One of the more challenging passages on the subject of prayer is Matt. 7:7-11. We are told that if we “ask . . seek . . or knock” we will “receive . . find” and have the “door opened” for us. This passage encourages us not only to action but to persistence as well. In the Greek text we are dealing with what are called “present imperatives.” Or the various translations, the NLT has caught that nuance in its “Keep on asking . . Keep on seeking . . . Keep on knocking.” That we don’t necessarily get a prayer answered the first time we make it does not mean that God is reluctant to answer. In the verses that follow Jesus pictures the willingness of parents to give children what they ask for. So if “sinful people” (v. 11) do that, how much more will the heavenly Father “give good gifts to those who ask him.”
The point being emphasized is persistence in prayer. It is broadly recognized that persistence is important in every area of life. In speaking on the subject, Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” I’m not sure life is quite that bleak but time has emphasized the critical importance of persistence. The Roman poet Ovid (born a half century before Christ) wisely noted that stones are hollowed out by dripping water rather than by force. So if persistence is that important in other areas of life should we not consider it important in prayer? Prayer is intended both for the person praying and the one who will benefit from the prayer. God wants us to keep asking. It is a good exercise for strengthening the muscles of effective Christian living. Let’s not fix our sight so keenly on what comes next that we miss out on the learning process that prepares us for it.
One example (and you could add many): I knew a devout lady who spent a significant portion of her prayer time in the 10-20 final years of her life praying for the salvation of four grandchildren. When she went to heaven at 92 there was no indication that her prayers were being answer. Several years later one of the four came to be a strong believer and a bit later God reached into the life of another (a highly successful professional man) and, as he explained his salvation to me, “I kept trying to do it my way and it didn’t work; so I went God’s way.” The lady’s persistence allowed God to bring about such an important change in the way he had planned it. In prayer, persistence counts.