The Word Among Us

October 2009 Issue

Persistent Prayer

We should never give up hope.

Persistent Prayer: We should never give up hope.

I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone. (1 Timothy 2:1)

Paul made this request of his young friend Timothy, who was leading the church in Ephesus. Paul knew how critical it was to keep asking for God's grace, both for ourselves and for those around us. He knew how important it is that we all continue to bring the needs of other people to God, "who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) Paul’s words are worth hearing today, since it can be tempting to minimize our need for God and the power that his grace can have on our lives and on the lives of the people around us. We all know how easy it is to take God out of the daily equation of our lives and turn to him only when things are in dire straits. But we also sense that this is not the right way for us to go.

At the heart of intercessory prayer is the conviction that God wants us to pray for our friends and loved ones every day: for good health, for strong relationships, even for the tests our children take in school. He wants us to bring every need and petition to him, confident that he is a good God who wants to help his children.

So let’s never miss another day of praying for our spouse, children, relatives, and friends. Let’s pray for our enemies and those who have hurt us as well. Let’s cast our nets wide and pray for our parish, our church, our city, and our country. Just as Jesus asked his Father to guide us and protect us at the Last Supper, let’s also ask for God’s guidance and protection today and every day.

Be Persistent. He told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. (Luke 18:1)

What was the parable? It was the story of a widow who persistently asked a dishonest judge to rule in her favor. Ultimately, the widow prevailed—not because the judge finally became just but because the woman’s persistence wore him down. If a corrupt judge will finally give in, how much more will God, who is perfectly just and merciful, hear and answer us! As Jesus put it: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7). So be persistent. Be bold. Be relentless. Don’t worry about wearing God out.

Another time, Jesus said: “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. . . . Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:5-10).

Jesus could not be more clear: God is not like a dishonest judge. Nor is he like a friend who doesn’t want to be inconvenienced. No, he is just, kind, and compassionate. He wants us to persist in our prayers. Why? So that we can push through any barriers of sin or unbelief that may be keeping us from receiving his blessings. He wants to show us that his plan and his provision are the best things we could ever have.

When Do We Stop? Francis MacNutt, who has more than thirty years of experience in praying for people and seeing dramatic healings and conversions, tells a story about his father-in-law, Joe. On numerous occasions, Joe became critically ill and was on the verge of death. But Francis and his wife, Judith, would persist in praying for him, and each time Joe would recover. This pattern continued for nearly ten years before Joe finally succumbed to his sickness and died. Francis is convinced that Joe lived so much longer because of their persistent prayer for him. This, and many other experiences like it, is why Francis urges people never to give up praying for healing until the moment of death, when God finally brings the person to be with him forever.

Bob, who is in his sixties, has had heart trouble for years. A few years ago, friends from church offered to intercede for Bob and pray with him for healing. He agreed, and they placed their hands on his shoulders and prayed. It lasted only about five minutes, but the effect was amazing. Bob could feel the love flowing from his friends, and he felt better physically as well. It was such a positive experience that Bob asked his friends to pray with him on a regular basis. He believes that the prayers have helped him both physically and spiritually. The medical results were also positive. Bob’s doctor reports that not only is his heart holding its own, it is even showing signs of improvement!

If you are praying for a particular intention, whether it is for a friend’s healing, for an end to abortion, or even for a job for yourself, don’t stop until you know that God has answered you. Don’t give up, thinking that your prayers are unimportant or “wrong.” Keep it up, and see how God acts. He may not give you exactly what you want, but watch and see: He will give you something very, very good.

Bargaining with God. In the Book of Genesis, there is a story about Abraham trying to bargain with God (Genesis 18:16-33). God came to visit Abraham in the form of angels and revealed his plan to destroy Sodom because of the wickedness of the people there. Abraham immediately thought of his kinsman, Lot, who lived there with his wife and daughters. Trying to turn the Lord’s hand, Abraham asked: “Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?” (18:24). God agreed to spare the city for the sake of the fifty. But Abraham wanted to do everything he could for Lot, so he bargained with God: What about forty people? Thirty? Finally, he settled on ten, and with that, the angels left him.

God did not answer Abraham’s prayer in precisely the way Abraham asked, but he did spare Lot and his children. Genesis tells us, in fact, that God “was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living” (Genesis 19:29). This story tells us that we may not always get the answer we pray for but that God still hears our prayers and keeps us in his mind and heart as he unfolds his plan.

Don’t be afraid to bargain with the Lord. Many a soldier in battle has told God: “Keep me alive, and I will never miss Mass again for the rest of my life.” And they have kept their promise. Another fellow, a New York police officer who was on duty on September 11, 2001, told God: “Let me live through this catastrophe, Lord, and I will serve you.” Today he is running the RCIA program in his parish, is the president of the men’s club, and volunteers at the local food bank. Did these bargains really work? We will never know. But we do know one thing: They all believe that God answered their prayers, and it has profoundly affected their lives.

No Petition Is Too Small! Through intercessory prayer, we can touch people all over the world. We should feel free to ask God for anything, at any time, in any situation. Our prayers can penetrate geographical, cultural, and political barriers, bringing the healing, saving touch of the Lord into countless lives and situations. Through prayer, we can reach the men and women who are fighting in war as well as the children in the womb whose lives are at risk. We can help our children and care for our elderly parents. We can change the climate in a home and the relationship between alienated friends—all through intercessory prayer.

As we pray, let’s take up the attitude of the “watchmen” described in the Book of Isaiah. In fact, let’s paraphrase this passage and apply it to us: “Upon your walls the Lord has stationed watchmen. Never, by day or by night, should you be silent in your intercessions. No, keep reminding the Lord. Take no time to rest for yourself, and don’t give God any rest either. Keep praying until the Lord answers all your prayers and makes his church the pride of the earthR#8221; (Isaiah 62:6-7).

No petition is too small for God, not even asking for a parking space on a crowded street or seeking relief from a little cold. Just be persistent. Ask your heavenly Father, and never stop asking.