The devil doesn’t like you praying – so he will try his best to stop you. In particular, he really dislikes persistent, persevering, regular prayer, because there is great value and great power released when we keep on praying. It’s rather like those slow-release fertiliser granules that I use sometimes when I do the gardening. You sprinkle them in tubs or on borders and over time they slowly release power, energy and goodness into the soil – day after day. Persistent prayer is like that – consistently releasing the goodness of God into the situations for which we pray.
Jesus taught about the benefit of persistent prayer on a number of occasions. He did this because he knew that our natural tendency is to give up. Luke makes this patently clear when he says
‘Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up’ (Luke 18:1).
The parable goes like this:
2 “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
So if you want to see God’s kingdom come in your own life, family, ministry – then you must pray and keep going. There is no short-cut. You just have to do it.
That’s why the daily Morning Prayers that we pray each day in St Michael le Belfrey are so important. Whilst we are reviewing the content of what we do, and how we do it (to make sure we pray in a focused and creative way) the important thing is that we keep going. It’s important that we keep calling out to God, using Scripture to guide, challenge and inspire. And that we sing and we praise. And we’re confident in coming before him. And we pray for our people. And we pray for our city. And we pray for the North. We pray in the vision.
Our Morning Prayers are open to anyone, although it’s mainly church staff who gather. I don’t particularly want to make Morning Prayers compulsory for church staff, but I think that if a staff member can’t spend half an hour each day in prayer with the rest of team, then something is really wrong. They might even have to ask themselves if they’re in the right church.
Here’s a confession from me. On a few occasions, I have skipped Morning Prayers because I’m too busy on that day. When that has happened I feel bad about it – and rightly so! Because if I’m too busy to pray, I’m too busy!!! If I have a really busy day, then that’s all the more reason to pause and pray.
Jesus tells his followers they should pray and keep on praying, and not give up. Sometimes we feel like giving up -partly because the devil does not like it and works to stop us, but also because modern western lifestyle militates against it. If you think about it, there is very little these days that we persevere at. We have fast food, so we don’t have to cook, and it comes to us quickly. We live with gadgets to save time, like microwaves and automatic washing machines. We have instant camera pictures, instant coffee, instant downloads, instant everything! You can even do the lottery, and become an instant multimillionaire! What do we have to persevere at? Virtually nothing. Perseverance is so unnatural to most of us. So persevering at anything will be hard. Persevering in prayer may even be the hardest thing we do. The hardest, but probably the most important.
With God, many things only come with time and discipline. But thankfully he gives us the Holy Spirit, to help us in our weakness, and especially to help us pray. That’s what Paul says in Romans 8. This Spirit, who we especially celebrate during this Pentecost season, is (according to 2 Tim 1:6) the Spirit of ‘power, love and self-control’ (or self-discipline).
This means that if we co-operate with him, and are led by him, he will give us the discipline to persevere. So don’t stop praying. In fact stopping praying, and stopping praying together should never be an option, because not praying is like not eating. Don’t do it for long enough, and you die!
Yesterday marked the end of my first year as Vicar of St Michael le Belfrey Church in York. As I look back over the last year, there have been lots of good things take place. And I know the church better. I think I know, more fully, the task that is ahead of us. And I also know that without prayer – persistent prayer – we will not fulfil the call that God has placed upon us.
The point of Jesus’ parable in Luke 18 is that God is not like the dodgy judge. The dodgy judge rewards perseverance just for an easy life. But God is not like that. He is generous and kind. He rewards persevering prayer not for an easy life but because he values faith and faithfulness. This is why Jesus ends the story as he does, by reminding us that he is looking for faith and faithfulness in prayer. I wonderm, when Jesus Christ looks upon us at The Belfrey, does he find faithfulness in prayer? That is what he is looking for. That is what he will reward.
So don’t give up. Keep praying.