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Persisting in Prayer

Persisting in Prayer

An Execution and a Rescue

Acts 12 tells the incredible story of Peter’s supernatural deliverance from prison. He gets thrown into jail for his faith in Jesus, has a public execution date set for the next day. Meanwhile, the church gathers at somebody’s house, holds an all-night prayer meeting, and in the wee hours of the morning, Peter shows up at that very prayer meeting.

As it turned out, God was listening and doing the miraculous. He opened a locked cell in the middle of the night and guided Peter from shackles to freedom so he could rejoin the church family that had been asking on his behalf.

That’s the headline. It’s the story everyone remembers from Acts 12, and it’s a good one. But I’m not interested in the headline; I’m caught up in the subtext:

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. — Acts 12:1–3

God miraculously freed Peter, but James was unjustly executed. Why? Why did God respond miraculously to prayer for Peter, but silently to prayer for James? Both of these men were in his inner, inner circle, his core three disciples, so it wasn’t that he favored one over the other. Surely the church prayed for both. If they gathered for an all-night prayer meeting for Peter, it’s safe to assume they responded in the same way for James. Both were arrested and imprisoned by the same corrupt tyrant for the same unjust cause, perhaps even occupied the same jail cell. So, why God? Why let James die if you have the power to teleport Peter to safety?

I don’t know. That’s the only honest response.

Here’s what I do know:

  • God works slowly out of compassion, not apathy.

I know God puts up with a ton of corruption, and His slow, loving way of redemption asks of us patience and endurance in suffering. I know that when I read Acts, I see a seasoned, resilient faith — a praying people who dance with God through miracles and bear with God through mystery.

Lost in the background of the action sequences and miraculous montages of Acts is this — a community that gathered to pray, even after they had tried it once before only to watch darkness win, at least from their point of view. They kept on praying in the face of unanswered prayer. They persisted in prayer.

Where does that come from? Only from the belief that God is bottling up my tears and saving them right next to my prayers. That both are key ingredients in the recipe of redemption. That He loves me too much to let either go to waste.

Can we become again a persistently praying kind of people? Can we recover the legacy of our ancient ancestors, lost somewhere along the way? Can we preserve it, enflesh it in our bodies, express it in our lives?

“Keep on asking and it will be given to you. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.” That’s the invitation Jesus offered us. And anyone who takes him up on it and prays this way long enough will eventually find themselves on the doorstep of resilience.

PRACTICE Persistent Prayer

Prayer in persistence can be understood in three movements.

  1. Say It Like You Mean It

Don’t begin with grit or faith. Start with disappointment, naming your pain and need to God. He collects our tears, and we begin by doing the same, dragging up our painful experiences of his perceived absence, silence, or rejection. Tell God your disappointments in prayer, and don’t water it down. Forget your manners. Tell it like it is.

  1. Listen for the Question

Invite God to show you the question beneath your disappointments. You’ll know you’re at the root when you get to a deeper question. Beneath the circumstances left in the wake of your disappointment lives a question about the character of God. Is God really loving? Is God really listening? Does God really care about this part of my life? Is God really powerful? Can God heal even this? Is God really bending all toward redemption? Remember, there’s a question hooked into God’s person, His character. Listen till you find it.

  1. Ask God to Meet You in the Question

Hold your deep question before God, inviting Him to bring healing. He heals through this process of pointed questions, so this question you’ve discovered holds within it the power of healing. Invite Him and keep inviting. He’s a miracle-working God who sometimes opens the eyes of the blind. He’s also a divine companion who sometimes stumbles around with us in the dark, wearing our pain alongside us. He’s a master healer. Our only role is to invite and keep inviting.

It is through this process that you will discover the faith to ask again, to keep on interceding, to fill up that heavenly bowl. He is less interested in our asking out of duty or gritted teeth and more interested in the kind of asking that emerges from the healed heart of recovered faith.

Excerpted with permission from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton, copyright Tyler Staton. 

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Your Turn

We’ll have to wait for Heaven to understand the James moments, but in the meantime, let’s keep praying persistently for the Peter moments when God rescues by miracle. Keep saying it like you mean it, listening for the question, and asking God to meet you in the question. ~ Devotionals Daily