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October 19, 2013

Persistent Prayer

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Persistence is not usually a word I think about when I think about prayer. Usually, concepts like “holiness,” or “intimacy,” or “down-on-your-knees-with-your-face-stuck-in-the-carpet-while-the-snot-and-tears-flow,” (really theologically appropriate kind of things) are what come to mind.

But lately I have been challenged in the words I use to think about prayer. And it all started with a letter Lillian received the week after her baptism. “Ms. Scotty,” or Scotty Sanders, is a woman in our church who has left a profound legacy of faith and prayer in the lives of many. Scotty directs the Faith Center of First Baptist Church and runs everything from the clothes closet to the food pantry to the job training center to after-school-tutorials and daycare for under-privileged children. While Ms. Scotty has never had any biological children, she has more children than any one person could count. Through her day in and day out actions of surrender, love, and sacrifice, she has parented many children and young adults in crisis situations and who now affectionately call her “mom.” She is affectionately known in our household as “The Mother Theresa of Spring Branch” (a neighborhood here in Houston), and our family had the privilege of getting to know her several years ago when we attended Longpoint Baptist Church where Scotty worked in the nursery every Sunday morning. My girls adore Ms. Scotty, so it was no surprise when Lillian received a letter from her in the mail after her baptism.
What was a surprise were the words inside:

Dear Lillian,
What a joy to have been able to witness your baptism. I don’t usually go to that service and I am so blessed that God arranged for me to be there. I have prayed for you and Lizzie on the 6th day of every month ever since you first came to the Faith Center and now Caroline too. My prayer this month is that God would develop in you a heart for missions and a desire for everyone to know about Jesus. So whenever you write the date and it’s the 6th, know you have been prayed over.
On the Victory Side,
With Love,
Ms. Scotty

I read the letter through fast-flowing tears to Lillian, one because of the profound gift of persistent prayer poured over my daughters from one who walks so closely with the Lord, and two because it was cemented: Lillian would now be a missionary on the other side of the world because that was Ms. Scotty’s prayer, and I would never see Lillian again after her 21st birthday (just kidding – I would love for Lillian to be a missionary – it is one of my prayers for my children as well).

But as I pondered over Ms. Scotty’s letter and then turned to Luke 11:1-10 in the pages of my Bible, I was struck by one word: Persistence. When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him to teach them how to pray, He gave them the example of the Lord’s Prayer but then proceeded to tell them a story, a story I have not thought much about until recently.

“And He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him;’ and from inside he shall answer and say, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are already in bed; I cannot get up and get you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.’ And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.”
Luke 11:5-10

Jesus did not say that the door would be opened to the man in need of bread because of friendship or intimacy with the one on the other side of the door, or righteous living or rule following or powerful praying. He said the door would be opened because of one thing: Persistence.

Let me ask you something: how many doors in your life would be opened because of the persistence found in your prayers? One? Two? Ten? None?

If I am honest, maybe one or two doors. But that’s about it. Because, again, if I am honest, my lack of persistence boils down to two things: one, I do not believe the person on the other side of the door has the power or the interest in really opening it, and two, I am so overwhelmed by all the requests that seem to float up before me each and every day, I usually do not pray specifically about any of them. Or if I do, it is just one or two.


I don’t know about you, but I want persistence in my prayers. And persistence takes sheer discipline and determination, along with the belief that the person on the other side has EXACTLY what is needed for the situation as long as I will keep standing there continuing to knock.

Last weekend, the women in our Sunday School class met for a prayer gathering at my sister-in-law’s house, and I put together a prayer guide to help us in our persistence. So I have included it here for you too:

Persistent Prayer Document

The format is simple. It follows the an-acronym P-R-A-Y.

P – Praise. Open each day with a prayer of praise. I started with Psalm 1 several months ago and have worked my way through the book of Psalms slowly ever since. I read a Psalm a day until I find the verses that “stick” in my heart for that day.

R – Repent. This prayer of repentance was given to me in college by one of my professors, and I have used it ever since. I do not pray through the whole thing every day, but I find the section that gives expression to the sin I need to confess and pray that particular section. I also included a section to daily forgive those who have sinned against us as well as asking for forgiveness ourselves.

A – Ask. Here is the fun part. And the persistent part. Following Ms. Scotty’s model, I have given us the space to persistently pray for specific people and/or situations on each day of the month. Use this section to organize your prayers and petitions before the Lord so that you can knock on the door of heaven in persistent, faithful ways. I have also included a space to pray daily for your marriage and your children. Two great resources I have found to be very helpful in my prayers for my husband and my children are Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Wife, and Jodie Berdnt’s Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. John Piper’s website, has wonderful resources on prayer you can download for free as well.

Y – Yield. This is actually my favorite part of prayer each day. Yielding. I take all the burdens of my heart, every sin I’ve confessed, every grudge I am releasing, every petition about which I am persistently knocking, and I lay it all at the trustworthy feet of Jesus. And I leave it there. In Someone’s Hands who are far more capable than my own.

And finally, I have included a Personal Statement of Affirmation or Blessing, one that I do not use daily but when necessary. I speak words of life over myself, my situation, choosing to hear the Voice of the Lord about who He has created me to be, as opposed to the lies of the enemy. The one I have included is just a template or an example of what yours could look like. Feel the freedom to create your own.

In all of the attached prayer guide, feel free to use as much or as little of it as you want to, but do me one favor: Pray. Persistently. We only have one chance, one life, here on earth to storm the gates of heaven, to affect people’s lives for all eternity. Will anyone’s life look differently because of your persistence? Because of your knock? In Ms. Scotty’s case, yes. I pray it looks differently because of our persistence too.