I give up praying too easily sometimes. Most of us do. When we should be persevering, we call it a day. When we should be pressing on, we actually press the ‘off’ button. We stop.
That’s why Jesus told his followers the story we find in Luke 18:1-8 – so ‘they should always pray and not give up’ (v.1). It’s a simple story about a widow who constantly badgers a judge who’s reluctant to give her justice. But she’s relentless in pursuing him. She just keeps going – knocking on his door day after day after day! And Jesus’ point is that if a sinful judge is won over by a woman’s persistence, how much more will our perfect loving God answer the cries of people who persevere in prayer!
Last Saturday evening I went with James and Tash Fletcher and my Mum to Halifax to speak at a New Wine Celebration event. I spoke on Opening Doors through Prayer, looking at the story in Acts 12 where God amazingly opens the doors of a prison, setting Peter free. It’s a great story! But what often goes unnoticed is that prayer is the key that opens the door. In the background God’s people are praying – praying earnestly and persistently (v.5 and v.12) and it’s prayer that makes the difference.
We had a good time praying for people in Halifax. I prayed for one man who asked for prayer for a bad back. After a couple of minutes I asked how it was, and he said it was slightly better. I asked how much, in percentage terms. He said about 10%. So I gave thanks for the small measure of healing and asked for more and told the man to keep praying. I then went and prayed for some more people and came back, and this time he said it was about 30% better. So again I gave thanks, asked for an increase in healing and encouraged him to keep praying. I came back a third time and this time he said it was 100% better and at the end he came forward and told people that God had healed him. He turned and twisted in front of everyone with no pain! It was great!! On reflection, though, both of us could easily have given up at 10% or 30% – and that would have been better than nothing. But we pressed in and pushed on for 100% – and we’re pleased we did!
We have plans to turn St Cuthberts Church in York into a prayer centre in the autumn. I’ve asked Al Rycroft, who’s sticking around in York a little longer now, to get this going with a team of people. I’m really excited about this, as I know it’s going to provide a solid prayer foundation for much future work that’s to take place in York and the North. It’ll be a place where all sorts of prayers will go up – but I especially hope we will see much prayer that is persistent and ongoing. Because our God honours persistent prayer.
I’ve been really challenged and helped recently by reading Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker. John Valentine (Rector of St George’s Holborn) recommended it to me and I reckon it’s the best book I’ve read on prayer for some time. In The Circle Maker Batterson uses the idea of circling things in prayer. Sometimes this can be done literally – like the Israelites did when they circled round Jericho seven times, before the walls came down. And sometimes circling can take place metaphorically – where we circle something or someone and get inside and pray earnestly until there’s resolution. We keep coming back until there’s transformation.
I think God wants us to circle in prayer lots of different people and situations. Including ourselves. In fact it’s no good praying for positive change and transformation in the world if we’re not praying that for ourselves. That’s why I love the story towards the end of The Circle Maker about the evangelist Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith. Smith’s advice is wise and right, and I commend it to you:
One day a delegation of revival-seekers sought an audience with Gypsy. They wanted to know how they could make a difference with their lives the way he had with his. His answer was simple yet profound. And it’s timely and timeless now as it was a hundred years ago. He gave them this advice:
Go home. Lock yourself in your bedroom. Take a piece of chalk and draw a circle on your bedroom floor. Then kneel in that circle and pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival in that circle.