I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
In this Psalm we are given a picture of a person whose patience in waiting for the Lord to answer is even more than watchmen waiting for the morning. If you have ever been on sentry duty, you would know that the night always seems so much longer than it really is. Developing the will to hang on until the morning and not give in to sleep is important to the task of a sentry. And when morning comes – and you are still awake – you can celebrate the fact that you hung in there.
Hanging on to God in prayer is often hard. Life is full of forces that pull us away from prayer. Disappointment over a project or situation that hasn’t gone as expected, health troubles, broken relationships and breakdowns can create a sense of discouragement that makes us feel that prayer simply does not work, and that if God has let us down in this all-important matter, why should we pray about anything at all. Hanging on in prayer during such circumstances is the specific problem area that this message addresses.
Hanging on in prayer is often difficult for us and deciding not to pray often becomes an option that we consider. It is certainly easy to say that we are to be patient, persistent and persevere in prayer but sometimes the reality of our situation makes it extremely difficult to continue to believe in prayer. This is one of those situations where the support of a fellow Christian is so important. We discover in the moments when our life and our faith are most challenging that we have great need of one another if we are to hang on and find the strength of mind and soul to continue to ask for God’s help.
But how can we be persistent in praying when we are trying to hang on? There are four things that we are encouraged to dwell on. The first is relationship. We are to remember that no matter what happens to us in this life that God never abandons us nor does he ever let us go. We have been adopted by God and as such we are loved with a love that goes beyond the bounds of any other love. The Bible speaks about our “sonship”. God has chosen to make us his sons and daughters and to welcome us into his family. Further, we are not only welcomed into the family of God but we receive the gift of God’s own spirit to help us develop a God-centered mind. The blessing of adoption and the blessing of the Spirit of God do not shield us from any of life’s grimmer experiences, but they do turn us into unique people with a unique outlook on life and a unique destiny. When bad experiences come it is critical that we do not forget who and what we are. We are in a covenant with God – one that he will not break – and we need to ever remember that God will be faithful to his own word. Feelings have their ups and downs, but whether the sun is shining or whether the clouds are dark and the rain is falling, the promises of God still stand.
The second thing we are encouraged to dwell on is the records of persistent praying in the Bible. We have already seen one example from Psalm 130 but there are others. Too often we have misinterpreted the Hebrew word “wait” seeing it as a sign of inactivity but the word is meant to convey a sustained effort of keeping on, keeping on in prayer and expectation. It is about focusing on the Lord, asking the Lord to help us to hang on until the time for action comes. Eugene Peterson in his translation of the Bible – The Message – puts it this way: “Stay with God.” That certainly conveys something active rather than passive. In another passage from the Psalms, Peterson translates being still before the Lord as “Quiet down before God” and “wait passionately for God”. In Psalm 40 the patient waiting of the author for God is interpreted by Peterson as” “I waited and waited and waited for God.” In Psalm 62 the author talks of waiting in silence. He has gone beyond the point of complaining or asking and is simply at a loss for words but is still hanging on waiting for God to answer. Other examples that come to us from the Bible are Nehemiah who lamented the situation of the people in exile and sought for their relief from their oppression. Another is Hannah, the mother of Samuel, who endured years of humiliation from other women for her inability to conceive. Then she gives birth to the prophet Samuel. Finally think of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth who longed for a child. They were blessed with the one known as John the Baptist.
Third we need to dwell on the reasons why we are to be persistent in prayer. I am sure that – from time to time – we have become frustrated with waiting for God to act. I am sure we have wondered what was going through the mind of God. There is no real answer to that question in this realm but it may help us to consider that there are reasons for God making us hang on for answers that do not appear to us in the moment. There may be something else that needs to happen before our prayer is answered. In the meantime we hang on, we stay with God, we quiet down before God, and we do not lose sight of our trust in God.
The fourth thing we are to dwell on is how to overcome the resistance we may feel to persistent prayer. Remember that persistent prayer is difficult. The circumstances that cause us to pray and challenge us to be persistent in prayer will work to encourage us to abandon prayer. The losses we experience in life, the disappointments and the troubles we face will work on our minds, hearts and spirits to convince us to abandon our faith and turn our backs on our relationship to God. We may find ourselves telling ourselves that resistance is hopeless; we can’t hold out in hope. It is then even more than at other moments in our lives that we need to look to faith to keep us going, to keep us expecting, to keep us hanging on to God’s promises.
To close this week, I want us to consider that when we face our most trying moments in life, when we feel overwhelmed by life and feel most helpless; when we struggle most to hang on and hang in there; those are the moments when prayer becomes even more vital. Those are the moments that we need to reflect on our relationship with God and to God and not surrender to the urge to abandon the hope we have in God.
So may God help us and may we help each other to be persistent in our praying, in developing that relationship with God and so hang on as we wait for God to help us.