Persevering in Prayer (Don’t Give Up)

I love it when I pray about something and Shazam! there is a speedy response. I’ve seen physical problems healed, relationships restored, and addictions broken immediately as a direct result of prayer. I think, Yay; prayer works!

But what about when we pray and we don’t see instant results? Is God not hearing us? Is there something wrong with us, or how we prayed, or the person we’re praying for? I don’t believe so.

Realistically, this is the situation more often than not. And when it happens, we need to shut down that little voice in our ear that whispers, You may as well give up. Just quit praying. Why waste your time any further? In fact, the opposite is true: Don’t give up. Don’t stop praying. Your investment of time and faith is worth the effort!

When prayers (seemingly) go answered, we may be tempted to give up before we get a chance to see the real work God is doing simply because it isn’t happening according to our timetable. The solution is not to give up; it’s to pray persistently and expectantly in faith, even when the person or situation we’re praying for doesn’t change.

We have some good friends in this situation. My husband and I have been praying with them for several years for their young adult daughter, with little visible progress in the situation. But I was encouraged when the father told us recently, “There is no change in her life choices or living situation, but we are in communication with her, and I’m grateful for that.” He hasn’t lost heart. Instead, he chooses to continue praying with thanksgiving and faith because of the seemingly small things God is doing, such as keeping the channels of communication open

So how do we wait on the Lord and persevere in our prayers when the concerns for which we are interceding don’t seem to change? Here are three things we can do:

  1. Ask God for His perspective. Psalm 39 speaks about God’s amazing design for each individual: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16). Doug and I prayed with our friends for their daughter, and asked the Lord to show us her “original design”—to bring to our minds a list of the qualities, giftings, and plans He had in mind for her. When we were done, the list we had compiled was a stark contrast to the daily reality of her current lifestyle. But from that point on, we have all kept that list available to guide our intercession and help us pray from God’s perspective, not our own. Instead of focusing on what we see with our natural eyes, we choose to focus on what we hear with spiritual ears.
  2. Pray God’s Word. Sometimes when we’re praying for an extended period of time, it’s easy to get stuck in the minutiae of the circumstances and lose sight of God’s character and faithfulness in the big picture. We might not know exactly what to ask for, or get bogged down in uncertainty about what God’s will is for the person or situation. When this happens to me, I go to scriptures that speak of God’s promises. After all, He told us, “I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled” (Jer. 1:12). We can take that to the bank! I find it especially helpful to rephrase verses into prayers on behalf of the person or situation I’m interceding for. Praying this way helps take the attention off the immediate need and puts it on the Lord and His unchanging, unfailing qualities and promises. Some of my favorite verses include “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Psalm 34:7), and “I pray . . . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you” (Eph. 1:18). When I pray these prayers, I can be confident they are God’s will and that He will answer, because “ . . . if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
  3. Pray without ceasing. God’s timetable is not ours. He is outside of time and space. He sees the beginning from the end, and calls out the things that are not as if they are. My mother-in-law prayed for fifty years for her stepmother’s salvation—and saw Grandma Bea beautifully and humbly enter God’s forever family just three weeks before her death. That’s interceding for the long haul! We need to shut our ears to the lies of the enemy that urge us to give up, doubt God, or berate ourselves or others. As the apostle Paul urged us, take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to the truth of God. Believe God that your prayers are divinely powerful weapons and they are accomplishing work in spiritual ways and places that you may not yet see with your physical eyes (see 2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Intercession isn’t always an easy fix. I’ve certainly had times when I take a person or situation to the Lord, ask for His intervention, and He steps in immediately. But I’ve also experienced many times when I feel as if I’m knocking on Heaven’s door and no one is answering. But of this I’m sure: if we persevere for the long haul, we eventually will be able to rejoice in God’s answers as the psalmist did: “We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God! (Psalm 20:5)

On my trip to the UK last month, I loved seeing the many churches and cathedrals built for the glory of God and—hundreds of years later—still serving as living outposts of the gospel. The Presbyterian church in the picture above is in Moffat, Scotland, the town where my great-grandfather was born and from which he and my great-grandmother emigrated to Canada in the first part of the 20th century. This is likely the church they would have attended. It was a tremendous blessing to see this part of my family’s roots, and to appreciate their investment and perseverance that made possible the life I live now. I am grateful.

(c) 2017 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.

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