The “but” of Constant Prayer

by Violet Nesdoly (reprinted with permission October 23, 2010)

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Acts 12:1-19

TO CHEW ON: “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” Acts 12:5

I love how the little word “but” in the middle of the sentence of our focus verse suggests a change of direction in what follows. It’s as if Luke were saying, This thing that was happening to Peter was really bad, insurmountable even, but (nudge) look at what followed because of constant prayer.

The word my Thompson Chain-Reference Bible uses to describe this kind of praying is “Importunity.” I know, I had to look it up too. It means persistence in making demands or requests; repeated demands or requests.

Here are some Bible characters who were importunate:

– Abraham, when he asked God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah because of Lot (Genesis 18:32).
– Jacob, when wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:26).
– Moses, when praying for the people (Deuteronomy 9:18).
– Hannah, when praying for a child (1 Samuel 1:1-20).
– Jesus, teaching it in a parable (Luke 18:1-5).
– Jesus, praying in the garden (Luke 22:44).
– And of course the church in our focus verse today.

This is probably one of the easiest kinds of praying because it arises out of a felt need. As you can see by the list above, Bible people did this kind of praying in a variety of situations. Some prayed for others this way (Abraham and Moses), while others prayed for themselves (Jacob and Jesus). Some prayed about situations they wanted changed (the church), while others prayed out of a deep desire for something personal (Hannah, the woman in Jesus’ story). Whatever the situation, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” James assures us (James 5:16).

The story of Peter’s release from prison is almost comical in the characters’ delighted surprise when their prayers are answered. See Peter shake the sleep from his eyes, the fog from his brain as he walks behind his mysterious liberator through the Jerusalem streets. See flustered Rhoda leave Peter knocking at the door while she interrupts the prayer meeting to tell everyone the good news. See poor Peter, knocking and knocking and knocking… I hear those guys; why aren’t they letting me in?

I would probably be no less scattered if some of my importunate prayers were answered. Though that isn’t a great commentary on the robustness of my faith, I’m going to put this lesson into practice right now and importune God about a few of the things that have been on my prayer list for a long time. Will you do the same?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this story of a direct answer to persistent prayer. Help me to remember it when I struggle with discouragement and the temptation to give up in my prayers. Amen.

MORE: Quotes about persistent prayer

“Continual prayer will be appropriate — yes required — in many cases. Large issues have long-range consequences that may require a lot of time to work out.” – Jack Hayford, quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, compiled by Randall D. Roth, p. 167-8 (origin: Prayer is Invading the Impossible, Logos, 1997, p. 141).

“To think there’s always going to be a quick solution or even a satisfactory-to-us answer is a faulty expectation. Sometimes answers to prayer lie dormant, being fertilized by unceasing prayer. When the seed finally germinates, rapid growth can take place.” – Edith Schaeffer, quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, p. 168 (origin: “Restoring Vitality In Your Prayer Life: An Interview With Edith Schaeffer,” Intercessor for America Newsletter Vol. 20 No.1 January 1993).

“George Mueller prayed fifty-two years for an unsaved loved one, but it wasn’t until some time after he died that his loved one came to know Jesus Christ as Savior. I believe our prayers go right on living and working even after we die.” – Hope MacDonald, quoted in Prayer Powerpoints, p. 166 (origin: Hope MacDonald, Discovering How To Pray, Zondervan, 1976, p. 86).