19 Aug Reformation through Persistence
Then He spoke a parable to them to this end that men ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1 NKJV
“Nothing is impossible to industry,” said one of the seven sages of Greece. Let us change the word “industry” to “persevering prayer,” and the motto will be more Christian and more worthy of universal adoption. I am persuaded that we are all more deficient in a spirit of prayer than in any other grace. God loves importunate prayer so much that He will not give us much blessing without it. And the reason that He loves such prayer is that He loves us and knows that it is a necessary preparation for our receiving the richest blessings that He is waiting and longing to bestow. –Adoniram Judson
THROUGHOUT His ministry, Christ made it clear that importunity is a distinguishing characteristic of true praying. We must not only pray, but we must also pray with great urgency, with intensity, and with repetition. We must not only pray, but we must also be thoroughly in earnest, deeply concerned about the things for which we ask, for Jesus Christ made it very plain that the secret of prayer and its success lie in its urgency. We must press our prayers upon God.
Adoniram Judson said, “I never prayed sincerely and earnestly for anything but it came at some time. No matter at how distant a day, somehow, in some shape, probably the last I would have devised, it came.” Oh, that we could all know this and know it well!
In a parable of exquisite pathos and simplicity, our Lord taught not simply that men ought to pray, but that men ought to pray with full heartiness, and press the matter with vigorous energy and courage.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubeleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
This poor woman’s case was most a hopeless one, but importunity brought hope from the realms of despair and created success where neither success nor its conditions existed. There is no stronger case to show how our unwearied and dauntless prayer gains its ends where everything else fails. The preface to this parable says, “He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (v.1). He knew that men would soon grow fainthearted in praying; so, to encourage us, He gives this picture of the marvelous power of persistence in prayer.
The widow, weak and helpless, is helplessness personified; bereft of every hope and influence that could move an unjust judge, she yet wins her case solely by her tireless and offensive requests. Could the necessity of importunity, its power and tremendous importance in prayer, be pictured in deeper or more impressive coloring? Importunate prayer surmounts or removes all obstacles, overcomes every resisting force, and gains its ends in the face of invincible hindrances. We can do nothing without prayer, but all things can be done by importunate prayer. That is the teaching Jesus Christ.
Another parable spoken by Jesus enforces the same great truth. A man at midnight goes to his friend for a loan of a few loaves of bread. (See Luke 11:5-10.) His pleas are strong, based on friendship and the embarrassing and exacting demands of necessity, but these all fail. He gets no bread at first, so he stays and presses, and he waits and gains. Sheer importunity succeeded where all other pleas and influences had failed.
The case of the Syrophenician woman is a parable in action. (See Mark 7:24-30.) She was stopped in her approaches to Christ by the information that He would not see anyone. She was denied His presence, and then in His presence was treated with seeming indifference, with the chill of silence and unconcern. Yet she pressed and approached, and the pressure and approach were repulsed by the stern and crushing statement that He was not sent to her kith or kind, that she was reprobated from Him mission and power.
She was humiliated by being called a dog; yet she accepted all, overcame all, and won all by her humble, dauntless, invincible importunity. The Son of God, pleased, surprised, overpowered by her unconquerable persistence, said to her, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” (Matt. 15:28). Jesus Christ surrendered Himself to the importunity of a great faith. “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?” (Luke 18:7)
Jesus Christ presents the ability to importune as one of the elements of prayer, one of the main conditions of prayer. The prayer of the Syrophenician woman is an example of the matchless power of persistence in prayer, of a conflict more real and involving more vital energy, endurance, and all the higher elements than was ever illustrated in the conflicts of Isthmia or Olympia.
The first lessons of persistence are taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7). These are steps of advance, “for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (v. 8).
Without persistence, prayers may go unanswered. Importunity is made up of the ability to hold on, to continue, to wait with unrelaxed and unrelaxable grasp, restless desire, and restful patience. Importunate prayer is not an incidental occurrence, but the main thing; not a performance, but a passion; not an option, but a necessity.
Prayer, in its highest form and its grandest success, assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God. Prayer is the contest, trial, and victory of faith—a victory not secured from an enemy, but from Him who tries our faith that He may enlarge it. He tests our strength to make us stronger. Few things give such quickened and permanent vigor to the soul as a long, exhaustive season of importunate prayer. It provides an experience, an epoch, a new calendar for the spirit; it gives a new life, a soldierly training, to religion.
The Bible never wearies in its illustration of the fact that the highest spiritual good is secured as the return of the highest form of spiritual effort. John Wesley put it in these words: “Bear up the hands that hang down, by faith and prayer; support the tottering knees. (See Hebrews 12:12) Have you any days of fasting and prayer? Storm the throne of grace and persevere therein, and mercy will come down.” There is neither encouragement nor room in the religion of the Scriptures for feeble desires, listless efforts, lazy attitudes. All must be strenuous, urgent, ardent. Inflamed desires and impassioned, unwearied insistence are the things that delight heaven.
