By Diane McLoud
One spring day, my small sons came home from McDonald’s carrying special kid’s meal prizes—cups of soil with tomato seeds. They watered their seeds frequently (and I do mean frequently!), checking every few minutes to see if tomatoes were growing. Nothing happened. Within an hour their patience wore thin and they went off to play. When green sprouts peeked through the soil a few days later, my little gardeners had to be called to “Come, see!”
I can hardly imagine a better picture of how we pray. We utter a prayer, wanting immediate results. Hour by hour, we plead. When nothing happens, we stop watching. By the time God’s answer comes, we’ve forgotten we asked.
Learning to Persist
Instant response is the rule these days. Text messages carry expectation of an immediate reply; we grumble at waiting longer than a few minutes. Email etiquette demands an answer within 24 hours. Postal mail wears the derogatory nickname “snail mail.” No wonder our spiritual attention span gives out when prayer needs require more than a day or two! How can we learn to persist in prayer and not quit?
In Luke 18, Jesus addressed his disciples’ weak prayer habits with a parable “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” A tenacious widow approached an unrighteous, unwilling judge with a plea for justice. Her refusal to lay down her cause won results. Jesus then gave the moral of the story: If an ungodly judge will respond to persistence, how much more will a loving God?
God is indisputably able to answer every prayer. God is generously willing to answer yes to many prayers. Though his ability and willingness aren’t lacking, our persistence is. Our Father knows that instant answers are not always best if we’re to grow.
Growing While Waiting
God’s “waiting room” is uncomfortable but effective. Divine delays are easier to bear when we understand how God uses them to grow our faith.
God may want to give us an avenue for service. My friend prayed for her husband for nearly 20 years before seeing him turn from alcoholism to Christ. Through his countless drunken tirades, she passionately pled for his salvation. Meanwhile, she did everything in her power to help bring it about. Today her grateful husband is a godly leader in their home and church and my friend encourages other women with her experience.
Perhaps God is allowing time for us to refine our request. Scripture says if we ask anything according to God’s will, he hears us (1 John 5:14). Have we considered his will in the matter? He may be giving us a chance to search the Word and think through the implications of a yes.
He may use delay to heighten our appreciation for the coming yes. Several Bible parents endured years of childless yearning before sons (including Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist) were born in answer to their prayers. Undoubtedly these parents were ultra-conscientious in raising the children for whom they’d prayed so long.
God may be teaching us that elements beyond our own situation are influencing his answer. Conflicting requests, timing, or issues unknown to us might impede an immediate reply. A farmer may be praying for rain at the same time a bride is pleading for clear skies. Daniel learned that the answer to his prayer had been deterred for three weeks by a conflict in the spiritual realm (Daniel 10:12-14)—a cosmic reason for delay. God sees the full picture; we don’t.
Perhaps the wait is part of the answer. During one difficult time I came to a landmark in my faith, learning a valuable lesson I’ve leaned on many times since—one I wouldn’t have gained without a wait. Many Christians say their strongest spiritual growth happened when an answer to prayer wasn’t quick to come. They confess, “Waiting on the Lord was hard—but worth it. My faith grew so much.”
Maybe God has something better to come. Shortly before Christmas, I took my 6-year-old shopping. In one store, he spied a bin filled with kits to make bead animals—a favorite craft—and right on top was a kit he’d been wanting. He looked at me with pleading eyes. I said no. All through the store he quietly persisted. He was polite and well-reasoned, determined but not whiney, and he touched my heart. But my answer remained no. He left the store in silent misery, unsure why I would refuse him a $2 toy he wanted so badly. It would’ve been a simple request to fill. But I knew that in a few days he would receive that kit plus 11 more! He would’ve settled for far less than I wanted to give. My position allowed me knowledge he didn’t have, holding out for an answer he would prefer.
Will we trust God for the right answer at the right time? Persistent prayer stays the course until his perfect answer comes.
Knowing When to Quit
Is there a time to stop asking, when we should assume God is saying no? In his classic work With Christ in the School of Prayer (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013), Andrew Murray wrote, “Prayer and its answer belong to each other. . . . Persevere until the answer comes. Prayer is supposed to have an answer.” In other words, keep praying until a clear answer is given.
Obviously our first choice would be a clear yes. We love to be right! And God loves to say yes. But sometimes, for reasons we may never know, God’s answer will be no. Circumstances may change (a sick person dies, an opportunity closes, a promotion goes to a coworker, etc.) or God may bring a different response in time. Mature faith wants what God wants and is willing to accept a definitive no.
Before we stop asking, we should be able to see God’s clear response, whether yes or no. Until then, we continue praying.
On January 31, 1846, George Müller noted in his journal, “It is now eighty-nine days since I have been daily waiting upon God about the building of an orphan house.” This is one of many times when Müller, remembered for the power and effectiveness of his prayers, kept count of the days he offered a request—days sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Until he got an answer, Müller persistently prayed.
Müller’s journal was eye-opening for me. I’d seldom prayed for any request longer than a few days—even ones that were important to me. I could rarely recall specific answers, though I believed that God did answer my prayers. Was there benefit to writing down my requests as George Müller had, keeping track somehow?
Since reading Müller’s journal, I’ve tried several methods for keeping a prayer journal of my own. My favorite is a simple thin notebook in which to write down and date requests and answers. For technology lovers, several free or inexpensive apps for cell phones, tablets, or computers are good prayer prompters or journals. These make tracking prayer requests (especially those that are likely to be long-term) quite convenient.
Regardless of the method you choose, make an effort to track matters you bring to God. Date requests and answers received. This record will become tangible evidence that God hears and acts on your prayers. In your weak moments, the journal will bolster your confidence and renew your determination.
Jesus once healed a group of 10 lepers, only one of whom recognized his gift by returning to offer thanks. We look down our noses at the ungrateful nine. But in truth, we’re disturbingly like them. We often fail to see God’s answers, let alone thank him for them.
Persistent prayer isn’t complete until we have acknowledged the answer as God’s gift and have remembered to say thank you. When we’ve taken a matter to God and seen the result, part of the process is thanking him for his wise response—no matter the answer.
Seeing it Through
Almighty God offers us an amazing privilege—powerful partnership in his work through prayer. Yet a casual, haphazard approach to prayer denies us much of the faith-boosting joy of seeing how he’s listened and responded. Jesus taught that we should always pray and never give up because when we persist, we pay attention and we grow.
When you pray, see it through to a clear answer for which you remember to give thanks.
Don’t give up!
Diane McLoud is a freelance writer in Washingtonville, Ohio.
Strength for the Wait
1. Consider a Bible account when God used a time of waiting to accomplish his purposes. Pray through this narrative the next time you feel stuck waiting.
2. Think about a follower of God during history who had to wait for God’s timing. Reflect on his or her story when you’re waiting for God.
3. Remember situations from the lives of people you know when God did things in his time, not theirs. Meditate on these as you persist in prayer.
4. Contemplate an experience in your own life when God was working—but not as quickly as you wanted. Consider this as you pray about your present waiting.