Persistent Prayer and the Big No

I am a big believer in persistent prayer.  I believe that prayer changes things, sometimes even changing God’s mind about something.  Through prayer we can move mountains.  Prayer changes the person who prays and the person who is being prayed for.

In his teachings, Jesus tells us time and again that we should keep praying.   Luke 11:5-13 records the parable of the friend at midnight. In it, a man who knocks repeatedly on his friend’s door receives what he requests more so because of his persistence than because of the friendship. Jesus goes on to say that if we ask, seek, and knock, we will receive. He further elaborates that humans – who are sinful – give good gifts to their children; He states that our heavenly Father will give us even greater gifts. This is a picture of persistent and expectant prayer. We trust that God is good, and so we ask for His gifts. Luke 18:1-7 shares a similar parable, this time of a widow and an unjust judge.

The Bible encourages us to ask God for things. It demonstrates persistent prayers. Paul pled with God three times before receiving a solid answer. David made consistent requests of God in the Psalms. Jesus even prayed three times regarding the cross (Matthew 26:36-46). When we bring our requests to God, we honor God. We reveal the desires of our hearts, and we admit that only God can meet them. Often, our repeated requests relate to other people, people we love and for whom we want the best.

Over and over in my life I have seen persistent prayer work.  I keep a prayer journal in which I write down prayer requests.  When they are answered, I write down the date they are answered.  I have several volumes with requests, dates first prayed for, and date of the answer.  I also write how the request was answered.  Sometimes it is answered exactly as I prayed for it.  Sometimes it is answered in a completely different way, so that the request becomes irrelevant.  And sometimes the answer to a persistent prayer is no.

The person with cancer dies.  The mother you were sure would turn her life around gives up custody of her children.  An middle-aged man can’t find a job that will support his family no matter how much they cut back.  I hate giving up on my persistent prayers.  As long as there is life, I have hope that God will intervene and a miracle will answer the prayer.  I sometimes cling to my prayer out of my own selfish desires, even after God has clearly answered no.

Among my many prayer requests is one that I have been praying for many years now.  It is one of my deepest desires and I have nagged God every day with my persistent prayer about it.  Recently I got the clear impression from God that the answer to my prayer is no.  Usually when I get that impression I mark it in my prayer journal and stop praying the prayer.  But I am having a hard time with this one.  I so very much do not want the answer to be no.  I have prayed so long and so hard, with so much emotion.  How can the God who loves me tell me no?  It isn’t fair!

Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever wanted God to change something so much that you prayed for it day after day?  Perhaps you have felt abandoned by the God you were sure loved you because God told you no.  We are selfish and self-centered children who want what we want so much that we shout “not fair!” and “you don’t love me” when we don’t get our way.  We are heartbroken and grieve when God’s sorrowful answer is no.

I have been so invested in this prayer for so long that it feels like a death to give it up.  I am grieving the hope that I had as I prayed this prayer.  I have been crying a lot as I have struggled to accept the big no.

Then, yesterday in church, we sang the praise song, “Goodness of God.”  Suddenly, God and I were having a new conversation about my stubborn refusal to accept God’s no.  Click here to watch CeCe Winans sing the “Goodness of God.”  Here are the words to the song:

I love You, Lord, for Your mercy never fails me.All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands.From the moment that I wake up until I lay my head, I will sing of the goodness of God.
And all my life You have been faithful.And all my life You have been so, so good.With every breath that I am able I will sing of the goodness of God.
I love Your voice.
You have led me through the fire in the darkest night.You are close like no other.I’ve known You as a Father.I’ve known You as a Friend.And I have lived in the goodness of God.
And all my life You have been faithful.And all my life You have been so, so good.With every breath that I am able I will sing of the goodness of God.
God loves me and has proved it time and time again.  God has been so much more faithful than I could ever be.  All my life, for so many years, God has said yes.  God has guided and molded and told me of my worth.  One “no,” no matter how much I want the answer to be yes, does not change the goodness of God.
And so I am letting go of this persistent prayer.  I will continue to pray and believe in prayer.  I am sure there will be times when my heart is overwhelmed with grief because of this no.  But it does not change my love for God or my belief in God’s love for me.
All my life You have been faithful.
All my life You have been so, so good.
With every breath that I am able I will sing of the goodness of God.