I am learning something about persistence – and in particular, persistence in prayer.
An interesting New Testament word stands behind the concept. Proskartereo may be translated “to persist,” or sometimes “to be devoted to” or “to focus on.” We find the word here and there throughout the New Testament, often associated with prayer. A good example is found in Colossians 4:2. Paul exhorts the sisters and brothers, “Be persistent in prayer.”
Jesus, too, taught his disciples to pray with persistence. He illustrates the idea with the story of a neighbor who rises at midnight to ask his friend for a loaf of bread. “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:8; see a similar story in chapter 18). Here Jesus illustrates persistence in prayer. In the very next verse, he commands the disciples: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9). They are to ask with importunity. They are to seek with insistent focus. They are to arise in the middle of the night and knock with bold persistence.
The disciples must have taken the lesson to heart. We later find the New Testament church “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14, cf. 2:42). “We, for our part,” reported the disciples, “will devote ourselves to prayer” (Acts 6:4). And Paul exhorts the emerging church, “Persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
In his famous New Testament Dictionary, Gerhard Kittel comments: “In proskartereo [we find an] important aspect of the vitality and power of the New Testament church….Prayer, which has its roots deep in the life and power of God, knits the church together with a firm bond. It is not just a pious discipline but serious work which demands perseverance” (Kittel, ed. Bromiley, p.417f.).
An image from Mark adds an interesting dimension to the concept.
Mark uses this same word – proskartereo – to describe a boat at harbor, standing at the ready to receive its passengers and disembark. It is a strange little verse: “Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him” (Mark 3:9). Mark uses the word “persist,” literally – as if to say, “have a boat persist in its readiness, focused and committed for my use.” The boat is to “persevere” in its purpose. It is to “persistently await” its cargo so that it might set out from harbor and depart on its journey. The boat itself, you see, exists for the journey – not for the harbor. It is always at the ready, “persisting” at harbor for the sake of the seas.
This is the function of our praying community. We are like this little boat, ready for a visit from the Master, ready for his cargo and use. And this is what it means to persist in our praying. We watch for movements of God’s Spirit – we look for a signal from the Captain – and we are ready to raise our sails and promptly set out to sea. We watch for a “cargo” of prayer or concern, we take it on board, and bear it to heaven. We are not designed to remain in harbor; we are designed for the sea. Persistent prayers are focused in their purpose – like this little boat. They are always alert to the Captain’s nod – and then they are on their knees, and then they are off to sea.
Will you persist with us in prayer? As you page through this month’s newsletter, watch for some cargo that you may take on board yourself. And then come along! There is very much prayer work to do – enough for your little boat, too.