Pray Hard- The Persistence Quotient
July 15/16 1 Kings 18: 41-46, Luke 18: 1-5
Today we continue to dream big and pray boldly through this exciting sermon series called the “Circle Maker.” Throughout the month of July, we’re asking God to deepen our faith and explode our prayer lives like never before. And today we’re going to learn that our big, bold prayers and dreams are not something we just dream once and let it go, but something we continue to pursuit until we feel confident that we have broken through into the heart of God. And it’s possible to do that.
History books tells us that October of 1879 was a monumental moment for famous American inventor Thomas Edison, and really, for the world. That’s the month he watched a carbon-based filament successfully burn for 13.5 hours. That pivotal moment gave birth to the rise of the incandescent light bulb, a source of energy and power that we still use today. It was a great moment that changed history, a victory that birthed more opportunities because of longer lasting light! But what the history books won’t tell is what when on behind the scenes leading up to this day. For 14 months, Edison and his team looked for ways to improve on the work of others (Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but he did build on the vision of others). They tested over 6,000 possible filament solutions and put in a lot of sweat equity that created tension among people who were striving for the same thing. But with every failure, Edison and his team kept going. They kept striving. They continued to persevere until finally the realized their dream. And after that day, Edison had this to say about the accomplishment: "Before I got through," he recalled, "I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material." Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
I love the phrase “ransacking the world,” because it puts some teeth to the idea of determination. I can almost see Edison scouring the countryside for anything that might become his missing ingredient! It also reminds me of the old adage, “Hard work pays off.” That’s no secret; we know the value of hard work. Hard work is what gets the job done, and the job is never done until you’ve put in a lot of hours. Some experts claim that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to hone a craft, to become a master at your calling. 10,000 jump shots to shoot like Stephen Curry and Michael Jordan. 10,000 vocal lessons to sing like Julie Andrews. 10,000 hours in a hot kitchen to become a world-class chef. But here’s something else I want you to consider: just as hard work pays off, so does prayer. Praying hard and praying long pays off!
I’ve had some well-meaning people tell me over the years that we should simply pray once and leave it in God’s hands, almost as if to suggest that to pray again for the same thing reveals a lack of faith or trust in God. But I don’t buy it. Nor do I think Jesus buys it. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of an old persistent widow who bugs the heck out of ornery judge as a means of teaching his followers how to pray and not lose heart. Out of desperation for justice (because she probably had no other means of survival!), the widow keeps knocking on the judge’s door until he finally relents. He knows she won’t give up until he answers the door, and her persistence finally pays off. “I’m going to answer this door and give her what she wants,” the judge said,” or else she will wear me out!”
One of the first things I notice in this story is not how it ends, but it how it begins. It begins with the widow’s desperation. This is where all bold and courageous prayers begin. They begin with desperation, with passion, with a sense of holy restlessness, and desperation leads to rugged determination. We don’t know what type of justice the woman was seeking, but it meant the world to her, and she was going to wrestle with the judge until she got was she believed was rightfully hers (and what she couldn’t live without). I wonder what dream makes you restless? I wonder what you seek with desperation and passion? Maybe it’s a friend who needs to know friendship with God or a ministry you want to succeed. And I wonder if you’re willing to wrestle with God until you have it! Sometimes that’s what prayer looks like: it looks like a “refusal to give up” wrestling match. The OT tells the story of Jacob, who was a man desperate for God’s blessing. He wanted a new life, a new chance, and as the old story is told from Genesis, he wrestled with God throughout the night seeking God’s blessing. “I will not let you go,” Jacob cried out to him, “until you bless me.” That was Jacob’s way of saying, “I’m serious this time. I mean it. I’m not leaving until I have more of you!” And God blessed him.
Sometimes I think our prayer lives are marked by missed opportunities because we leave God too soon, or at least we content ourselves with waiting for God to make the first move, when all along God is patiently waiting for us to take a serious step in His direction. But revival historians will tell you that every great revival has started because people began to gather and pray and refused to give up. Instead of saying “If God wants revival to happen, it will happen,” men and women and children wrestled with God and said, “Make it so! Bring revival. And God did. Several years ago, Joanna and I endured a devastating experience that left our hearts broken and our faith close to being shattered. But yet we believed God was not done with us. We began to cry out and to pray, asking God to bless us once more. And during an evening service at church camp, we felt God calling us down to the altar to wrestle. And as we wrestled with God in prayer, all of the sudden we felt a hand on each of our shoulders, and a woman began to pray for us. Then she looked at us and spoke these words: “I believe God has heard your prayer and will bless you again.” Our desperation led to determination, which led to blessing. And I’m so glad we didn’t give up. Praying hard requires persistence. You’ve got to keep going!
If anyone knew what it was like to wrestle with God and struggle with faith, it was the old prophet Elijah. A few centuries before Honi’s prayer, God promised to send rain to Elijah and the Israelites during their time of severe drought. Believing that God would fulfill His promise, Elijah sent his companion, Ahab, to look out over the sea for any sign of rain. But nothing came. So Elijah continued to pray, and again, Ahab had nothing new to report. This went on for 6 days, but Elijah persisted. Finally, on the seventh day, Ahab came back and said, “ There is a cloud rising up from the sea.” And soon the heavy showers arrived. What would’ve happened if Elijah had quit praying on the sixth day? What would’ve happened if he had given up?
It’s easy to give up too soon. 6,000 attempts of finding the right carbon filament took a lot of perspiration, but I’m so glad Thomas Edison didn’t lose heart, because the next attempt changed the world. It’s easy to quit praying after 6 days because God doesn’t respond quickly enough. I know how hard it is to wrestle with God and lose heart. When people don’t show up, it’s easy to throw in the towel. When plans do pan out the way we thought they would, it’s easy to doubt our ability and even God’s goodness. When prayers go unanswered, it’s easy to think we’ve somehow failed God. But truly, the only way to fail is to take our ball and go home. We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep praying! So let me ask you: Who will dream your dream if you don’t? What will happen to your ministry if you walk out the door too soon? What will happen to the faith of the next generation if you and I don’t go the distance? And it’s possible to keep going because of God’s promises.
You ever wonder how Honi found the confidence to pray and not stop until it rained? Maybe it’s because he knew Elijah’s story and God’s promises. Or why Jesus felt like he could share a story about a persistent widow breaking through to the heart of the judge? Maybe it’s because he knew Jacob’s story and God’s blessing. Or why Jesus confidently set his face towards the Cross and didn’t blink? Maybe he recalled the story of dry bones coming to life again in Ezekiel. The Bible is filled with God’s promises to bless, to bring life, to make new again. And it’s those promises that keep us going, because if God makes promises, he keeps them. Not just for one generation, but for us all. Just listen to some of these: Isaiah 40: 29: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” James 1:5: “If you lack wisdom…ask God…and it will be given to you.” Matthew 11: 28-29: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Philippians 1: 9: “And God will supply all your needs out of his glorious riches.” Romans 10:9- “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
These are just a few of the thousands of promises God gives. And God is faithful. If God promises it (and if we believe His word is timeless and true) then we can be confident that He will provide. So if you need help praying hard and persisting in prayer, grab your Bible, remember who God is, and ask him to reveal His promises to you. And then circle them and stand in them, believing that just ask God remembered His promises to Abraham, Jacob, Elijah and others, He will remember His promises to you. What promise do you need to circle today? What prayer do you need to keep on praying? What dream do you need to relentlessly pursue? Keep on dreaming. Keep on circling. Keep on standing on the promises of God. Amen.