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Persistence I: Unanswered Prayer and Stubborn Hope

What was your resolution for the year? I've failed at resolutions the last several years. Somewhere along the way, I dropped the resolutions and just began asking God, "What are you saying over this next year? What word or Scripture can I cling to through the ups and downs of the months to come?" For 2021, All Things New was what I held on to - believing that God was making all things new in my life based on Isaiah 43. I held on to the belief that He would indeed make a way in my every wilderness and bring forth rivers in the most deserted of places in my life. He was faithful to do just that. At the end of last year, I began seeking God again for what to hold on to for 2022 (more on my actual word of the year in another reflection).

We launched a discipleship program, FollowerZ, at a girl's high school at the beginning of the year. Again, we were back to seeking God for what word the young ladies and our small team could cling to for the year. 'Persist' was what came up.

To persist is to:

  • Continue firmly or obstinately in spite of difficulty or opposition

  • Continue to exist past the usual time

  • Do something in a determined way even when facing difficulties or opposition

The call to persist is close to home for me. My late 2018 and early 2019 journals hold lamentations from a deeply painful situation that I had been believing for God to redeem and restore. Here we are in 2022, and what was once an urgent and desperate prayer point over time became something I did not want to talk to God about anymore. I got tired of praying. I became content with living with that situation.

Sometimes when we can pray, things get better, or they get better for a little while then regress. Other times, things may stay stagnant or they may take a turn for the worst. It's hard to keep asking when you feel like your prayers are falling on deaf ears. It's hard to keep knocking when you don't see the door creek open or even hear the faintest evidence of someone on the other side of the door. It's hard to keep seeking when disappointment and resentment begin to blind you to the truth of who our God is even in the most difficult times.

Over the years, Jesus' opening words in the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 have often reverberated in my heart:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

He wanted to train His followers in persistence. He wanted to teach them to pray. He wanted to teach them not only to pray but not to give up in their praying. He knew there would be a temptation to give up in praying.

Jesus goes on to acquaint His audience with two characters from the parable - a judge who 'neither feared God nor cared what people thought' and a widow who kept coming to the judge with a plea for justice against her adversary. Historically, men were the breadwinners and families were dependent on them for provision and security. A loss of these figures for women and children meant a loss of their source and left them in a vulnerable position. We see widows all through Scripture who had experienced loss and who needed a miracle to make ends meet. The widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings, Naomi and Ruth in the book of Ruth, the widow at Nain in Luke 7 etc. In Acts 6:1, the rapidly growing first century church had been charged with the distribution of food to the widows daily and James in his letter to the church, reminded the followers of Jesus that true religion was looking after the widows and orphans (James 1:27).

In Luke 18, we see with the plight of this widowed woman and her grit in presenting her need before an unjust judge. Her cry was simple: ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ This widow who had experienced loss and had no one else to defend her was tenacious and took it upon herself to see her needs met. The widow's persistence eventually led to her deliverance and relief. In the end, we see the judge say, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me...." . Jesus closes out the parable saying, " 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?"

The test in persistence is time. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. It makes us cynical and skeptical. It hardens the heart. What situation have you been facing that you once called out to God day and night and are now battle-weary and no longer even bother praying for?

Our perception of God may be as that of this merciless judge. Something changed when Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, came and lived among men, died for men and rose from the grave and ascended into Heaven. In Matthew Henry's commentary on this Scripture he says:

She came to a judge that bade her keep her distance; We come to a Father that bids us to come boldly to him, teaches us to cry, Abba Father

While this widow did not have anyone to stand in the gap and had to go to the judge, we have an Advocate (1 John 2:1). We have a High Priest who sympathizes with us in our weakness and one who appears for us in God's presence (Hebrews 8:1-2) (Hebrews 9:24). We have an Intercessor - one who prays for us.

We are followers of the Way. The Way who taught His followers about stubborn hope. When we pray to God, we are not talking to one whose heart is hardened and merciless, like the judge in the parable. We are talking to He who is said to be rich in mercy, abounding in love (Ephesians 2:4-10).

We're halfway through 2022. Some of our prayer points have not yet turned into praise reports. What's that situation you have yet to see change? What are you tired of praying for? Will you persist? When yet another doctor's report comes in, when the relationship gets worse, when you have relapsed for the umpteenth time, when that friend/family member walks even further from God than before, when finances are tighter than they have ever been, or you just received the umpteenth "We regret to inform you..." email.

Persistence looks like continuing to call on the name of God despite the difficulty of the present or the weight of the past. It looks like continuing to seek God on a matter past the usual time - even when the miracle hasn't manifested in the timeline we overtly or unconsciously gave God. It means choosing to apply God's truth again to the places that currently taunt and torment us and silence our prayers for a breakthrough.

Persistence in some seasons looks like pounding on the door, and in other seasons, persistence may just be a gentle knock.
Persistence in some seasons is shouting at the top of our voices, and in other seasons, persistence may just be the faint whisper we may be able to muster.
Persistence in some seasons is just choosing to continue to show up into God's presence, even we do not have the right words to say, knowing there is One who collects our tears, who is close to the broken hearted and those crushed in Spirit.

Our faith is in the nature and character of the one we are asking. The One who cares deeply and sees all things. The One who lives within us, stands besides us and who is praying for us - even right now. Our hope is in the name that we ask in. The name that holds all power and in whom nothing is too difficult or impossible. Our persistence is because of the One who told us to pray and not to give up. We pray and seek God's good and perfect will at all times. We don't persist in praying just for our desired outcome but praying against those areas where the handprint of the enemy's work is evident. The enemy whose assignment is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).

I'm praying for every heart that has been hardened and has believed that God doesn't care and is not concerned about the things that have been weighing heavy. Praying for the heart that is numb and weary from unanswered prayers, pain and disappointment. May courage be regained to ask for God's intervention once again. May even the slightest sliver of hope to be regained to seek for breakthrough over your situation once more. May faith arise to knock on that door in faith once again.

Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking.

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