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How to Pray Persistently

Have you seen a prayer rock? It is wrapped in attractive fabric and tied with a ribbon to which a card is attached.

The card is entitled, "My Prayer Rock," followed by this poem:

I'm your little prayer rock and this is what I'd do.
Just put me on your pillow until the day is through.
Then turn back the covers and climb into your bed,
And WHACK... your little prayer rock will hit you on the head.
Then you will remember as the day is through
To kneel and say your prayers as you wanted to.
Then when you are finished just dump me on the floor.
I'll stay there through the night to give you help once more.
When you get up in the morning, CLUNK, I'll stub your toe
So you will remember your morning prayers before you go.
Put me back upon your pillow when your bed is made.
Your clever little prayer rock will continue in your aid.
Because your Heavenly Father cares and loves you so,
He wants you to remember to talk to Him, you know!

Prayer can be one of the most difficult disciplines to do consistently and persistently. While something like this rock might be helpful to us, we must be inspired to take this activity seriously. For our biblical motivation, let's turn to Matthew 7:7-12. This is our key passage:

7] Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8] For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

And I will paraphrase the next couple of verses

9] Which of you if your son asks, how about some bread, dad? would say, Oh, I'm sorry, but here's a rock,...chew on that. 10] Or if he asks, How about some smoked salmon? would you say, Sorry, but here's a live snake...? In a parallel passage in Luke, a third example is added. Or, if he asks for an egg sandwich would you say, No, I've got a scorpion for you instead.

Then Matthew concludes with vv. 11-12.

11] If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12] In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

What does this section of Scripture say to us?

The Process of Prayer

v. 7—"Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."

To get a better idea of what the process of prayer entails, let's look quickly at each of the stages of prayer outlined here: asking, seeking, and knocking. Each of these is a command.

The first stage is askingpetition is the key word. "Ask" is a simple word a child can understand. It simply means to make a petition for something we desire or need. The one who asks, however, does not contribute to the answer.

The second stage is seekingparticipation is the key word. This level of prayer seems to go beyond the first. Seeking implies participation and involves movement; i.e., the request is followed by the action of seeking.

It would be futile, for example, to ask God for a deeper knowledge of Scripture if we did not seek the truth by diligent study of His Word. In this case, asking alone would be insufficient.

The third stage is knockingpersistence is the key word. The tense of these three verbs indicates repeated action—knock and keep on knocking; seek and keep on seeking; ask and keep on asking. Prayer is a continuous activity, and we are not to be hindered by discouragement nor the impossibility of the request. We are to keep at it! (See Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-5.)

It's like a child who wants to ask his mother for something. If the mother is near and visible, he/she simply asks. If she is not nearby, the child seeks. But if mom is in a room and the door is shut, the child beats on the door until she opens it.

With the call to continuous activity in mind, look at this series of commands. It should sponsor a lot of questions concerning our life and the local church. This call to prayer is one of the key commitments for a believer. We need to get it right! Here are some questions we must answer.

Why should we ask, seek and knock in prayer?

We don't pray because God is ignorant and we are informing Him, nor because He is reluctant and we are trying to persuade Him. One primary reason we are to pray is to remind ourselves that we need God and to acknowledge that dependence before Him—Matt. 6:7-8. For example, we pray and give thanks for our food not only because we need it, but because it reminds us of our physical dependence on God—Matt. 6:11. We pray to remind ourselves He is our Provider. Therefore, we are to ask so we will not be arrogant and prideful, but acknowledge that everything comes from His hand.

Another reason we should pray is to adjust our hearts to God's heart and kingdom purposes—Matt. 6:5-10. Adjustment is a usual outcome of persistent prayer. As we pray and get in touch with God's view, He adjusts our perspective. As we pray, God also begins to show us in His Word and through our experiences, His heart. So prayer is not a means to bully or manipulate God to our position on a matter. We seek to adjust our asking to His will. God in turn seeks to bring us to the point of surrender, where we will be able to receive the blessing He longs to give us. God adjusts our hearts and empowers us so we can receive His will no matter how difficult it may be. If Jesus needed to pray in Gethsemane to be adjusted to the Father's heart, obviously we do, too!—Matt. 26:42.

A third reason we should keep on asking is to provide a means for Him to give, and not force on us, what we need and desire—James 4:2. Our heavenly Father never spoils His children. He doesn't shower us with gifts whether we want them or not, or whether we are ready for them or not. Instead, He waits until we recognize our need and turn to Him and ask with humility. In other words, God doesn't give us spiritual blessings unless we ask for them. "We have not because we ask not..."—James 4:2.

A fourth reason to ask is to intercede on behalf of someone else, because they can't or won't pray for themselves—1 Tim. 2:1. A final reason for our persistent prayer is so we may stand against the schemes and plans of the enemy of our soul in spiritual warfare.

Second, what specifically do we ask for?

We must first seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." We must not focus on the things we need until His kingdom and will is our priority. The problem is, many of us forget the first part of Matt. 6:33 and rush to the latter part. But Jesus says it is the pagans who run after "these things"—v. 32.

