We pray about something important or painful. We desperately need an answer. We hope for a response of comfort and understanding but no answer comes… at least not an answer that would satisfy us at the time. We then ask: “Where is God? Does God care about me?”
In the movie, “Oh God, Book II,” a little girl asks George Burns aka God: “Why do bad things happen to us?”
God aka George Burns answers: “That’s the way the system works. Have you ever seen an up, without a down? A front, without a back? A top without a bottom? You can’t have one without the other. I discovered that if I take away sad, then I take away happy, too. They go together.” Then with a smile he adds, “If somebody has a better idea. I hope they put it in the suggestion box.”
Prayer, persistent prayer, continual prayer, a habit of prayer even when God seems to be quiet is an important part of our relationship with God. Scripture confirms the importance of persistence:
If your life was an automobile, prayer could be described as the steering wheel guiding us where we need to go. Unfortunately for many of us, prayer is more like the spare tire, seldom used or needed until something goes flat.
A soldier laying in a foxhole noticed a crucifix in the dirt beside him. A few seconds later a chaplain dived into the same hole. The soldier held up the crucifix and cried out: “Am I glad to see you! How do you work this thing?”
Prayer is simply making time to be with God. We make time for our spouse, our children and grandchildren and our friends but do we make the necessary time for God?
When we pray and God seems quiet, we continue to pray and trust that God always listens. One pastor wrote: “We sometimes look to God to answer our prayers as if He were the waiter who takes our order and swiftly returns with steaming plates of what we ask for. That is not God’s way. He hears our prayers and responds but in God’s way, in God’s time. Can we trust and accept?”
An experiment in biology involves a chicken in a cage with two buttons. When the chicken pecks one button, nothing comes out. The chicken soon learns to peck the other button for food. However, when the students reverse the effect of each button, the chicken soon realizes that pecking the first button now does nothing, so instead of trying the other button it stops.
If only the chicken would attempt to peck the other button!
This, in many ways could describe our prayers. We turn to God and ask for something. When the request is not granted fast enough or in the way we hope for, we stop praying about it and give up. We forget that unanswered prayer is still heard by God, but his silence is for a purpose, and we will not always understand unless we are persistent in praying.
The last fifteen or sixteen months during this awful pandemic have been excruciatingly painful. There is so much temptation to give up, stop pushing the prayer button and put on a mask of cynicism. Seeing the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated has been particularly discouraging.
Yet, vaccines were created in record time which saved so many lives. In those same months we witnessed the courage of people in the face of hardship who managed to care for the sick or feed the hungry or maintain the day-to-day necessities any community needs to survive. In those same months I have seen our two churches continue to find creative ways to meet, to encourage and to reach out and help others in need.
Was this the answer from God, I prayed for? Yes and no but I learned to better appreciate how much I need God in my life. I learned how important it is for God’s church to be an active and vibrant part of the community. I learned that faith and hope, love and grace matters and that God will ultimately see us through.
Paul wrote to a struggling preacher: “You must keep on believing the things you have been taught. You know they are true for you know that you can trust those us who taught you. You know how, when you were a small child, you were taught the Scriptures; and it is these that make you wise to accept God’s salvation by trusting in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Persistent prayer is about trusting Christ to lead and guide us. We seek a deeper relationship with God. We cling to our faith through all the obstacles and discouragement we encounter. Persistence and perseverance in prayer are huge challenges but God hears our prayers. We are not forgotten or forsaken. So, through it all, I continue to pray, trusting that God listens and responds in God’s way, in God’s time.