Summary: Women succeed in pray because they persist in trusting God, allow the whole self to pray, take God at His word, are not afraid of intensity, choose responsibility over religion, and keep their commitments.
If, as Thomas Edison tells us, genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration, then I suspect it is also true that prayer is one per cent insistence and ninety-nine per cent persistence.
Prayer is one per cent insistence, to be sure; we do, in our prayers, tell God what we need. But the secret of prayer is that prayer is ninety-nine per cent persistence. Prayer is staying by the stuff, prayer means banging on the gates of heaven until we’re heard. Prayer, especially as women pray (and of course some men as well) gains its strength because women just do not give up. They just do not let go.
Who of us has not had in his life someone, usually a woman, who just prayed and prayed and kept on praying, persistently, until the answer came through? Who of us has not been shaped, probably in ways we are not even aware of, by a mother, a grandmother, some godly woman who persisted in the presence of God on our behalf?
As a young preacher, trying to learn my craft in my home church in Louisville, I found out that most people would just come up and tell me nebulous niceties after I had attempted to warble out three points and a poem. Most people would just shake my hand, smile weakly, and say vague things like, "Well, I see you’re on your way." "Some day you’ll be all right."
But there was one person who was different. Peggy Trimble was our choir director. Peggy had a way of saying what you needed to hear in a way that you could hear it. Peggy could tell you that you did a bad job, but she was so warm about it, you wanted her to tell you again how bad it was. Peggy could tell you to go to the nether regions, but you didn’t get upset, you just said, "Well, sure, when would you like for me to go!?"
Now Peggy had had a slight case of polio as a young woman, and her left hand had almost been paralyzed. The doctors had forced her to exercise that left hand constantly, so that, as an adult, even though all traces of the paralysis were gone, she would keep that left hand flexing all the time, right in your face. She even directed our choir with that pulsating left hand. It certainly punctuated everything she said.
Now Peggy kept telling me that my sermons lacked warmth. She would say, "You have all these ideas, and you quote all these Scriptures. You recite your poems and you have it all memorized. But I don’ t feel any warmth. You’re not being human. You’re not connecting with real people. You need warmth."
Well, I didn’t know what to do with that. What does it mean to preach "warmly"? Get red in the face and yell? Reach out and touch somebody? So I kept stumbling on, wondering what it meant to preach with warmth.
One Sunday evening, however, it all came home. Something was different that night. And this time Peggy Trimble came running up, and exclaimed, "I heard it! I heard it! The warmth! It was there! I’ve been praying for it, and there it is! You’ve got it, my boy! Mmh-umh!"
Now can you imagine anybody praying for warmth in the preacher? I’ve seen you pray for warmth in the sanctuary. But who prays for warmth in the preacher, and keeps on doing it until it happens? Who indeed but a woman who understands persistence in the presence? Persistence in the presence of our God.
Last week we thought about the ways in which men bring their own special strengths to prayer. We looked at Elkanah, the father of Samuel. Today I ask you to look over the shoulder of his wife Hannah, as she persists in the presence. This is the way women pray: but men can learn it too.
First, notice that women (and sometimes men) persist in the presence of God, believing that God will understand even when human associates do not. Persistent prayer has in it that determination to trust God, no matter how far off the track others may want to take you.
The first time Hannah goes to the presence of God, it is just after her rival, Penninah, has taunted her because she has no children, and just after her husband, Elkanah, has fumbled all over himself trying to make her feel okay. You remember, from last week, how, poor bumbling man that he was, Elkanah had tried to make Hannah feel better by giving her more meat at the sacrifices and by blurting out, "Hey baby, look at what ya got instead of what ya don’t got"? Remember that?