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Delay and Perseverance

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by Dennis Pollock

As we grow and develop in the business of asking and receiving from the giving hand of our Heavenly Father, one reality we must recognize is that prayers are not always answered immediately. We have an idea in our own mind of a certain length of time in which to allow God to bring about His answer. When God’s time limit exceeds our own, we often become discouraged and give up. We throw our prayers into the unanswered prayers bin, never to retrieve them again. Perhaps God was simply not interested in such a mundane request, or had some deep and mysterious plan that required Him to say no to us. Surely if He were going to answer our petitions He would have done it by now!

Those who insist that all their requests be granted very quickly will miss out on all kinds of blessings. Just because you can get a cheeseburger at McDonalds within five minutes of entering the restaurant, doesn't mean it will work that way in that expensive Italian place. Sometimes the best meals require the longest waits, and the greatest blessings do as well. In his masterful book,  With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray writes:

Of all the mysteries of the prayer world, the need for persevering prayer is one of the greatest. We cannot easily understand why the Lord, Who is so loving and longing to bless us, should have to be petitioned time after time, sometimes year after year, before the answer comes... When our repeated prayers remain unanswered, is easy for our lazy flesh maintaining the appearance of pious submission, to think that we must stop praying because God may have a secret reason for withholding His answer to our request. Faith alone can overcome the difficulty. Once faith has taken its stand on God’s Word and the Name of Jesus, and has yielded itself to the leading of the Spirit to seek only God’s will and honor in its prayer, it need not be discouraged by delay… Prayer must often be “heaped up” until God sees that its measure is full. Then the answer comes.

Don't Become Sluggish!

In Hebrews we find one of the clearest exhortations to persevere in the face of time and difficulties, that we might receive the promises of God: "We desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:11,12). In the fight of faith we are encouraged to be diligent and not "sluggish" or lazy. This speaks of a spiritual laziness. It is so much easier just to throw out prayers willy-nilly, and hope they get answered, than to stay constantly before the throne of grace, standing on the word of God and looking to the Father to fulfill His promises through Christ Jesus. Days pass, weeks pass, months pass – is the Father even noticing? How easy it becomes to give up, to write off your lack of results as one of those mysteries we can never know, rather than staying the course and giving the Lord no rest until He grants the breakthrough.

It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises of our God. Most of us get a lot more excited about faith than we do patience. Faith is active, faith is aggressive, faith is taking the bull by the horns, it is reaching into heaven's storehouse and taking what you need. But patience seems kind of wimpy, and worse still, it implies that awful concept of delay. Patience means waiting, patience means not getting what you want when you want it, patience means not being in control of the situation and having to depend upon Someone else. Patience means days and weeks and months and sometimes even years while we look steadfastly to God to grant our petitions. The simple truth is this – God and God alone determines the timing of your fight of faith. Yes, He has promised that if we ask we will receive. Yes, He has promised that those who abide in Jesus can ask whatever they desire and they will have it. But He has never and will never put the timing into our own puny hands. He will never stop being God and He will never relinquish His divine authority to determine the times for the answers of our prayers. Just as we are told not to be surprised at the fiery trials that come our way, neither should we be surprised when our prayers are not answered immediately. God, the craftsman of our souls, makes excellent use of delay and waiting as He develops our character, and He is not about to abandon one of His favorite and most effective tools.

In Romans Paul writes of Abraham: "who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations… He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform" (Romans 4:18-21). Strange that in some of the greatest Bible passages about faith, hope seems to be present as well! Abraham "in hope believed" and thus became the father of many nations. Hope is a concept that is only relevant where periods of time are involved. "Hope that is seen is not hope." Hope looks to the future eagerly and joyously waits for the promises of God to be fulfilled. Now you may think that sounds a lot like faith, and it does, but there is a difference. Faith is the believing; hope is the joyous expectation. When handsome Jim proposes to Martha, she is thrilled. Fully believing that his proposal is genuine and that he will keep his word she goes about making all sorts of wedding preparations. She rents a chapel well ahead of time, spends all kinds of money on a wedding dress, a cake, a wedding coordinator, and all sorts of other wedding necessities. This is faith. Martha is sure Jim will be as good as his word – he will arrive at the church on time and say the obligatory "I do."