Let's inventory our prayers. Are they all earthbound? Are we saying with the unbelievers, "Oh God, give me some extra money." "Oh God, give me a relationship." "Oh God, give me a job?" Are our prayers pagan, or Christian?

We are to seek God's rule and the personality qualities of Jesus in us; to be living a righteous and ethical life—Acts 4:23-31; Phil. 1:9-11. When we make His kingdom and His righteousness a serious pursuit, all things we need will be ours—Matt. 6:33b. Therefore, let us keep on asking, seeking and knocking for the kingdom and His righteousness

  1. His kingdom, that God would rule and reign in peoples' lives
  2. His righteousness, to be more like Jesus; to be less focused on the stuff of life; to be less grasping; to be less selfish; to have increased love and faith; to have greater purity of heart; to be bolder in our witness for Him.
Application Notice what Peter and John ask for in Acts 4:23-31. They have been released after their imprisonment for healing a crippled man. They report what has happened, and then everyone begins to pray.

I am intrigued by what they do not ask for. They don't request that God change the externals—to strike down the rulers; to make things easier for them; to protect them from any further imprisonment or punishment. Instead, they ask God to do something in them: to make them more bold! I like that—it shows the spirit of persistent prayer.

One of our small group leaders explained that his group had discovered this principle in its study of Philippians. He said he had noticed for a long time their prayer requests were focused on praying for problems, sicknesses, or financial needs; and while these requests were important, there was no prayer for the interior of their lives. So as a group, they began to pray for God's kingdom and righteousness, and they found God answered their other prayers as well. For example, they began to pray Philippians 1:9-11—"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10] so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God."

Remember, God is committed to answering all the prayers that involve changing us into the likeness of His Son, or that extend His kingdom. Therefore, resolve to focus your prayers toward His character; doggedly pursue God's kingdom to come in you and into the world.

Third, does this mean God always answers prayer?

Yes! In one way or another.

Fourth, is God's answer always right away?

No! Sometimes the answer is "wait," or is delayed—Luke 18:7; Dan. 10:12-14. Sometimes it is immediate—Is. 65:24; Dan. 9:20-23. Sometimes it is different from what we ask for—2 Cor. 12:7-10. Sometimes it is more than what we ask for—Jer. 33:3; Eph. 3:20.

Fifth, why does God sometimes say no to our prayers?

  • When we ask with wrong motives, for our own selfish pleasures. James 4:3— "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
  • When we ask without faith. James 4:6-8—"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7] That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8] he is a doubleminded man, unstable in all he does."
  • When it is not for our good. James 1:17 tells us God only gives good and perfect gifts. Matt. 7:11 says God gives only good gifts to His children. So whatever is good, He will give to us.
  • When we are disobedient—1 Sam. 14:37; 28:6
  • When we have a secret sin—Psalm 66:18
  • When we are indifferent—Prov. 1:20-28
  • When we neglect to show mercy—Prov. 21:13
  • When we are stubborn—Zech. 7:11-13
  • We don't know why—2 Tim. 4:20; Phil. 2:25-27. (Why were these men in Paul's ministry team sick? Why weren't they healed right away? After all, they were with Paul.)

Sixth, what can motivate us to continue in prayer?

It won't be because we have enough free time. A godly person is a busy person.

Do you feel like a tired, staggering juggler on a high wire, trying to keep a dozen eggs in the air while someone else is trying to throw you half a dozen more? Join the club—being devoted to God and people takes time! Prayer is what makes a godly person out of a busy person. Prayer and the spiritual disciplines aren't intended only for people who have a lot of spare time on their hands. They are the God-given means by which busy believers become like Christ—Don Whitney, Discipleship Journal, March/April 1993, pp. 28-29.

What will help us maintain a consistent and persistent prayer life? Three main motivations keep us praying:

  1. Spirit power and Spirit prayer—2 Tim. 1:7; Rom. 8:26. God's Spirit can give us the power/strength to pray even when we are initially fearful.
  2. Struggle and desperate need—1 Tim. 4:7-10; Gal. 3:3; 5:17; Col. 1:29; 1 Pet. 5:8. What does great need do to our prayer life? "Advance in the Christian life comes not by the work of the Holy Spirit alone, nor by our work alone, but by our responding to and cooperating with the grace the Holy Spirit initiates and sustains" (Don Whitney, Ibid, pp. 31-32). It is God's design to put us in a place of great need so we will have to pray to Him and trust Him. Col. 1:29—"I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." Therefore it is God's mercy which allows difficult times in life.
  3. Love and relationships are the best motivations for prayer. Once you experience a season of prayer where God meets you in your struggle, a deeper love relationship develops, and you want to talk to Him because you love Him.

    Besides our primary relationship with God, in prayer we discover we also need the encouragement of fellow believers to maintain a prayer life—a devotional life. Hebrews 3:13 exhorts us, "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

Now to confirm the Lord's desire to answer our prayer, notice how Jesus repeats His promise to answer prayer in vv. 7-8.

