Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary (Lk 18:1).
Persistence in prayer is not changing God. We are not wearing him down like the woman did with the judge. God does not need us, we need him. Our persistence, our daily habit of prayer, changes us, helps us to develop our relationship by interacting with him more consistently. Things happening in our lives help us to see that we are fragile and vulnerable and in need of help. Our persistence in prayer, especially when we are in need, helps us to become more patient and to become more aware that, sometimes, what we believe is a crisis is not that much of one when some time passes. Also, when we are dealing with a crisis or very real trauma, our persistence and faithfulness in prayer will help us to experience the closeness of Jesus in our midst as he accompanies us through our suffering.
In fact, the practice of stopping everything and praying for five minutes when a crisis arises, often helps us to resist slipping into a fight or flight mode, helps us to resist reacting, and some breathing while praying helps us to act more prudently than impulsively. We may also come to see that what we thought was a crisis, was more of a problem to be solved than something catastrophic. Our instant reactions to perceived crisis can often escalate an issue rather than de-escalate one.
In the greater scope of things, God does answer all prayers of petition or intercession by saying yes, no, or not yet! Most seem to fall in the not yet or not the way we originally intended category. Remaining patient and faithful can help us to move away from seeking to conform God to our will and instead allowing God to expand our hearts and minds to his will. Our persistence in prayer also helps us to move away from seeking instant gratification to one where we trust in God’s will and timing. Sometimes we become grateful for what appears to be unanswered prayers because with time, hindsight, some distance, we find the original request was more an apparent than an actual good. As Garth Brooks sings, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”
Persistence in prayer is also a discipline that deepens the roots of our relationship with God. Ready access through our modern technology, higher internet speeds, one click access, overnight shipping can offer plusses, but we have to be careful that this mindset does not shape our mental, psychological, and spiritual growth. Physical fitness, wisdom, or spiritual maturity does not happen in an instant. Development as human beings takes time, experience, discipline, prayer, and trust in God’s plan.
Patience, persistence in prayer, freeing ourselves from attachment, developing an authentic relationship with God and one another are all worth the time and effort. May we take some time to breathe deeply, slow down our pace, discipline ourselves to resist even small acts of instant gratification today. Let us look back upon those experiences in which what we initially sought from God in prayer actually changed over time to something better than our initial request, and be grateful for trusting in his guiding hand instead of our impulsiveness.
May we also recall those experiences where we wanted to give up but instead were persistent in prayer and that persistence brought about fruitful results! Reflecting in this way can also help us to see where God has not abandoned us in our time of suffering, but was accompanying us through it. God has our back, we can trust in that.
Photo: Stopping by the chapel at St Thomas University to pray before a workshop last month.