And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. - Luke 18.1
One of the hardest things about prayer is to keep on asking when the answer doesn’t come. We’d almost rather be told “No!” than feel as if we’re not being heard. Or worse yet, ignored.
We all know that there are often good reasons for denying a request, but why does God delay? If something supernatural is blocking the answer, we have no way of knowing it. We know God is good. We know he is faithful to his promises. We ask according to his known will. And still no answer comes. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, says the old proverb.
The biggest deterrent to prayer is a loss of heart when we can no longer stand the heartache of postponing hope.
When I’m tempted to give up praying, I return to my favorite Bible story about a man whose hope was deferred twenty-five years. The great patriarch Abraham was called by God to leave everything behind and travel to a new land. A new land where God would make him into a mighty nation. A nation through whom all other nations would be blessed.
Whose hope wouldn’t leap at a promise like that?
So Abraham went. He brought along his nephew Lot because the young man was fatherless, and Abraham had no son of his own. When their combined wealth was too great to share territory, Abraham let Lot go. Although this youth would not be his heir, Abraham still watched out for him, even chasing down the enemy who took him captive. God honored this sacrifice with a reminder of how much land he had set aside for Abraham’s future descendants.
Fifteen years after arriving in the land, Abraham was rich and well known. But still no heir. He continued to converse with God, which amounts to prayer, on the matter. At one point God pointed out that he himself was Abraham’s reward.
You can hear the heartache in the poor old man’s reply, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless.”
And a year later, his wife’s maid bore them a baby boy. How glad the eighty-six-year-old was! He loved Ishmael as much as his own life. True, the pregnancy had brought grief to his family but none of it mattered to him as he watched his son grow.
About the time Ishmael became a man at age thirteen, God surprised Abraham in another prayer time. He confirmed his covenant with Abraham and his offspring, not just to make a nation of them, but to be their God forever. And then God made a startling declaration.
“Your wife will be the mother of nations and kings.”
Impossible! Sarah is ninety years old. Besides, thought Abraham, my prayer has already been answered. I have a son. He’s old enough to begin a family of his own. Surely Ishmael’s children will inherit the promise.
“Not so!” God said again. “Through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned.”
And true to God’s word, Isaac was born. When Abraham was one hundred years old!
Here is a riddle we all can solve: What takes years and years, and can cause us to lose heart? Destiny.
So take hope, my friend. When you know what God has in mind for you, you ought always to pray and not lose heart. God who promised is faithful. If he has spoken to you, he will do it. You may not see the end of it, but God will keep his word. He who began this good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. The purpose for your life will take place. That’s what faith is, and that’s what makes us descendants of faithful Abraham.
By the way, Abraham lived another seventy-five years. Isaac didn’t marry until he was forty years old, and his wife Rebekah remained barren for another twenty. Then she had twins—by divine intervention in response to Isaac’s prayers for her. (No doubt Abraham also prayed for grandchildren, since he knew God’s promise.)
Do the math. That leaves fifteen years in which Abraham saw and enjoyed the “double-portion” God had given to Isaac, the firstborn of God’s covenant people. Abraham saw the twins born, and he watched them grow to manhood.
Only then did Abraham breathe his last and die at a good old age, an old man and full of years. His destiny appeared in Jesus and resounds in us today.