When we pray, when we ask our Father in heaven to give us the desires of our hearts, we want answers. I am not by nature a patient person especially about the unknown. I would rather hear the answer No than be left waiting. I am often quick to jump to the conclusion that no answer means NO. Sometimes though when no answer comes it means we need to continue to pray. We need to engage in the work of persevering prayer.
I am not good at persevering in prayer. All the books I read on prayer hit on the topic of persevering prayer and when all the books I read point to an area of weakness in my life, I think it is wise for me to pay attention. Each of the books explained the important work of continuing to lift up our requests over and over again to the Lord. I think this was a new concept to me. Partly because I love being efficient and partly because I don't like to seem needy, asking over and over again for something that I really think God wants to give me seems almost rude.
I started thinking about persevering prayer a few months ago which I wrote about here. I loved what Andrew Murray wrote in "With Christ in the School of Prayer". "O what a deep heavenly mystery this is of perseverance prayer. The God who promised, who longs, whose fixed purpose it is to give the blessing, holds it back." What a great quote. God loves us. God wants to bless us. And yet he holds back. He waits. This feels like torture at times, but knowing that God is good (all the time, all the time, God is good) I have to accept that God has a reason for holding back His answer, holding back the blessing He has promised.
Packer and Nystrom in their book "Praying" give three reasons why God waits. First, by compelling us to wait patiently for him to act, God purges our motives. I have seen this at work in my life. My original prayer might be "right" but my motives might be all wrong. I ask God to help my child obey because it would make my life easier not because I am in that moment wanting to help my son become a man of God. I am often asking for a change of situation because I am uncomfortable or unhappy not because I want to glorify God with the situation change. But over time, as I continue to bring my requests before God, my heart is changed. My motives are lining up with God's plan.
The second reason God waits is that God shapes his giving in a natural way. God is using time to change things slowly in a natural way. We see this in Nehemiah. At the beginning of chapter 1 a date is recorded when Nehemiah and the people of God begin to repent and pray for the restoration of Jerusalem and a return of the Israelites to their land. It is not until nine months later in chapter 2 that Gods work behind the scenes comes to a place of letting Nehemiah go home to restore Jerusalem. Nine months of Nehemiah and those with him praying "Give success to Nehemiah today." God could have worked a miracle with Nehemiah's ruler like He did with Moses and Pharoah. But as Packer and Nystrom write, "Prayers answered? Yes! By miracle? No, by a natural flow of events - which took time. Ordering a natural flow is God's habitual way of answering prayer, and it often takes time, so we have to be willing to wait."
And finally, God's wants us to continue to grow in faith and spiritual maturity. Before we took our kids to Disneyland for the first time, we spent months practicing waiting in line patiently. We waited in some fun lines, hand stamps at story time, and some really boring lines at the post office. We wanted to build up their patience so that they could enjoy Disneyland despite all the long lines. Likewise, God uses delayed answers to build up our patience stamina. "Sometimes God uses delayed responses to prayer to discipline and train our spiritual muscles. We hang on in prayer, and our faith muscles grow stronger."
I am still a work in progress with persevering prayer especially when all is going well. I should keep a prayer journal and prayer cards to keep me focused and continuing diligently in my prayers for myself, my family and God's children throughout my life. I am getting better one person, one need at a time.