Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1, NIV)
Is there a need to pray for extended periods?
What do you say when you’re talking for two to three hours in prayer?
Aren’t you being repetitive? Because even Jesus warned us against vain repetition.
These are questions worth considering because inadequate answers could lead to a shipwrecked faith. And no one wants that.
Some believe that you ask only once and anything more than that is an expression of unbelief. Meaning that, if you believed God heard you the first time, why ask again?
That last part sounds logical but not entirely biblical. You could cite examples from Jesus’s life when He made declarations and things moved immediately. But don’t forget that on many occasions Jesus observed vigils and prayed for extended hours.
If asking once was the way, Jesus would have led by example. Rather we see Jesus spending hours on end talking to God and sometimes making the same request.
So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:44, NIV)
That is the example He left. Understanding these things about Jesus would lead us to ask different questions, such as:
How do we pray as Jesus did?
What did He say for all those hours?
How come Jesus always knew what to say when problems came?
To pray effectively, it’s best to understand the starting point of prayer. Once we understand where prayer starts, then we can see the secret to talking to God about one thing for weeks at a time until the results show up.
Jesus knew what His Father said about Him
In the earliest part of Jesus’s ministry, He did something profound which set the stage for everything He was going to do for the next three years.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18–21, NIV)
After Jesus proclaimed these words, there was nothing He did that you couldn’t tie back to those prophecies. Prayer begins when you understand what God has said.
So what has God said about you and your situation? What can you hold on to as the evidence that God has decided on your case even though you haven’t seen anything yet?
When Jesus read these words and told them they were fulfilled, He hadn’t healed anyone. There were no recorded sights, limbs, or anything, restored. The people hadn’t seen anything yet and I guess that’s one of the reasons they rejected Him — all they saw was Joseph’s son (Luke 4:22).
But isn’t faith “the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen”(Hebrews 11:1)?
This means that before the act, we should look for the substance. Once we have the substance, then we anchor our prayers and can wait patiently for an extended time without wavering.
It’s only with the substance we can wait patiently without physical evidence. That’s why whenever you’re going through anything, ask God what the substance is. Ask God what He has decided to do.
Prayer is substance over form
Let’s look at the case of Paul and the thorn.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:8–9, NIV)
Paul approached God based on how he felt. He was in pain from the many attacks of the devil and he wanted them to stop.
But the moment God spoke, see how Paul immediately switched gears. Paul stopped praying for God to remove the thorn but started rejoicing in how God’s grace was there to help him bear the thorn.
Many could have looked at Paul and wondered why he was suffering. But right there, he was living in the answers to his prayers. He had the grace to endure and that was God’s perfect gift at the time.
Think about it for a minute. God gave Paul the thorn to deal with pride. What if God didn’t allow the thorn? It means Paul would have gone so far only to lose it all.
Pride is such a dangerous thing that God was willing to allow pain to come in so that pride wouldn’t take hold.
This is not a blanket statement that pride is the reason why we go through pain. Everyone is different with different issues and each person has to seek God to know what He’s saying concerning them.
Remember it was this same Paul who was in prison with Silas and as they prayed and sang, God delivered them. Paul needed the thorn then just as he needed deliverance at the other.
What is God saying about you right now? Because results don’t come by loud and emotional prayers. They come by the substance.
If you have the substance, you won’t give up
And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:3, NIV)
This widow in Luke 18, had a pressing issue, an adversary who had set up shop against her.
First, notice what she says every time she approached the judge. That Jesus placed those words in quotation marks means that there was no deviation. She approached the judge with that recitation.
Second, she kept coming. We can tell that this happened for a while. It could be days, weeks, or months. But she never missed an appearance with those exact words, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
Eventually, the unjust judge answered her because she bothered him too much. But here’s the clincher: is the focus of the parable on the widow or the judge?
It’s easy at this point to run a contrast between God and the unjust judge saying if the judge were just, she wouldn’t have to pray that long.
Yes, God is just. But remember the first statement in this parable says its purpose is to “show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
The focus of the parable is our attitude towards prayer not on whether the judge was just or not. Here’s why:
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7–8, NIV)
God called those who cried out to Him day and night His chosen ones. We could ask, “Were they His chosen ones because they cried out day and night?” Is our daily cry what qualifies us as chosen?
I don’t believe that’s the case here. I believe it’s the other way around. We ask Him day and night because we are chosen. This shows our total reliance on Him as His chosen ones.
Why didn’t she give up?
It was well known that the judge was unjust and cared for no one else. So why did she keep on asking if there was little hope of him answering her?
He was the only one who could give her justice. He had the power and the office to execute judgment on her behalf. So even though the judge was lacking in the willingness department, she knew his job description. She knew what to expect from that office.
We have a God who not just has the office and the power but also the willingness to act on our behalf. When He passes judgment, you can be certain He will execute it. He is bound by His promises.
So, if this woman didn’t give up on an unjust judge, why would you give up on the God of the universe?
Will He find faith when He comes?
When God started walking with Abraham, He never told Abraham when he would have a child. There was no discussion on the timing of the miracle only a guarantee that it was going to happen.
The woman going daily to the judge for justice would have lost it if she stopped her daily visit.
It doesn’t matter how many times she had gone to the judge already. If the judge was going to answer her on the fiftieth time and she stopped at the forty-ninth, what the judge would have said is, “Thank goodness that woman has stopped bothering me.”
Faith starts from getting the evidence and ends when you see the outcome. Will God find you faithful when He visits with what you’ve been waiting for?
What happens to everything else?
Sometimes I think about all the other pressing needs I have and how much prayer time I’d take away from them if I focus on just one need for weeks.
What comes to mind is the parable of the lost sheep. One sheep went missing and the shepherd left the ninety-nine to search for that one. I think that’s what our prayer lives should look like.
You’ll always have needs but it requires a lot of unfocused energy to take all to God in prayer at once.
When Daniel fasted for twenty-one days, he was praying about one single thing: understanding.
Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. (Daniel 10:12, NIV)
You don’t miss out on everything else by focusing on one thing at a time. The shepherd didn’t lose the ninety-nine sheep he kept aside to find the one.
Look at examples of people who prayed effectively in the Bible and you’ll find a pattern of people who devoted time to specific issues until they got results.
It’s the only way I know we’ll get the results we seek.