Persistent prayer

Pilgrims leave notes of thanks for answered prayers at Wieskirche in Bavaria, Germany, August 2005

Pilgrims leave notes of thanks for answered prayers at Wieskirche in Bavaria, Germany
August 2005

“The value of persistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will finally hear Him.”William McGill

It’s all too easy for believers and unbelievers alike to confuse prayer with some sort of divine bargaining system, or a kind of formal ritual for advising God what we need — as if God were a cosmic host or waiter taking requests.  Most believers would never consciously describe it that way, but we do fall into the trap of oversimplifying the power of prayer — which most of us know from experience to be very real — as direct cause and effect: “I asked for this, and I got it.”

Sooner or later, though, when enough prayers go unanswered, even the most unselfish and altruistic of them, we have to come to terms with the inadequacy of this understanding.  Over time our prayers evolve from some version of “Let me tell you what I need,” or “Let me tell you what the world needs” to something more along the lines of “Tell me what I need to know (or do or think) about this, and help me hear clearly what you are saying.”

This is not to minimize the assurance and comfort that come from prayer, but it does refocus it, from the faith that we will get what we are asking for, to the faith that God will be with us no matter what happens, and everything will be made right in the end.  Ultimately, that’s a much greater solace than clinging to the delusion we are in control of things and will get everything we want, simply because we have a relationship with God.

When I thank readers of the blog for praying for us, and say that we are seeing that your prayers being answered, I don’t mean that we think your prayers will be sure to make Jeff cancer-free (although that may be one divine blessing that comes as a result of them).  I simply mean that your prayers on our behalf are already blessing us with the strength and confidence that come from our shared faith in God’s promise to hear us.

I know a lot of people would call it denial in the face of a really grim prognosis, but I believe that Jeff will beat the cancer and live many more years.  I don’t think God ever has to worry about long odds.  But I also know there is a very real possibility that Jeff might not get well (and he seems to know that better than I do), and if that is how it ends up, the prayers you are praying for us right now, and the warm expressions of caring, will give us the strength to see this situation through.

For walking with us during this difficult time, for helping me to feel less alone, for greeting me each day with words of encouragement, for your kind thoughts and comments and your steadfast prayers, we are thankful.

“May the Lord repay you for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:12)

This post was first published seven years ago today. Reading over it in light of all that has transpired in those seven years, I felt an added dimension to the words I wrote here. There is a bittersweet wisdom that comes with recalling how my innocent hopes for Jeff were gradually dashed against the hard reality of suffering and death. Yet the heartfelt thanks for the prayers that kept us/me going are all the more emphatic now, along with the faith that, as McGill says, I will finally hear God with full understanding.

Reading Daddy’s comment below the original post, along with my answer to him, was almost like time-traveling to when he was here with us — or stepping into an unseen dimension in which he is still here, smiling at me with those raised eyebrows that always accompanied that moment when I finally grasped something he had been trying to teach me. Daddy died almost exactly two years after we wrote those words, but I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 11:4: “And by faith [he] still speaks, even though he is dead.”

The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    I think I’ve experienced that same general progression of prayer evolution that you describe. I wonder if there are other directions one might take. Lately, my prayers have often been a simple “help me,” trusting that God will know the best way to do just that, and it may be some way that I hadn’t even thought of.

    • Susan, I think it quite often IS either something way have not thought of (Ephesians 3:20), or else something we dread or want to avoid (James 1:2-3). Anne Lamott says the three essential prayers are “help, thanks, wow” (according to her book by that title) but too often, mine seem to be mostly help, help, help. I try to balance it out with the “thanks” and “wows” that are so easily brought into focus when we stop and think about it.

  2. Chris

    Julia, this is such a heartfelt post. I do think the author of the quote is onto something. Prayer is a powerful thing, often benefitting us in unforeseen ways. I learned long ago that our prayers are our communication with God, and we should desire a two way conversation. Above all else, we must pray for His will to be done. Then, as your Dad pointed out, we pray that we receive a peace that passes all understanding and reassures our faith. My prayer for you and Matt is for continued blessings, with grace and peace.
    Have a wonderful week!

    • Thank you, Chris. I never stop needing those prayers, along with the encouragement that others seek God’s presence. Hope you have a great week too!

  3. Susan

    My heart was aching for you as I read this, Julia. But what a moving exchange between you and your father. Thank you for adding the updated note, even though it wasn’t what you hoped or expected to be writing seven years later.

    • Susan, I’m so happy you have been with us on this journey. Thanks for being here. ❤

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