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I wanted to go to California. It had been the place I’d spent the first twelve years of my life, and the place we’d moved away from during my middle school years. It was the place my grandparents traveled from every summer in their RV to come and visit us for a few weeks, and it was the place I desperately wanted to get back to for a visit.
The prayer for a trip to California had started when I was fifteen. My grandparents had been to visit only a few days before they got word that a family member wasn’t doing well and they had to return to help out.
Their quick departure had upset me, and even more so drove home to reality that the people I loved in California wouldn’t be around forever. I wanted–needed–to go back and see them at least one more time.
When I started praying, I asked God to provide plane tickets for us to visit that Christmas and fully believed that He would do it. (I have this innate ability in me to hope even for the crazy stuff. I throw myself hard into hope, expecting God to show up). When Christmas came and went with our feet never leaving the ground, I was disappointed for a moment, shrugged my shoulders, then changed my prayer.
“Lord, could you give us plane tickets to get to California this summer?”
For two years that continued. Nearly every day I offered up a short prayer to God, asking Him to send us to California, asking Him to sustain our family members, asking Him to help us stay connected with friends until we could catch up with them in person.
Then the year I turned seventeen (my Golden Birthday) God finally answered in a crazy miraculous way.
Days before my actual birthday, cards started arriving from family and friends I hadn’t heard from in years. One card came with a map of the United States taped inside with a bright pink line drawn from Kentucky to San Diego and a hopeful message about seeing me soon. Other cards came with money. Some just a few dollars, some with a check, all of them with encouraging messages about my upcoming trip to California.
At the time I was baffled. First off, how did all these people know about my birthday, and second how had they heard about my desire to get to California that summer? I figured I might have posted it in Facebook or something.
Unbeknownst to me my dad had sent out an email to all the people we still kept updated since our move east and told them about my birthday, how I enjoyed getting cards, and that if they wanted to throw in a dollar or two, I was trying to get to California that summer and would probably get a kick out of it.
I don’t think he expected me to receive forty birthday cards–yes, forty!–and over seven hundred dollars toward my trip!
I was floored and so grateful! I had enough for a ticket! I could go to California! But I didn’t want to go alone, so I kept praying that God would provide the money for tickets for my parents and sister too.
A few months later God also provided a way for all of us to spend two weeks in California that summer.
To this day I still stand in awe of how God answered that prayer. It may have taken years for Him to answer, but He did it and He did far more than I could have imagined!
The Persistent Widow
In Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of the persistent widow. This woman goes before the judge of a particular city and requests help. Now this man “neither feared God nor respected man” (verse 2), but each time the woman is turned away, she returns again with the same request. The judge finally becomes so fed up with the woman that he decides will give her what she wants. He says, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (verse 5).
Jesus tells this story to encourage His disciples so “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (verse 1).
Unlike the judge, however, God doesn’t give in and answer our prayers because He doesn’t want to be bugged by us. In fact, Jesus recounts that if this is how an evil judge would respond to one woman’s persistence, how much more would God answer us in love.
That doesn’t mean things always turn out exactly like we hope or in the time we want. I didn’t expect to wait two years for that trip to California, but looking back I see that it was God’s perfect timing. We were able to get together with friends and visit a few aging relatives one last time before they left this earth.
Everything about that trip and how God answered that prayer was a blessing. Even those two years of waiting.
Because God didn’t answer my prayer right away, I learned persistence. I learned endurance. I learned what it means to hang on to impossible hope even when I didn’t see God doing anything.
Praying persistent stretches our faith muscle in a way few other things can.
It requires us to lay our hearts before God over and over again. It taught me how to share my disappointments with God and then grab on to hope once again because I believed He would answer eventually.
That experience of praying persistently for that trip laid a foundation for many more prayers I brought before the Lord and haven’t seen answers to right away.
But I’ll be honest, sometimes I don’t want to keep praying the same thing. I’d rather God just answer right away rather than taking me through the painful process of waiting. But like so many other seasons, the season of waiting has it’s lessons to teach us.
