William Temple, 98th Archbishop of Canterbury, famously said, “Prayer is not the overcoming of God’s reluctance but the laying hold of His willingness.” In these words, we are reminded that we should never be afraid to pray to God or hesitate to ask for His help. God does not have to be cajoled into taking an interest in our interests. He is more willing to help us than we are to ask for His help (James 1:5). The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Luke 11:9). God is not like one of those soda machines that you have to kick and bang to get anything from it.
But that raises a question! If prayer is not the overcoming of God’s reluctance, then why does Jesus tell His disciples to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking in prayer (Luke 11:9–10)? Why is there this persistent call to persistence in prayer in Scripture if God is so willing to answer our heart’s cry (Luke 18:1; Col. 4:2)? I believe the answer to that question lies in the fact that persistence in prayer is about changing us—not changing God. It is our lack of faith that needs to be overcome, our mixed motives that need to be purified, and our ingratitude that needs to be challenged. Persistence in prayer helps us on these three fronts.
Firstly, let us not forget that when we remain steadfast in prayer, our faith grows. Faith is like a muscle, and the more it is exercised, the stronger it grows. Prayer is an act of faith, and persistent prayer is a stretching of our faith. After all, to pray once about a matter and then forget it would be more a matter of presumption than prayer.
Secondly, let us not forget that persistent praying assists us in the process of determining the extent to which we truly desire, and genuinely need, what we are requesting of God. Good parents don’t rush out and buy a particular toy the first time their child asks for it. Instead, they allow time to go by to determine the depth of the child’s desire and the genuineness of the need. God’s love for us is just as discriminating, and so He has us ask again and again. This process keeps prayer from being seen as a magic wand.
Thirdly, let us not forget that perseverance in prayer fosters a greater gratitude for God’s provision when it finally comes. In a world of instant gratification and access to many things, we can often fail to appreciate what we have and what comes easily to us. We take things for granted rather than with gratitude. As it is in life, so it is with prayer. That which is received after a time of waiting is generally greeted with greater thanksgiving.
Persistence in prayer is good for you and brings good to you! Therefore, keep knocking!