Once, while prayer-walking a neighborhood close to where I used to live, I felt I had to pray there many times. I guess I would say I felt burdened to pray. And after several prayer walks, the burden lifted and I never prayer-walked there again. This question seems to me to fall somewhere between “let him ask in faith (James 1:6)” and the persistent prayer of the widow in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:1-8. Luke said Jesus taught this parable “that they ought to pray and not lose heart (v. 1).” When it comes to this question about prayer, how do we know when we have “prayed it through?”
Over the past few months, I have highlighted Nehemiah as a praying leader. We considered how Nehemiah prayed without ceasing. Prayer was his habit, his vital connection to God’s leadership and power. But, how do we balance when God hears a single prayer and answers it, and when God desires we persist in prayer for a particular need? I think Nehemiah was a leader who did pray it through.
Nehemiah 6:15 records the wall was completed in 52 days. There is some debate today about what state of completion is meant here. The wall was, at least, a defensive barrier, which is the whole purpose of a wall. During the restoration of the wall, Nehemiah led by seeking the Lord and making petition to the Lord for his people. You have the sense, as the story unfolds, that Nehemiah prayed it through.
I recently had the opportunity to read The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. Part business book, 100% modern-day parable, Andrews tells the story of a down-and-out businessman who is at the end of his rope. In something like a near-death experience, David Ponders travels history to be taught seven lessons which fuel success. Andrews’ Christianity and Christian worldview shine through the story. In one scene (and I hope this is not a spoiler), Ponder explores a warehouse full of all kinds of objects, wheelchairs, shoes, medical formulas, vehicles, and an innumerable array of goods. As he explores this perplexing mystery, he learns that this celestial warehouse is full of things people had begun praying for but gave up praying before they received them. They never received these needed blessings because they wearied in prayer. They did not persist. They gave up.
Does God work this way, withholding blessings until we have prayed enough? Or does God always respond to every single prayer instantly and immediately? We can see in Scripture that persistence in prayer is something Jesus championed. In Daniel 9 we see Daniel praying for help and God sent Gabriel with the answer. But in Daniel 10, Daniel prayed for three weeks before God sent an answer. The delay was caused by the spiritual battle the heavenly messenger had to fight to get through to Daniel. It is implied that Daniel’s persistent prayer was part of the aid to the angel. I wonder, what is lost when we give up in prayer too soon? I do believe spiritual battles are won when we are on our knees and spiritual battles are lost when we do not persist in prayer.
The only way I have ever made the discernment to pray and leave it with God or persist in prayer is through prayer itself. While I may sound uncertain here, I know God impresses us as we have the mind of Christ and we are led by the Spirit to pray. If we survey all the commands to pray throughout the Old and New Testament, we find the “pray-without-ceasing” principle encourages us to pray it through. What is happening in your life that you need to persist in prayer? Are you willing to pray it through? God desires your persistence so He can grow your faith.