How much prayer is enough?
There's a parable in the bible entitled 'The Parable of the Persistent Widow.' Jesus tells the story of a woman who requires justice but the judge ignores her request, and to make matters worse, she is a widow. Jesus calls the judge 'an unjust judge.' That's quite the indictment given the most basic function of a judge is to administer justice. A judge who is unjust is, at best useless, and at worst, a facilitator to continued injustices and associated damage. When the judge did finally meet the need of the widow, it was driven by selfish motives. Jesus said 'Listen to what the unjust judge says: The judge says 'because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice'' (Luke 18:5, 6). The judge doesn't help the widow for the purpose of doing what is right, rather he helps her to shut her up and send her away!
This parable is often misinterpreted as meaning we should persist in prayer, when it is in fact stating quite the opposite. God hears our concerns right away, even though we may not receive help as fast as we would like. We don't need to pester God. He doesn't yield to our wants just to shut us up and make us go away like the unjust judge did. God is motivated in His provision of our needs by His love for us and He wants to draw us closer and closer to him. In short, there is nothing in the character and behavior of the unjust judge that reflect on our Father in heaven.
Another biblical story that is often misinterpreted as an example to persist in prayer is in Daniel chapter 10. Daniel prayed for 21 days before he received any response from heaven. On day 21, a messenger arrives and introduces himself to Daniel as having been sent by God. Interestingly, he tells Daniel: "Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard" (Daniel 10:12). I don't know if the angel is rebuking Daniel for his continued petitions, or if he is reassuring him of the power in heaven. In either case, God issued the response on day 1. Therefore, as sacrilegious as this might sound, Daniel's prayers were ineffective after day 1. God doesn't need our prayers to fuel His power. God knew the angel would be detained on another mission for 21 days, but that didn't make God send a different helper to Daniel. Daniel just needed to be patient and wait for God's perfect timing.
So what are we to learn from these stories about God and about ourselves?
Insights about God:
God hears us as soon as we pray.
God knows the future and when, and how, all events around us will play out.
God issues justice because He is a just God and He loves us, not because he wants to quiet us, or get rid of us.
God knows our needs, the big ones and the small ones.
God is at work, whether we can see Him at work or not.
God is sovereign over all heaven and earth.
Insights about us:
We can fear God doesn't hear us when we don't receive an answer right away.
We don't like to wait.
We are apt to keep moaning until we get our own way!
We want to control things in our lives.
We believe the power is in the prayer itself, rather than in Christ, so we keep hanging on to prayer, rather than Christ.
Don't allow prayer to become a mechanism of false control rather than it's true purpose - surrender!
We interpret praying as our effort in actively working our situations, and this provides some small sense that we are taking charge of things - that we have not lost control. However, when we approach God, the opposite is required. Praying to God ought to be a surrendering of the self to God - allowing Him to work things in our lives. If we are fully surrendered to God, we do not have control over our lives - God does. This is a good place to be!
What did Jesus Do?
Jesus provides the perfect example of petitioning the Father. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed three times that evening. He ended his prayer with 'but nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done' (Matthew 26:39). And then he moved forward into what God had for him. Maybe that's our model. We can pray for our need in the morning, again in the evening, and again at night time--three times in one day--and then leave it peacefully, gracefully, trustingly, with our heavenly Father, knowing He has heard us, and He loves us, and He will answer as He knows best. The next day, we move on to the other parts of our lives, which have more than enough new issues in the day, bringing these new issues before God. Paul says to 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Let's do that, but let's make each new day its own; sending all kinds of requests and petitions to God, not getting stuck on repetition as if we have an unjust God. Our lives cross multiple paths, with multiple people, for multiple reasons. We need to keep moving forward into the newness of each day, not watching from the sidelines as we wait for one prayer to be answered before we embrace the multiplicity of the rest of our lives.
Move out of the wait and into His will.
True faith allows us to continue in our journey, rather than stay in an immovable state of prayer, waiting for our will to be done.
A true Christian is a life submitted to the will of God. This includes surrendering the outcomes of all of our prayers to God.
A truthful mind understands that God has heard our prayer and acknowledges that God knows better. If He says no, it is because of His love for us.
True love praises God, whatever the outcome of our prayer..
Paul's Blessing to the Philippians
'Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.'