Persistent prayer

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?'

'Yes, Lord,' they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, 'According to your faith let it be done to you'; and their sight was restored. (Mat 9:27–30a)

In the previous study we looked at the importance of praying persistently. In this study we are going to look at examples of people in the Bible who did that.

Two blind men

I find the healing of the two men in our opening text one of the most touching in the Gospels. Imagine you are blind, standing in the main street of your town, and you hear that Jesus is about to pass by.

Isn't this the Jesus who has cleansed the lepers, made the lame walk and opened the eyes of the blind? Yes, it is! Faith leaps within your heart. What he's done for those people, he can also do for you. You hear the sound of the crowd getting closer and start to cry out, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' You shout louder, but no one pays attention and the crowd goes by.

What do you do? Do you conclude that it wasn't God's will to heal you and go home? Surely, if it was his will, Jesus would have stopped and called you over (Mat 20:29–34), but he hasn't. The two men didn't go home, instead they followed him down the road, crying out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'

Israel is a land of mountains and valleys (Deu 11:10–1) and we're not told that anyone went with them to help them. Could there have been a more pitiful sight than two blind men stumbling behind Jesus, up hills, down into valleys, across streams, on rough, unmade paths, desperately trying to keep up with him and crying out for mercy? I don't think so.

When Jesus reached his destination and went indoors the blind men came to him. You will note that he didn't ask them what they wanted, he knew what they wanted: Jesus always hears the cry of faith. He heard them cry out to him when he walked past them, but he'd been testing their faith (Jam 1:2–4).

He said to them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, 'According to your faith let it be done to you'; and their sight was restored. Jesus regarded their persistence in asking as faith in action.

Can we draw a conclusion from this? Yes, we can. If these men had not persisted in asking to be healed, they would not have been healed. That is the plain teaching of this passage.

A Canaanite woman

Please read Mat 15:21–8.

The first thing to note is that the woman addressed Jesus in the same way the blind men did. That means that even though she wasn't a Jew, she'd recognized him as the Messiah and had put her faith in him. 'Lord, Son of David,' she said, 'have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.' Jesus didn't say a word to her.

Have you ever prayed to God and the heavens have seemed like brass? It feels as though your prayers have got no higher than the ceiling, and you wonder whether it's worth continuing to pray. But this woman did continue. She pleaded with the disciples so much that they asked Jesus to send her away from them.

Then the Lord did speak. He said: 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' In other words, 'It's not God's will that I minister to your daughter.' That would have stopped most of us, but not this woman.

She came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, help me!' He replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.' That was a rebuke and was made to remind her that she was a Gentile and not one of God's chosen people.

But even that didn't stop her. 'Yes it is, Lord,' she said, 'Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.' Then Jesus said, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.'

Jesus didn't say that she had faith, but that she had great faith. What is being taught here? That faith (which in this case was demonstrated by her persistent asking) can persuade God to change his mind (Exo 32:7–14), and even his will.

Jacob wrestled with God

However, the greatest scriptural proof that persistent prayer is powerful before God is found in Gen 32:22–30. Genesis is a book of beginnings. Many spiritual truths are revealed in Genesis that are later expounded in the New Testament. The truth that God answers persistent prayer is one of them.

The Bible says that Jacob was left alone and wrestled with a man till daybreak. Who did Jacob wrestle with? The Bible says it was a man (v24), and the man was God (v30). Jacob wrestled with a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ. Jesus appeared to him in a human body seventeen hundred years before he was born in Bethlehem.

So what is the picture? The New Testament uses the word 'wrestle' to describe the action of prayer. Paul said that Epaphras was always wrestling in prayer for the believers at Colossae (Col 4:12). The Greek word used (agonizomai) means to struggle with great effort.

Jacob was wrestling (struggling in prayer) with Jesus all night long. When Jesus saw that he couldn't overpower him, he touched his hip so that it was wrenched. That would have made it more difficult for him (persistent prayer can be difficult) but it didn't stop him. He said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me (v26b).' So Jesus blessed him there (v29b).

He said to him, 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he replied. Jesus said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome. The Hebrew word 'Israel' means he struggles with God, and the Hebrew word translated 'overcome' means to have victory.

The spiritual truth that God answers persistent prayer is so important to us that God has named a nation after it—his own people. Why? To constantly remind us of the truth. God wants us to be like Jacob; he wants us to be like the blind men; he wants us to be like the Canaanite woman, crying out, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'

If we were all Hebrew speaking Jews, every time we heard, or read, or said the word 'Israel' we would know exactly what it means and what it refers to. When you read your Bible and come to the word, substitute the phrase 'he struggles with God' until you get the message. And remember that Jacob struggled with God until he overcame and got the victory.

The word 'Israel' and its derivatives (Israelite, Israelites etc) occur 2,393 times in the Bible. That's 2,393 reminders that God answers persistent prayer. I think it's something he wants us to remember.

Michael Graham
August 2008
Revised March 2019

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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