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The power of persistent prayer


Have you ever called out to someone for help and they didn’t answer you? Maybe you were in a restaurant and couldn’t get the attention of a server. “Hello? Excuse me. Sorry. Hello.” (My wife is much more patient with that situation than I am.)  

Or these days, maybe you’re in the emergency room at the hospital waiting (and waiting) for your turn to see a doctor.

In Matthew 15, we encounter a woman who actually came to Jesus for help — and didn’t get the quick answer she was hoping for.

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“Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely. But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. ‘Tell her to go away,’ they said. ‘She is bothering us with all her begging” (Matthew 15:22-23, NLT).

At first, Jesus didn’t even respond to her. “Not even a word.” Did He disregard her desperate need because she was a Gentile — or because He was too busy? Not at all. Jesus knew what this lady was made of. He knew she had strong faith. He knew she would rise to the challenge. And He already knew what He was going to do. But He allowed this situation to unfold in order to show His disciples (and us) what real faith looks like — and how persistent faith in God can overcome obstacles.

The disciples thought the Lord was bothered by this lady as they were bothered by her. They thought He was irritated by her persistence. But they were wrong.

Jesus didn’t send her away. In fact, He wanted to draw her out.

“Then Jesus said to the woman, ‘I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep — the people of Israel.’ But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’ Jesus responded, ‘It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She replied, ‘That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their master’s table.’ ‘Dear woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘your faith is great. Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was instantly healed (Matthew 15:24-28, NLT).

Maybe you can relate to this woman. You have prayed and asked God for something — perhaps something very close to your heart — and He hasn’t given it to you. You have prayed for months, maybe for years, but it hasn’t happened and you are wondering why.

Jesus didn’t answer this desperate Gentile woman — at first. And why does it seem like Jesus doesn’t answer us in our worries and troubles?

Let’s consider two possibilities.

Spiritual warfare

Consider this: Sometimes the reason you don’t get an answer as quickly as you would like is because of a spiritual battle raging in the unseen world that you know nothing about.

In Daniel 10 we have the story of the prophet praying over a situation. And it went on for days. But then Scripture gives us the backstory. An angel had been immediately dispatched to the prophet Daniel with an answer — but was held up along the way, sidelined by a powerful demonic power identified as “the prince of Persia.”

The heavenly messenger, powerful as he was, could not overcome this super demon. So, God dispatched a mega-angel named Michael to free up the messenger — who then brought the answer to Daniel’s prayer. But in Daniel’s reckoning, the process took 30 days.

You and I don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes in this thing we call “reality.”  We know there is an invisible supernatural world co-existing with our natural world. This invisible supernatural realm is the world of God and Satan, angels and demons.

Sometimes your prayers may not be answered as quickly as you would like because of a battle raging behind the scenes. The apostle Paul tells us clearly, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT).

So, keep praying and don’t give up! Keep battling in faith.

Unconfessed sin

Another reason your prayer may not be answered is because of unconfessed sin in your life. Nothing will bring your prayer life to a stop faster than that. Psalm 66:18 (nlt) says, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer.”

When you and I become aware of sin in our lives, we need to confess that sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9, NLT).

What great news! But if we refuse to confess that sin to God, agreeing with Him and calling it what it is, we may find there is a barrier separating us from the Lord. With this in mind, it’s a good thing to pray periodically, “Lord, is there anything in my life that is not pleasing to You?” David wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23, NLT).

Sometimes we will say, “I am not worthy to pray.” I hate to break this to you, but even on your best day you weren’t worthy. You never will be worthy, so get over “worthy.” Your access to God is not based on your merit. It is based on His sacrifice. God’s love for you is not dependent on your progress but on His perfection. That means you can go to God anytime, no matter what you have done, just as the woman in Matthew 15 did. She said, “Lord, have mercy on me.” And finally, He did.

Your prayer may not be answered quite yet because God wants you to keep praying. Learning from her example, we need to find the will of God and pray with persistence.

Here is the key to having your prayers answered in the affirmative. You need to get your will aligned with God’s will. The objective of prayer is not to get God to do what I want Him to do. The objective of prayer is to get my will in alignment with God’s will.

Imagine you are in a little boat, floating ten feet away from the dock and trying to land the boat. So, you throw your rope around a pillar of the dock and start pulling. But what’s happening here? Are you pulling the dock to your boat or are you pulling your boat to the dock? Clearly, you are pulling your boat to the dock.

In prayer, it’s not like I am trying to lasso God. No, I am taking hold of Him and I am pulling myself closer to Him. I am aligning my will with His will. Then I start praying for things and I start seeing answers because now I am praying the way He wants me to pray.

Don’t give up. Even if it seems like there is a barrier. Even if it seems like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. Don’t back off. When the woman from Tyre couldn’t seem to get the Lord’s attention, she didn’t let it deter her. She pressed on, and that pleased the Lord.

In Luke 18:1 (NLT), Jesus said that we “should always pray and never give up.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. “Jesus Revolution,” a feature film about Laurie’s life from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, releases in theaters February 24, 2023.

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