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Patience & Persistence

After more than a year, today, I’m still praying for several prayer requests to be answered; prayers that I would like to think God would want to answer (such as prayers for a familial relationship to be restored, for a person I work with to come to know Christ, and for a healing of a broken relationship).

Waiting for God to answer has been at times, agonizing. Prayer is a form of spiritual warfare, and it takes commitment, time and conviction to pray in hope for things not received. There have been several instances this year where the possibility of God answering my prayers has seemed very bleak, and that I’ve been seriously discouraged about whether my prayers are even making a difference.

Over the past couple of months, however, God has convicted me of the importance of patience and persistence. Reading the Bible and spending time in the word has made me realize that a year of waiting is nothing compared to the time some people had to wait for some of the most important prayers in the Bible to be answered. The Israelites wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. Abraham and Sarah waited over 25 years for Sarah to become pregnant with Isaac—Sarah was over 90 years old when she finally had her first child (an unthinkable maternal age even in biblical times).

Spending time in prayer and wrestling with God about my unanswered prayers has also taught me a lot about God’s character. A trusted friend told me recently that when struggling with unanswered prayers, it helps to reflect on and even proclaim the attributes of God’s character out loud while praying. This serves as an effective reminder of who God is and what he can do. The Bible tells us that God is, amongst other things, a deliverer (Romans 11:26), a good shepherd (Hebrews 48:14), a helper (Hebrews 13:6), an intercessor (Romans 8:26, 27, 34), a king (Zechariah 9:9), a merciful God (Jeremiah 3:12) and a savior (Luke 2:11). Doing this exercise has often helped me to shift my focus from my current situation and unanswered prayers to the kind of God I am praying to—a wonderful and powerful father who loves me and wants to help me—just in his perfect timing and not mine.

Another important lesson I’ve learned about prayer during this time is what can be done while waiting for God to act. Another friend sent me an excerpt from a book she was reading to encourage me and challenge me to persist in prayer: “Is it okay to nag God? And pester him? God says we MUST! God tells us to give him no rest, to remind him of what he has done and what he says he will do, and not to stop until he answers.” The accompanying verse was Isaiah 62:7-7, which says “Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord. Give the Lord no rest.”
Before this season of unanswered prayers, I don’t think I fully grasped how God listens to our prayers, and that he loves and honors persistent faith. In Luke 18, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about an unjust judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected man. In that town, there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” Although this judge refused for some time, he finally said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps on bothering me, I will give her justice so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” After telling this parable, Jesus proclaimed: “Hear what this unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to him speedily.” The knowledge that it makes a difference when we pray boldly and continually for our prayers to be answered has changed the way I pray. We might have to pray day and night, and we might have to pray persistently—but God is clear that he listens to us. For example, Rachel struggled bitterly for 20 years with infertility, even having to watch her sister have multiple children while she could not conceive. But Genesis 30:22 says that “God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive.”

The concept of persistent prayer was a little hard for me to grasp because I’ve always been wary of the suggestion that praying the same prayer over and over causes that prayer to be answered (if so, there would be a lot more millionaires and shallow prayer requests). A corollary truth to the concept of persistent prayer is that God answers and considers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is not what we would like it to be. However, this does not make our prayers ineffective or without power. Continual prayer and communion with God changes our spiritual life, our relationships with others and sometimes, even our prayers.

Although my prayer requests have not been answered as of yet, I am still confident that we serve an amazing father, one that loves us with an eternal love and wants to heal that familial relationship, bring one of his lost sheep back into his fold, and heal the broken relationship in my life that seems unfixable. It encourages me to know that the Bible says that he has heard every single one of my prayers and pleas, and loves it when I ask him for big things because he is able to do more than I could ever imagine. There are still days where I struggle with my lack of faith or patience, but God is faithful and has taught me throughout this year how important it is to surrender my requests to him. For those that are also still waiting for your prayer requests to be answered, my hope for this new year is we can continue to ask for and receive enough faith to be patient and persist, to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), and to always believe in the power of prayer.

Ashley works for a law firm in Los Angeles.

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