Persistent prayer isn’t just about repetition. It’s about action.
A Reflection for the Twenty-seventh Thursday in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.(Lk 11:8)
The takeaway from the readings today seems simple: Do not waste your prayers on frivolity just because you are in the presence of God’s love. God will answer only your most vital needs. The faith that brings those prayers to God is stronger than any fleshly relationship on Earth; it just needs to be persistent.
But what is persistence, really? When Jesus tells us to be persistent in our prayers to God, is it a matter of frequency so we keep the faith strong? Is a persistent prayer one of daily, quiet self-meditations instead of erratic, half-hearted moments?
That is certainly part of it. But I do worry about that interpretation leaving way for a narrow-minded view of prayer. That prayer is silent, solitary and focused in the moment and only the moment. It is where we get the stock phrase of “thoughts and prayers” from public figures every time there is a high-profile mass shooting, and nothing fundamentally changes to prevent the next shooting. Repetition without action dulls the faith into a platitude.
God answers us when we meet with him on the level of love and generosity that he demands from us.
For a better reference of persistent prayer, I am reminded of the childhood classic Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. The protagonist, Billy Coleman, has a burning wish to get two hound dogs for hunting, even though such dogs are unaffordable. While Billy does pray “from the heart” to God to see this wish come to fruition, he does not just pray to God and expect results. He puts the work in by selling things and making enough money to buy said dogs over the course of two years.
“I thought of the prayer I had said when I asked God to help me get two hound pups,” Billy recalls. “I knew He had surely helped, for He had given me the heart, courage and determination.”
Though Billy references a different—and inaccurate—biblical passage when talking about this point in his life, it’s a good example of the work that persistent prayer demands when answering our needs.
When we pray for an end to unjust war in Ukraine, God answers those prayers through us, through our action and aid. When we pray for an end to poverty, God answers those prayers through us by reaching out through charity and shelter.
What persistence in prayer means is not repetition, but action upon that prayer. It is why Jesus tells us to imagine giving gifts to our fellow human beings once we open the door to that persistence. God answers us when we meet with him on the level of love and generosity that he demands from us.