The Power of Persistence
If you have ever traveled to the Holy Land, you know how hot it can be. There are few shade trees and a lot of rocks. The sun can beat down on you and drain your strength. So it wasn’t uncommon in Jesus’ day for people to do their traveling at night to avoid the heat of the day. It was also considered rude in that culture to turn someone away when they came to your door. Hospitality, then as now in the Middle East, was considered a sacred duty. And because bread was made daily, with only enough baked for the day’s use, there was rarely any left over. Therefore, the late knock at the door from the traveler presented the man of the house with both an opportunity and a responsibility.
Having nothing himself, he went next door to see if he might find bread for his unexpected guest, knocking with shameless persistence. Faced with a need and no bread, he went to one whom he believed had some. The constant rapping on the door finally forced the neighbor to get out of bed. The Greek word for “persistence” is only found here in the New Testament. It’s a word that means both shamelessness and boldness. There is nothing timid or withdrawn in this kind of knocking—or this kind of praying.
I was in Salt Lake City in October 2008 for the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, serving as a guest preacher along with Tom Elliff. On the first day I heard Tom preach on this passage from Luke 11. Tom has served as a pastor, foreign missionary, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is one of my favorite preachers, and I took notes as fast as I could while he was preaching, knowing I was working on this chapter. Tom described this scene by saying, “He went knocking on the door of his friend. He was actually testing his friendship and, by asking, seeking, and knocking, he was saying, ‘I know you are too good of a friend to not give me what I need.’ This was not vain repetition. These were the cries of a desperate man.” I loved the way Tom illustrated this, painting the picture of a man standing there with his hands to his mouth, looking up and shouting, “Hey! Hey! Hey! I need some bread. Hey! Hey! Help me here!” Shameless persistence. Desperate seeking. Bold knocking.
The reason we need to be persistent in prayer is not because God is reluctant but because we tend to be lazy in our praying. We rarely are desperate enough to grab hold and not let go. We’ve all prayed for things and were indifferent regarding God’s response. Persistence makes up its mind to state the case and the need boldly. “Hey God! I’m still here. Still asking. Still seeking. Still knocking.”
Remember, the disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and He gave them this parable to encourage them to persevere in prayer. They needed to learn the principle of praying without ceasing—to pray and faint not. As the original languages indicate, “Ask and keep on asking. Seek and keep on seeking. Knock and keep on knocking.” The atmosphere and aroma of our lives is to be that of prayer.
Michael Catt, The Power of Persistence (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009).