Summary: It is good and important that we not give up. God is greatly glorified when we do not give up.
When You Pray, Never Give Up
My goal in this sermon is very simple. I hope to convince you of the importance of persistence in prayer. I want you to see that God is greatly glorified when we continue in prayer over a long period of time. Or to say it another way, I want us to understand that we ought not to give up when we pray. We can say the same thing two different ways:
It is good and important that we not give up.
God is greatly glorified when we do not give up.
Not long ago I received an email that raised this question in a very particular way:
I teach a Bible Study course at my local church. The question that was asked, “Should I pray for something (believing the prayer will be answered) and then the next time I pray thank God for answering my prayer (although it has not come to fruition) or should I pray the same prayer request over and over again?”
Does it mean that if I ask over and over again I lack faith in God answering? If I thank him and wait, does that mean I am not praying unceasingly?
Or is it a combination of the two. Sometimes we know in our heart the prayer request has been answered so we thank him and sometimes we are led by the Holy Spirit to ask over and over again.
We’ve all wondered how long we should we pray for something. Here is the general rule I follow. You should pray for something until . . .
The answer comes, or
The circumstances change, or
God changes the burden on your heart.
We shouldn’t discount the importance of that third one. It’s hard to define a “burden,” but we all know what it is like to have deep concern for others. God may give us a burden to pray for our church or for revival or for the spread of the gospel in Thailand or for a certain city or for the people where we work. Burdens come in all shapes and sizes. We should be sensitive to those burdens and use them as incentives to prayer. But we need not feel guilty when our prayers begin to change. God may be calling us to focus our prayers in a new direction. Obviously we will always be burdened to pray for our children and for our spouse and for our immediate concerns. But beyond that inner circle, our prayers will change over time.
But what about praying for the same thing over and over again? Is that a good thing or a sign of a lack of faith? Let’s begin by noting that many times when we pray, we simply don’t know how God intends to answer our prayers. That often happens when we pray for a loved one who is desperately sick. We generally don’t know in advance if God intends to heal them quickly or slowly or if he does not intend to heal them. And when we pray for certain things to happen, we don’t fully know the mind of the Lord. I often think of prayer as if we are peering through a keyhole and focusing on one tiny portion of a vast and ever-changing scene. Because we focus only on the part that interests us, we can’t and don’t see the bigger picture of how the parts of life fit together. Only God sees the whole landscape of life–past, present and future, with all its interlocking pieces.
There is another whole category of prayer that might be called prayer for spiritual growth. We may ask God to grant wisdom, strength, perseverance, discernment, courage, deeper understanding, a fresh anointing of the Spirit, a new desire to serve Christ, clear guidance or peace in the midst of trials. Those are extremely biblical requests, and we may be sure that God will answer those prayers. But the how and when rest in the hands of the Lord.
The last part of the question speaks to a situation that happens occasionally. As we pray, together or with others, we may sense that God intends to answer our request. In those cases, I see nothing wrong with moving from prayer to thanksgiving. However, let’s be clear that God is sovereign and he is not held captive by our subjective sense of what we think he will do in the future.
I. Three Key Scriptures
I have been encouraged by three particular Scriptures:
1) “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17 NIV). Note the phrase “I keep asking.” Paul did not believe that if you made a prayer request, you never had to make it again. When Paul prayed for the Ephesians, he prayed the same request over and over again–that they would know God better. Sometimes I hear it said that since God knows everything we say before we say it and everything we think before we think it (which is true), that we should never repeat ourselves in prayer (which is not true). We don’t pray to inform God of anything. He knows what we are thinking long before we voice our prayers to him. But if he knows all, why pray at all? The simple answer is one you have heard before: “He’s God and we’re not.” We pray to express our total dependence on him in every circumstance of life. As we continue to pray for the same things for our loved ones over and over again, the godly desires of the heart grow stronger and we are reminded that every day we must be 100% dependent on him. We can’t live on yesterday’s blessings and we can’t depend on yesterday’s prayers. So just like Paul, we “keep asking” on behalf of our loved ones.