During my final year of college, my mentor recommended a book to me called The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson*. I was hesitant to read it but when a second friend recommended, I felt like God was telling me that there was something in that book I needed to read. And let me tell you, that book and the journey it took me on has forever changed my prayer life! (Seriously, if you haven’t read this book, go grab a copy now*!)
Similar to the idea of focused prayer, the author issues a challenge early on in the book to pick one thing you’re waiting on God for and intentionally pray over it for twenty-one days. He encouraged me to set a time and pick a place and spend thirty minutes each day praying over that thing.
In that moment of reading I felt God whisper a name to my heart and asked me to pray for a particular person. Hesitantly I set an alarm on my phone for the next twenty-one days then packed up my laptop and headed to an empty classroom in the university library where I would spend the next three weeks tapping out prayers onto my computer.
And it was hard. At first I did it simply out of a feeling of duty. God was asking so I did it. But somewhere around day ten the prayers started coming from a deep part of my heart. Prayers for healing and restoration and hope. Prayers that this person would come to know God in a deep and intimate way.
With every click of my computer keys, I begged God to come through, to answer. By day twenty-one I hadn’t seen God’s answer, so I continued the prayer habit for another week, just in case, before taking my hands off and letting God work in His time.
Over the last several years I’ve seen God slowly answering some of those prayers. God is changing the life of that person, and He’s changed my life as I’ve come to Him persistently in prayer for so many other things.
How to cultivate persistent prayer in your life
Persistent is prayer is an angle of our prayer lives that go a long way in strengthening our faith. But praying the same thing for a long period of time can get discouraging. If you’re struggling to stay persistent in your prayer life, here are four pieces of encouragement for you to cling to:
- Give thanks for the answers God has given. Sometimes God answers prayers in pieces. Rather than answering all at once, He’ll answer a bit here and a bit there. Maybe that illness isn’t completely gone, but the vitals are better today. Maybe you’re still unemployed but God provided enough for another week of groceries. Praise Him for the small answers you have seen and trust that He’ll come through on the rest.
- Remember God’s faithfulness in your life so far. It can be hard to keep trusting God when the prayer weighing on your heart feels like it’s unheard. It’s in those moments when you need to remember where God has faithfully answered in the past. Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, God tells Israel to remember what He has done for them in the past–how He brought them out of Egypt, gave them manna in the desert, and gave them victory over their enemies. God’s previous faithfulness can restore our hope that He will be faithful again.
- Be honest and stay hopeful. Many times during long seasons of unanswered prayers, God and I have had words. And by words, I mean I’ve yelled at Him, ignored Him, and questioned His love and goodness. And you know what, that’s okay. God knows this waiting is hard. He knows it hurts and makes us angry and causes us to question His character. He can handle all those emotions and He invites us to share them with Him. Don’t be afraid to pray honestly. Let your prayers mean something. Then ask again for that thing you still haven’t seen God answer yet. Allow God to fill you with hope even as you pour out your heart to Him.
- Ask someone to pray with you. Prayer can be burdensome. Depending on what you’re praying for and how long you’ve been praying, the waiting can feel like a heavy weight to carry all by yourself. That’s why it’s good to grab a prayer buddy or two. Find a couple of trusted friends who can walk this journey with you, lifting you up in prayer as well as that thing you’ve been praying for. You don’t have to walk this journey alone.
Maybe there are some things you’ve been praying over for a while, and maybe you’ve been tempted to just give up because God’s not answering. That’s a hard spot to be, I know. But can I just encourage you to keep going?
Keep being persistent. Keep bringing your requests before God, and keep expecting Him to answer. He’ll come through. This journey of persistent prayer will only strengthen your faith as you expect God to show up and answer. And one day when the waiting is over you’ll be able to look back and see God’s faithfulness here.
Trust Him, friend. He is good and His timing is perfect.
Live in His love!
Related: The Power of a Prayerful Life
*Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.