WARNING: A very LONG blog post ahead.
Hubby and I were talking a little bit ago after we were praying for direction in regards to how to deal with one of the businesses we own/run. I was disheartened because I was getting the sense that we were speaking the words, but did we really believe that God was going to hear and answer our prayers. I reminded him that all we need is faith as small as a mustard seed and was happy to see the lesson/talk taken to heart. But, I became discouraged again when I began noticing the same thing in the prayers of my in-laws about the same situation. You see, both of us (me & hubby and my in-laws) have practically ALL of our finances tied up in this one company. We've been dealt a lot of hard blows – embezzling employees, frivolous lawsuits from customers that they never should have won and did, employees who let the patent run out so that they could then sell the product under a different name once they were fired and the list could go on and on and on. Through it all, it has been difficult to see what God is trying to show us and difficult to trust that He really does have our best interests at heart.
All this got me thinking about the connection between prayer and faith and the purpose of prayer. First I looked to see what the Bible says about these topics. The first passage that popped into my head was one I shared with my hubby when we first had our talk on the subject. That passage is James 1: 2-8, 12: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does….Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
This passage led me to reflect on the connection between belief (faith) and prayer. To start, I looked for a definition of faith and found one in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." The rest of Hebrews 11 talks about the great characters of faith that we read about in the Bible and mentions twice that many of these people "did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance" (vs. 13) or "these were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." (vs. 39) Yet, though they did not receive what they were promised, they remained faithful in their belief because they knew that "God has planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (vs. 40)
The next passages that came to mind about faith where those that referenced the mustard seed: Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17: 5-6. These passages tell us "…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." I looked up how small a mustard seed actually is and learned that it is only 2mm yet grows into a tree large enough to shelter birds and with its persistent and powerful growth, it is strong enough to crack cement.
Then I looked into how we are to pray and how frequently. In Romans 12:12 we are commanded to "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says to "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Now I was beginning to see the role that persistence played in prayer.
Luke 18:1-8 is the Parable of the Persistent Widow:
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 about men. 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 about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" 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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith [persistent prayers according to one version] on the earth?"
Philip Yancey has written a book titled The Payoff of Persistent Prayer. I want to read this book, but found a few excerpts online that were good. He uses the parable found in Luke 11 of the man who asked his neighbor to share some food with him for an unexpected guest, but the neighbor told him to go away because he was already tucked in for the night. The man was persistent and according to Jesus, "I tell you, though he [the neighbor] will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness [his persistence, his shamelessness] he will get up and give him as much as he needs….So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Philip Yancey points out that his parable is positioned right after Jesus' teaching on the Lord's Prayer and gives new light to it in that we should "pray like a salesman with his foot wedged in the door opening" instead of a mumbled ritual.
Another example he shared was the persistence children show when they ask for something they want. Sometimes they only ask once and you know they really don't want the item. But, when they are persistent in asking for something it usually shows they are really serious about wanting that item. As humans we often get tired of hearing the same request from someone over and over and over. But, God is not like us. We see that he values persistence in the stories about Lazarus or the Cannanite woman who pestered Jesus about her daughter or the woman at the well in Samaria. God is interested in our persistence because he views it as a sign of "genuine desire for change, the one prerequisite for spiritual growth." When we are persistent in prayer, we are drawn together with God and learn what He wants to do on earth and our role in His plan.
Philip Yancey contrasted the difference between Christian prayer and pagan prayer by using a quote from Cicero, "We do not pray to Jupiter to make us good, but to give us material benefits." As a Christian, we may originally come to God asking for a material benefit but God is more concerned with our desires and plans coming in line with His and our spiritual growth. In other words, "we seek the gift, find instead the Giver, and [sometimes] eventually come away the gift we no longer seek."
This post is starting to become already too long. If any of you are still with me, let me summarize with a few more quotes I found while studying this topic.
George MacDonald: "A God that should fail to hear, receive, attend to one single prayer, the feeblest or worst, I cannot believe in; but a God that would grant every request of every man or every company of men, would be an evil God – that is no God, but a demon."
Augustine: A person prays "that he himself may be constructed, not that God may be instructed."
George Mueller: "The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer; they do not go on praying; they do not persevere!"
What is the purpose behind the prayers of my hubby and myself and my in-laws? Are we more concerned with our company all of a sudden becoming profitable (like we know it could be) and being able to live a life of ease? Or, are we more concerned with growing in our knowledge of the Lord, trusting that He has and will continue to more than amply meet all of our needs? Sure, my in-laws would like to be able to go off and enjoy their retirement without having to work to make this company profitable again. And yes, my hubby and I would like to be free of having to constantly float this company money and having our finances tied up so we can't move to our own place. But, the more important thing we all need to be concerned about is being persistent in our prayers and coming to the realization that we may not receive material answers to our prayers, but we will molded and changed as a result of our prayers. After all, becoming more like Christ is a greater gift than any material thing we could ever receive.