The Promise of Prayer

Matt. 7:8—"For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Look at the promises attached to each stage.

  1. The first stage, asking, gives us a promise of receiving what we pray for.
  2. The second stage, seeking, promises we will find what we are seeking.
  3. The third stage, knocking, promises open doors.

How do we know God will answer us? Jesus anticipates that question and gives a parable. We'll call it The Parable of Two Fathers:

Matt. 7:9-10—Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10] Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake.

Think about it. What do we do when our children ask for something? We give them what they ask if certain conditions are met. If it is good for them.

Obviously, not all the requests we receive from children are for their good. Because we love them, we don't give them what might be harmful, or not in their best interest.

If it is possible for us to do, we will certainly consider granting the request. Sometimes, however, we can't provide what is requested.

On occasion, a good thing must wait until the timing is right!

If we are good parents, we don't try to fool our children, nor give them something unwholesome or harmful as a substitute for something helpful. (e.g., "Do you want a tuna fish sandwich? Here's a rock instead. Chew on this!") Now if that is true of us, what does it say about God? What will He do for His children when they ask, seek and knock?

Matt. 7:11—If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?

The comparison is obvious. We are evil, that is, selfish by nature, and yet we can give good gifts. Our heavenly Father, on the other hand, is the epitome of good. He is wholly good, righteous, loving and kind, etc. How much more will He love to give good gifts to us? Not only is He infinitely more capable of giving, He has infinitely more wisdom to decide what good gifts are needed.

We are just earthly parents, but our God is our eternal Father who has known us before the foundations of the world and given up His Son for our salvation. He has perfect knowledge of what is best for us in every circumstance, and knows exactly what we need and desire before we do!

The conclusion is obvious: no earthly parent can come close to His parentage or His gifts. Our God will answer all our prayers and never mock them. His desires are superior to the desires and the will of earthly parents. Our heavenly Father will always answer our prayers, but He will answer them in His way—one of perfect wisdom and love.

What's a good example of persistent prayer? Let me give you another biblical example!

Gen. 25:19-21—This is the account of Abraham's son Isaac, 20] and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21] Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.

This is a reference to the chronology of Isaac's life—a brief statement that he was 40 when he was married, and 60 when his first child was born. The background of these verses is in the preceding chapter. There we find the account of Eliezer, Abraham's steward, who traveled to Aram (modern Syria) where he found Rebekah. He brought her back, and Isaac and Rebekah were married. This passage tells us that Rebekah was barren—v. 21. But notice, hidden away in the statement, "Isaac prayed...and Rebekah became pregnant," is the fact that he prayed for 20 years!

I am sure Abraham prayed, too, because he was alive at this time, and he knew what it was to wait for a promised child. Rebekah was the second infertile/barren woman in the Jewish line through which the Messiah would come, but after 20 years she became pregnant. After 20 years the Lord answered that prayer and she conceived and bore twin sons—a double blessing. This tells me something of the nature of faith.

Faith involves patient endurance. Mark it down! Hebrews tells us it is by faith and patience that we inherit the promises—Heb. 6:12. We see something here about the nature of prayer, too. Prayer is believing what God has promised, even though we may not secure the promise for a long period of time—Heb. 11:1. As a matter of fact, Hebrews 11:39 tells us, some of the patriarchs never saw what God promised in their lifetime. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. But they continued to believe right to their death that God was going to fulfill His promise. Remember that!

Prayer is laying hold of a promise from God and patiently waiting until He fulfills that promise. This is difficult for some of us to imagine, because if we have prayed for 20 minutes and don't receive an answer, we get very restless. But notice again, Abraham prayed for 25 years, and Isaac prayed for 20 before God fulfilled His promise. Therefore, if you have been praying and are about to give up because you think God does not hear you, don't faint. Isaac persisted and God granted his request. He gave him not one, but two children.

All the things we've seen in this study boil down to the following principles:

  • Don't settle for something bad when you're asking for something good.
  • Don't settle for answers that are contrary to a mature and complete view of God.
  • Don't be a Christian fatalist and accept every bad thing as your gift from God, i.e., don't settle for a rock when you ask for bread. Ask, seek and knock until you receive what the Father desires for you. Be persistent!
  • As a church, let's not settle for anything less than God's best for us and our church as we look forward to what lies ahead. Is there any way humanly speaking that we can see our goals and hopes accomplished in this church? No! Then why keep on asking, seeking and knocking.
  • We have a heavenly Father who can do the impossible, and longs to give good things to those who ask, seek and knock.
  • We have a heavenly Father who will not give us something bad when we ask, seek and knock for something good. Our God is as gracious as Jesus describes Him in this passage.

Let's boldly and expectantly, then, enter into His presence and ask for His good gifts. We must make our petition, participate in the solution, and show persistence in our prayer. This will take time; it won't happen overnight. We'll fail many times. It will take faith. But we must keep on asking, seeking and knocking.