This post was updated on June 13
This past week my pastor continued teaching on prayer in the The Circle Maker Series. The subject of this weeks message was “Praying Hard.” The story that he used was that of the persistent widow in Luke 18. The story tells how a widow seeking justice pestered a judge until he caved into the requests of the woman, just to get her off his back. It is an interesting story because she did not wait until her appointed court day. She continued to seek after the judge. The twist in the story is that this is not seen as inappropriate. Jesus seems to imply that God desires this kind of tenacity and stubbornness.
In the course of my life, I have struggled with prayer and praying. My struggles are not with any doubts of God’s ability or desire to hear my petitions. My issues revolve around the worthiness of my requests. “Is what I am praying for something that God should answer?” This is where I find myself most days. And, tagging right behind this thought is the fact that I am not tenacious or willing to pray through the issue(s) until I hear some definite response from God.
There are two examples that serve to encourage me whenever I find myself struggling again to pray through and pray hard to God. The first is an example from the Bible. The second is a personal example.
In the book of Daniel we find an interesting moment in his life where he is praying. He is trying to make sense of what he has seen in a vision. The vision is so overwhelming that those who did not see it with their own eyes, felt the presence of God and left Daniel alone. The burden of what Daniel saw was so heavy that he was drained of strength to the point that he could not even speak.
I cannot even begin to imagine what Daniel was going through, but he knew that the only one who could help him was God. So he set himself to pray. After twenty-one days the relief and the answer came. What makes this all so interesting is what the angel of the Lord said to him.
10 And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” (Daniel 10:10-13, ESV, Emphasis Added)
This is a wonderful passage reminding us that we must pray until the answer comes. What has always stood out to me has not been when the answer arrived, but when it was given. The angel tells Daniel, your answer was given on the FIRST day. God did not delay in giving his answer. There was actually a spiritual battle taking place between the messenger and forces of evil.
There are times when the answer to our prayers are delayed, not by God, but by those that know that when you get your answer your faith will be stronger. We are naive if we think that the devil will lie down and not fight to destroy our faith. Why then is it so easy at times to give up? God is not deaf and he is not cruel. When we pray he hears and responds. We have to learn to wait because sometimes the problem is that all the fighting has not finished yet.
Over Thirty Years of Waiting
My grandfather is in heaven today. But, let me tell you about the man that he was.
My grandfather was bound to a wheelchair; was paralyzed on his right side; no longer had an esophagus because of smoking for decades and his voice was so raspy you had a hard time making out what he said because he almost drank himself to death. He was one of the most bitter, spiteful and angry men I have ever known. He was verbally and physically abusive even after losing much of his mobility.
In spite of all of these things my grandfather died and went to heaven because my mom (his daughter) and my dad prayed for over thirty years that he would come to know the Lord. Thirty years of prayers that God would change his life and restore some wholeness to a very broken family. God granted my mom her request and my grandfather was converted and gloriously saved by God’s grace in Jesus.
UPDATE: My father pointed out to me that as a result of my grandfather’s conversion, my grandmother also came to faith in Jesus. He sent me an email with this note when I asked him how long after.
It was less than six months. His transformation was so radical that he stopped drinking and smoking the same day and after a few months María [my grandmother] realized that it was the real deal.
I graduated in 1998 from high school. I was the only one of the grandchildren that he saw graduate. And, what I remember most about those few days was the afternoon we sat together in my parents living room and talked. Well, he talked, I just listened. There was so much sadness in his eyes that day. Sadness over choices that could never be undone. Sadness over opportunities wasted and misspent. I felt sad for him, but he offered me some hope with what he asked me to do.
I knew his story, because I was a part of it. As we sat there together. He struggled to lift his right hand with his left. It was limp and contorted because of the paralysis and years of going unused. He then looked me in the eyes and said (in Spanish), “Don’t make the same mistakes I made. Don’t become like me.” I may forget the words in time, but I will never forget the look of love and concern he had for me that afternoon. I will never forget how he wished he had been different so that he could enjoy this time with us, rather than regret all that he had missed. I will never forget.
You see, I am named after him and I am now, and always will be, a part of the legacy of God’s grace in his life, through my mom. I am thankful that God answers prayer… in his time.
How long is long enough? I do not know. I have not gotten there yet.