give-up attitude, is the nature of true prayer. It is the kind of prayer that really demonstrates our faith in these difficult times; and it will be rewarded, if not in this life time, in the next one when Jesus returns (Lu. 18:7-8).
5. Importune prayer is energized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to His disciples on the night He was arrested and brought to trial, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). When we pray with importunity our prayers are energized by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are able to pray persistently through hard trials. In the flesh we will never be able to keep praying in difficult times. But in the Spirit, in whatever situation we find ourselves in, we will always be able to continue praying on and on for as long as we need to.