“Pray without ceasing” – really? How?

A teenage girl gave up on prayer because she didn’t get a good grade on a school test after she asked God to help her. A footballer was miffed because God didn’t help their team win the championship after they’d all done a group prayer in the locker room before the game. A child began to wonder if God really existed after she asked God to heal Grandma, but Grandma died anyway. A soldier got angry at God for not answering the prayers of the chaplain for a bloodless victory. Instead many men died.

In situations like these it’s understandable if people cease praying, because why pray if what is prayed for doesn’t happen? A quick answer might be, “But you can’t just pray for anything you want and expect an answer. You have to pray for what you know is God’s will to give.” But try and explain that to a child, or to a football player who knows far more about football than the Bible.

So what do you say instead? Well, Jesus quite simply said, “Just keep on praying and don’t lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Which is easy to say but the toughest thing to do, as Jesus himself discovered just before his death. He’d prayed desperately for God to help him, but at the last, just when Jesus needed him most, God ditched him. Or at least that’s what it felt like, just like the teenage girl who felt ditched when God didn’t help her with her exam. “My God,” Jesus cried, “why have you forsaken me?” So Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to pray and feel abandoned.

But at that moment of utter desolation, Jesus then cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). So at the very point when there was every reason to throw up his hands and give up on God, Jesus did what he’d told his disciples to do in Luke 18:1 – he prayed anyway, “Father, I trust my life to you.” He did not lose heart. He did not give up on God. He did not cease praying.

And now he encourages us to do the same, with a heartfelt plea in Luke 18:8 – “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” It was his concluding statement to a story he told his disciples about a widow who felt forsaken by an unjust judge, but she never lost heart, she kept asking. And that’s what Jesus so deeply hopes we’ll do when it feels like God isn’t answering us. He hopes we’ll pray without ceasing, keep on trusting, and never lose heart.

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