God would have His children unalterably in earnest and persistently bold in their efforts. Heaven is too busy to listen to half-hearted prayers or to respond to hasty, thoughtless calls to God.
Our whole being must be in our praying; like John Knox, we must say and feel, “Give me Scotland, or may I die.” Our experience and revelations of God are born of our costly sacrifice, our costly conflicts, our costly praying. The wrestling, the all-night praying of Jacob (see Genesis 32:24-28), began an era never to be forgotten by him; it brought God to the rescue, changed Esau’s attitude and conduct, changed Jacob’s character, saved and affected his life, and entered into the habits of a nation.
Our seasons of importunate prayer cut themselves, like the print of a diamond, into our hardest places, and mark our characters with ineffaceable traces. They are the salient periods of our lives, the memorial stones that endure and to which we turn. (See 1 Samuel 7:12)
Importunity, it may be repeated, is a condition of prayer. We are to press the matter, not with vain repetitions, but with urgent repetitions. We repeat, not to count the times, but to gain the answer to our prayer. We cannot quit praying, because heart and soul are in our prayers. We pray “with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18); we hang on to our prayers because we live by them. We press our pleas because we must have them or die.
I have already shown that Christ gave us two most expressive parables to emphasize the necessity of importunity in praying. Perhaps Abraham lost Sodom by failing to press, to the utmost, his privilege of praying. (See Genesis 18:16-33.) We know that Joash lost because he held off his smiting to appease an enemy king. (See 2 Kings 11:1-21:21)
Perseverance counts much with God, just as it does with man. If Elijah had ceased at his first petition, the heavens would scarcely have yielded their rain to his feeble praying. (See James 5:17-18) If Jacob had quit praying at decent bedtime, he would hardly have survived the next day’s meeting with Esau. If the Syrophenician woman had allowed her faith to faint by silence, humiliation, or rejection, or to stop midway in its struggles, her grief-stricken home would never have been brightened by the healing of her daughter.
Pray and never faint, is the motto Christ gives us for praying. It is the test of our faith, and the more severe the trial and the longer the waiting, the more glorious the results.
The benefits and necessity of importunity are taught by the lives of the Old Testament saints. Praying men must be strong in hope and faith and prayer. They must know how to wait and to press, to wait on God and be in earnest in their approaches to Him.
Abraham left us an example of importunate intercession in his passionate pleading with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. God would not have ceased in His giving. “Abraham left off asking before God left off granting, “is how the saying goes. Moses taught the power of importunity when he interceded for Israel forty days and forty nights, by fasting and prayer. And he succeeded in his importunity.
Jesus, in His teaching and example, illustrated and perfected this principle of Old Testament pleading and waiting. What a mystery that the only Son of God should be under the law of prayer—He who came on a mission direct from His Father, He whose only heaven on earth, whose only life and law, were to do His Father’s will in that mission. How strange that the blessings that came to Him were impregnated and purchased by prayer. It is stranger still that importunity in prayer was the process by which His wealthiest supplies from God were gained.
Had He not prayed with importunity, no transfiguration would have been in His history, no mighty works would have rendered His career divine. His all-night praying was that which filled His all-day work with compassion and power. The importunate praying of His life crowned His death with triumph. He learned the high lesson of submission to God’s will in the struggles of importunate prayer, before He illustrated that submission so sublimely on the cross.
Charles Spurgeon has said:
Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the kingdom, “Ask, and ye shall receive” (John 16:24). It is a rule that never will be altered in anybody’s case. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the elder brother of the family, but God has not relaxed the rule even for Him. Remember this text: Jehovah says to his own son, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps. 2:8). If the royal and divine Son of God cannot be exempted from the rule of asking that He may have, you and I cannot expect the rule to be relaxed in our favor. Why should it be?
What reason can be given why we should be exempted from prayer? What argument can there be why we should be deprived of the privilege and delivered from the necessity of supplication? I can see none; can you? God will bless Elijah and send rain on Israel, but Elijah must pray for it. If the chosen nation is to prosper, Samuel must plead for it. If the Jews are to be delivered, Daniel must intercede. God will bless Paul, and the nations will be converted through him, but Paul must pray. Indeed, he did pray without ceasing; his epistles show that he expected nothing except by asking for it. If you may have everything by asking, and nothing without asking, I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is, and I beseech you to abound in it.
I have no doubt that much of our praying fails for lack of persistence. So many of our prayers are said without the fire and strength of perseverance. Persistence is the essence of true praying. It may not be always called into exercise, but is must be there as the reserve force. Jesus taught that perseverance is the essential element of prayer. Therefore, men must be in earnest when they kneel at God’s footstool.
Too often we get faint-hearted and quit praying at the point where we ought to begin. We let go at the very point where we should most strongly hold on. Consequently, our prayers are weak because they are not impassioned by an unfailing and resistless will.
God loves the importunate pleader, and sends him answers that would never have been granted but the persistence that refuses to let go until the petition craved for is granted.
Excerpt: Purpose on Prayer, E.M. Bounds