Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Truth About Persistent Prayer

Hi Friends,

Tomorrow is Bethany's birthday!!  I can't believe our firstborn will already be 14.  Where have the years gone?  As I was sitting here planning our shopping and cake and perhaps a fun trip to Monterey, I remembered something that Bethany taught me in her preschool years.  I thought it would be fun to share it here.

So, this is for anyone who wonders why they ought to keep praying for something, for those who feel they have to beat down the door of heaven to get God to answer (you don't!), for those wondering if they need to earn God's "yes" through persistent prayer … and if not, why pray persistently at all.

Here ya go:

Only One Prayer?

I hung up the phone and bit my lip.  Bethany wasn’t going to like this.  Not one bit. 
She sauntered into the room.  “Who was that, Mommy?” 
“Jacqueline’s Mom.” 
Bethany clapped her hands.  “Really!?  Are we going to her house to play?” 
I sighed and held out my arms to draw Bethany close.  “No, Sweetie.  And do you remember how Mommy told you that Jacqueline signed up for the last spot in your preschool class next year?”  Of course she remembered.  She’d been talking about it for weeks.
“Yes!  I can’t wait.”
A rock settled in my chest.  “Well, Jacqueline’s Mom said there was a mix up at the preschool and there’s not room for Jacqueline after all.”
Bethany’s face dropped into a mask of sorrow.  “No Jacqueline.”
“I’m sorry.”
Her bottom lip turned.  “But, but …”
“It’ll be okay.”
“But that’s not fair.”  A fat tear rolled down her cheek.  “Can’t you fix it, Mommy?  Can’t you do something?”
I brushed back her hair with my fingers.  “I can’t.  But . . .”  I paused.  “But you could pray.”
She sniffed.  “I could ask God.”
“Yes, but you know—“
“I’ll do it now.  Dear God, please make a place for Jacqueline to be in my preschool class.  Amen.”
I kissed her forehead and thought of all the obstacles to a “yes” from God.  State law dictated that only a certain number of students were allowed in a class.  The number was filled.  And at this late date, it was highly unlikely that someone would drop out.  But still, God was God.
Two weeks later, Jacqueline’s mom called again.  “You aren’t going to believe this,” she began.  “You know how I’ve been trying for two weeks to get in touch with the people at the preschool.”
“Any luck?”
“Nothing but voice mail.  Until today.”
I held my breath.
“The teacher called me this morning.  It’s amazing.  A spot’s opened for Jacqueline.” 
“Wonderful!”  I whooped into the phone.  
Minutes later I went into Bethany’s room and told her the good news.  She jumped up and shouted even louder than I had.  “Wow.  It took only one prayer!”  Then, she danced around the room.
I laughed.
She grinned at me.  “I thought it would take a hundred.” 
I reached over and ruffled her hair.  “Remember how Mommy always says that she hears you the first time?  Well, God hears you the first time too.”
“I know.  I know it now.” 
I sat on the bed and watched Bethany return to playing with her toys.   Only one prayer.  Her words tickled my heart.  One prayer, and God heard, and answered, and moved.  Did I, too, know that God was that near, so near that he hears me the first time?  Or was I living as if I had to earn a “yes” from God by the number of my prayers?  I knew that God encourages us to be persistent in prayer.  After all, I’d recently studied the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18.  There, Jesus told the story of a widow who consistently pled for justice from an unjust judge.  Eventually the judge granted her request.  But God isn’t an unjust judge who has to be pestered into answering my prayers.  He doesn't tell the parable to say God is like the judge, but rather HOW MUCH MORE will God answer, respond, give us what we need when we ask  because he isn't unjust?!  Even the unjust judge answers.  How much more will our Heavenly Father, who loves us deeply, passionately, and unconditionally?
Bethany’s exuberant reaction showed me that prayer shouldn’t be a way to beat down the door of heaven.  It’s not a means to gain brownie points in order to cash in for what I'm asking for.  It isn't "payment" for a positive response.  So, what is prayer?  And why does Jesus want us to keep on praying if we’re heard the very first time?
As I sat and watched Bethany play, I started to understand that prayer is not so much a duty as a GIFT.  It's not a means to earn a "yes" from God but rather an opportunity to bring our sorrows, our hopes, our needs to Him, and lay them at His feet as often as we think about them.  It’s a way, not to twist God’s arm, but to offer our hearts, and so ourselves, continually before Him, and in doing so to surrender to His will.  We pray persistently because God is available to us persistently, continually, faithfully.  He wants to receive the burdens we carry as often as we are willing to lift them to him.

As often as we pray, He hears, He answers, He moves, even when the answers aren’t as obvious as a place in preschool.  We pray because God is so near that He hears us, every single time our hearts are burdened and we turn toward Him.  He is there.  He is near.  He loves us that much.