Joyful Daydreams

But Martha's life is not all bustle and activity. Throughout her days she constantly daydreams about how blissful it will be to be married to Jim. She sometimes can hardly keep her mind on what she is doing, as her heart overflows with joy and her mind with expectation at the great life that is awaiting her. She doesn't mind waiting, even if the wedding is a year away. No matter how difficult her days are, the thrill of what awaits her is more than enough to keep her going. Martha doesn't just have faith; she has hope. Faith says, "I believe it." Hope says, "And I am so excited about it." Faith lays hold of the promise, but hope sustains us and strengthens us throughout the time we must persevere until our faith becomes sight. And both are vitally necessary.

The Bible tells us that Abraham was fully convinced that what God had promised, He was also able to perform. Being fully convinced about God is the essence of faith. A lot of times you hear faith spoken about as though it were an object in itself, something that exists apart from God, like an object you carry around in your pocket. But faith is essentially a bedrock confidence in God and His word. You cannot get faith by focusing upon faith. Faith comes through a relationship with God and a familiarity with and respect for His word. Imagine trying to build confidence in someone you've never met merely by looking at their picture every day. Promptly at noon each day you pull the picture out of your pocket, stare steadfastly at the face, and say to yourself again and again, "I trust you, I trust you, I trust you." No matter how long you may utter this and how much you try to psyche yourself up, you will never really trust that man. Trust comes through relationship. Throw the picture away and get to know the man. Have meals with him, converse with Him, become friends with him, and learn his ways and habits. If he is a trustworthy man, you will come to trust him. So it is with our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. As we walk with the Lord and soak our minds and hearts in His word, faith will surely come. And as it does we discover the patience that allows God to take whatever time He needs to respond to our prayers.

Another great Biblical passage about perseverance in prayer is the parable Jesus told about the widow who kept coming back again and again to the "unjust judge" wanting justice concerning an adversary. The judge who did not "fear God nor regard man" nonetheless breaks down and grants the widow her request "lest by her continual coming she weary me." Jesus makes the point that if an ungodly man will respond to a persevering widow, how much more will the compassionate Judge of all the earth respond to his chosen ones, though He may bear with them for a time. Our Lord tells us if we hang in there, God will avenge us speedily. If ever there was an encouragement to keep on praying and believing God over time, this is surely it!

Always Pray - Don't Lose Heart

The interesting thing about this parable is that, unlike Jesus' other parables, we are told from the outset the point of the story. At the very beginning Luke tells us that Jesus spoke this parable "that men always ought to pray and not lose heart." Lengthy periods of delay are clearly implied here. There would be no need for us always to pray and not lose heart if our prayers were answered the very day they were first uttered. Anybody can keep the faith for a day, but when that day stretches into weeks and months there is a very real human tendency to lose heart, to get discouraged and gradually give up on our fight of faith. In so many things time is not our friend. Time brings wrinkles and loss of hair and the slowing of reflexes and the loss of memory, and well… in general time seems decidedly against us. And that is often how it works with prayer. We start out petitioning God with great faith, feeling absolutely sure that the answer will come. But two weeks later, when there is no sign that things have improved – in fact they have actually become much worse – we begin to have our doubts. Two more weeks pass and we have stopped praying altogether.

But this is not what we learn in Jesus' parable. Jesus is telling us "men always ought to pray and not lose heart." Andrew Murray writes, "Don’t let delay shake your faith, for it is faith that will provide the answer in time. Each believing prayer is a step nearer to the final victory! It ripens the fruit, conquers hindrances in the unseen world, and hastens the end. Give the Father time! He wants your blessing to be rich, full, and sure. Give Him time, but continue praying day and night."

Faith often involves a ripening process, and ripening never happens instantly. Jesus tells us, "For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." Planting crops is a busy process for the farmer. The ground must be broken up, the fields must be plowed, and the seeds planted. But after all this is done there comes a period where there seems to be little activity. The farmer goes about his other business and almost seems to ignore his crop. There is little more to do than wait. The crop must mature, the plants must grow. Finally in due time the farmer sees that crop is ready for harvesting. At this point he wastes no time. "Immediately he puts in the sickle." So our Heavenly Father watches the prayers and petitions of His children, wisely allowing time to pass as their faith ripens and their hearts are purified through the waiting process. Not only does He lovingly watch over His praying children; He gives the grace to strengthen their faith. Time not only is not their enemy; it has become their friend. Finally in the fullness of the time, God swings into action. The answer breaks forth suddenly and the desire fulfilled becomes a tree of life.

"Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength." Wait on the Lord. He is worth waiting for.

 

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