Monday, May 5, 2014

Part 3: The Perseverance of Prayer

“Never, never, never give up.” 
--Winston Churchill

“The joy which answers to prayer give, cannot be described; and the impetus which they afford to the spiritual life is exceedingly great.” 
--George Mueller

"If we desire our faith to be strengthened, we should not shrink from opportunities where our faith may be tried, and therefore, through trial, be strengthened.” 
--George Mueller

"The Giver"
To give a thing and take again
Is counted meanness among men;
To take away what once is given
Cannot then be the way of heaven!

But human hearts are crumbly stuff,
And never, never love enough,
Therefore God takes and, with a smile,
Puts our best thing away a while.

 Thereon some weep, some rave, some scorn,
Some wish they never had been born;
Some humble grow at last and still,
And then God gives them what they will.

--George MacDonald
Poetical Works, Vol. 2

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’  And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" 
(Luke 18:1-8)

Past summer and walking the long lonely corridors of Barrington High School.

Past the summer that he left, that every week I searched in vain for his family in the long, wooden church pew. 

And they weren't there. And he didn't come back. 

I was so sure -- so sure -- that he would come back. 

So sure that I wore the same dress three weeks in a row -- the one that I wanted him to see.

But there were greater lessons to learn and deeper things to surrender. 

My heart at 18 was "yet unripe," as Christina Rossetti would phrase it -- yet unripe, and the Lord had many lessons to teach me about the patience of waiting, waiting upon Him. 

And I thought that I could love him -- that this was the one that the Lord had for me, though I had never let on to him that I felt this way. 

I believed what the Lord said in the book of Job -- that no purpose of His could be thwarted, if the plan and the purpose were truly of Him. 

I believe in the sovereignty of God. 

And yet, the Father took him away -- and I was so sure--

So sure, so I didn't understand why the Father took him away. 

But now I understand that it was to teach me -- to give me my first great lesson in surrender and the need for persevering prayer. 

So I prayed. And I cried and I poured out my heart to the Lord in poetry and journal and prayer. 

And I offered back to Him what I thought that He was giving to me -- offered him back to the Father and surrendered my will. 

My first real lesson in persevering prayer. 

He left in June. 

And then, 7 long months. 

And I didn't call him and I didn't write him -- I just left it in my Father's hands -- my personal conviction is that a man should pursue a woman and not vice-versa -- and so I left it in my wise Father's hands -- and I prayed. 

And I read Tennyson and wept--

And I read the Psalms and I wept--

And I went to school and I poured my heart into my work and prepared my college applications and I wrote and I prayed and I wept. 

Until I surrendered. 

Not my will, O Lord, but Yours---

I think that it was December 17th.  Just before Christmas -- as the hope of promise, of salvation born was drawing near. I see things symbolically, for better or for worse . . . 

My will surrendered, not clinging anymore to what I wanted--

He called. 

Seven months later--

And we talked -- and he asked if we could "keep in touch" -- the boy who would become a man and marry me--

Many lessons in surrender yet to be learned -- but here, the first promise -- the fruit of persevering prayer. 

copyright Ben Eshman
And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.’ And this is a simple matter in the sight of the Lord; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. Also you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall cut down every good tree, and stop up every spring of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water. (II Kings 3:16-20)

Persevering prayer -- the intervention of the hand of God -- the hand of God and not man -- the arm and strength of God alone, that all the glory is His. 

How easily do we, do I give up, despair of God's help when we pray? 

What we see as so overwhelming, so impossible, is a "simple matter in the sight of the Lord..."

He wants to teach us to pray. He wants our dependence to be upon Him . . . 

Open your mouth wide and I will fill it . . .  

And there are times when something that we desire may not be His will for us, but do we even begin to seek Him in prayer over things that we don't know the outcome of?

Because He will teach us -- as we submit our will to His, as we pour our hearts out in prayer, even as Jesus did in the Garden, He to the sweating of agony's blood--

Take this cup away, and yet not my will . . . 

How far will we go to pursue Him? And how easily do we give up when things don't seem to be going well, when  it doesn't seem like the Lord is listening? 

If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
Then how can you contend with horses?
And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan? 
(Jeremiah 12:5)

There are times when something that we desire may be His will -- if we will pray, in persevering prayer--

You have not because you ask not . . . 

And often these are the situations that the Lord uses to teach us to rely upon Him, to surrender to Him--Until our will is one with His -- when we have surrendered -- and then He grants us "the petition we have asked of Him, the beloved thing that our heart desires -- (see I Samuel 1).

Some humble grow at last and still,
And then God gives them what they will.

And we sometimes get this idea into our heads that it doesn't matter -- that it doesn't matter if we pray or not, because "God's will" will be done, regardless.

We forget the mystery of prayer -- of persevering prayer--


And Elisha said to him, "Take a bow and some arrows." So he took himself a bow and some arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, "Put your hand on the bow." So he put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king's hands. And he said, "Open the east window;" and he opened it. Then Elisha said, "Shoot;" and he shot. And he said, "The arrow of the Lord's deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them." Then he said, "Take the arrows;" so he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, "Strike the ground;" so he struck three times, and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him, and said, "You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times." II Kings 13:15-19

Do we stop striking the ground of persevering prayer so easily, or do we continue to strike it in hope -- all of our strength and mind and trust engaged in the God who hears?

There is power in prayer, mysterious power in persevering, believing prayer, coupled with submission and trust in the Father's wisdom and sovereignty.

A mystery -- to be embraced by faith. 

At the same time that we must accept the Father's will and submit to His authority, we are also admonished to knock at the gate of faith's door through prayer -- that it may be opened to us. 

Persevering prayer . . . and the pleasure of the Father in "granting the petitions that we have asked of Him," to the praise and glory of His grace. . . 

To encourage and fortify our hearts in Him and build a deep, trusting relationship--

And bring glory to His name. 

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