Season 3 - Week 3
“If at first you don't succeed, pray again.”
We might not like to believe it deep down, but any sort of success in Christian ministry is due to what God does – often as a result of prayer – not to the amount of effort and expertise we put in.
Jesus is the greatest example of a pray-er. He did it before big decisions (Luke 6:12), for Himself, His friends and the wider world (John 17), and before and after ministry (Matthew 14:23). The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1–5) is still our best model for how to pray.
We might ask ourselves why it is that we need to come to God again and again in prayer. If He already knows what we want before we ask Him, is praying really worthwhile? Does it make any difference? Can we ever change God’s mind by repeatedly asking and pleading with Him in prayer? Abraham’s prayer for Sodom would seem to suggest that we can, but of course there's mystery in prayer, and many unanswered questions. It’s not an exact science.
Ultimately, God is sovereign. He answers prayers however He wishes. We don’t have all the answers and there’s no magic formula.
What is certain, however, is that God wants us to demonstrate that we're serious about praying.
Jesus tells a story about a persistent widow, to show us that we should always pray and not give up; that we should be ‘tenacious’ in our praying. In this parable, the unjust Judge gives in to the widow’s requests because she pesters him day and night, until he changes his mind. The hidden meaning is that we should pester God – who is certainly not unjust – with our prayers. He is our loving, Heavenly Father, who loves to give us good things, if we come to ask Him.
So what does this persistent widow teach us about tenacity?
Amount. First, she didn’t just knock and run. She knocked and knocked... and knocked. One dictionary offers the definition: ‘tenacity is the quality displayed by someone who just won’t quit – who keeps trying until they reach their goal.’
Attitude. Secondly, she wasn’t a lawyer. She didn’t have the ability to sway a Judge. She simply had dogged determination. She would not give up.
Ardour. Thirdly she had passion. She really needed justice. She desperately wanted an answer.
Application. Finally she didn’t just talk about ways of getting justice. She went to ask the person who was able to give it to her.
How does this help us as Christian workers? Do we need encouragement to be like the persistent widow in prayer? Do we give up too easily?
How often do we pray for ourselves, our programmes and especially our young people? And are we ever guilty of playing knock and run with God?
Do we think we have to be experts in order to pray? God prefers people with great attitude, rather than with great aptitude. (See Luke 18:9–14, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, for proof of that).
Do we ever lose our fire and enthusiasm for God’s work? God has promised to give us help – the Holy Spirit’s help. We don’t need to go it alone.
It’s easy to talk about prayer, listen to teaching about prayer and read about prayer (just like you're doing now). The difficulty is finding the time and the discipline to do it.
Success in any sort of Christian ministry, including youth work, does not depend on our effort and ability, but on God. Results are not our responsibility – we only sow the seed. God plants it and makes it grow. Whether we lead a group of 5 or a group of 50, whether they are showing enthusiasm or apathy, God wants to break into their lives. We all have a responsibility to pray – and be tenacious in our praying.
Let’s pray, pray... and pray again.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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?
Asking for something is easier if you know that the person you're asking has responded positively before. It's often the same with prayer; if you've known clear answers to prayer recently you'll feel more confident in praying for other things. If, on the other hand, it's harder to see an answer to something you've asked for that can impact your confidence to pray for other things.
Take some time to ask yourself what shapes your prayer:
- have you known prayers to be answered recently?
- are there some prayers you're still waiting for answers to?
- what do you know that you know about God?
Last week we looked at Hebrews 11, which opens with the phrase "Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Let this shape your prayer this week.
Over the next few days, ask friends to tell you of times that they've known God answering their prayers. You could start a discussion in a church small group, text some friends or start a conversation on twitter or facebook.
Let these testimonies be an encouragement to keep going in your conversation with God.
Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me.