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Evangelist George Muller was known for his prayer life. He was also familiar with the practice of persistent prayer. He once wrote:

“In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without one single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God, and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second one was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them and six years more passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remain unconverted. The man to whom God in the riches of His grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer, in the self-same hour or day on which they were offered, has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these two individuals, and yet they remain unconverted; for next November it will be thirty-six years since I began to pray for their conversion. But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer.”

It is difficult to wait for God to answer a prayer after a week, not to mention 18 months or 36 years. Vast amounts of emotional energy go into praying for someone who has rejected the gospel for decades or a people group that has been unreached for hundreds of years. And when God seems to respond with silence, it can be easy to lose hope.

But Muller’s story proves that persistent prayer is not a hopeless cause, and Scripture even encourages prayer with perseverance.

Pray Without Ceasing

Jesus taught His disciples many things about prayer, including to pray without losing heart. Jesus prayed, in despair, for God to take the cup away from Him (Matthew 26:39) and often took time to be alone with His Father. In His human state, Jesus understood how persistent prayer can take its toll on the heart.

And so He told His disciples a parable to prepare them for a lifestyle of constant prayer. He told the story of a widow who went to an unjust judge, pleading for justice against her adversary. The judge refused to help at first, but he eventually gave in to the woman’s pleas after she had worn him down (Luke 18:1-5).

“And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” -Luke 18-6-8

Jesus was not saying God is like an unjust judge but, rather, greater than an unjust judge. If a sinful judge granted a widow favor, a perfect God will even more so respond righteously to His elect.

The parable does not guarantee that prayer will be answered in the way one wants at the time one wants. God knows how to give good gifts (Luke 11:13), but they may not be the gifts that were requested. And God’s timing is perfect, though, from a human perspective, it may seem slow.

The lesson Jesus communicated here was not just about persistence but about patience and trust as well. The key to praying without ceasing is to patiently await the Lord’s answer and trust that His response will be good and righteous.

Paul also encouraged persistent prayer as he wrote to encourage the church in Colossae.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” -Colossians 4:2-4, ESV

Paul’s admonition for persistent prayer was to leaven it with thanksgiving. Believers can continually ask God to answer a specific request, but mixing in gratitude helps ensure the prayer does not simply become a selfish plea to fulfill a desire.

Here, Paul specifically asked for persistent prayers for God to open doors to the gospel, encouraging the Colossians to constantly pray for opportunities to share the good news. It’s a model for the Church today to persistently pray for missionaries and believers around the world who are responding to the Great Commission.

Persisting Through Silence

Even as Paul asked for persistent prayers, he knew God could choose not to respond or say, “No.” When Paul was given a “thorn” in his flesh, he pleaded to God three times to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Instead, God said His power is perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What did Paul do? He didn’t wallow in grief or curse God for not giving him what he wanted. Rather, Paul boasted in his weaknesses knowing that Christ’s power would rest on him. Paul trusted in God’s answer despite the thorn—whatever it was—that caused him pain and torment.

Doesn’t that sound similar to how Muller responded to God’s silence as he prayed for two more friends to be saved? After waiting for 36 years, he wrote, “They are not converted yet, but they will be.”

Muller died without seeing all of his friends come to Christ. But within a short time after his death, all five were believers. Muller’s persistence paid off, even though he didn’t see the answer he prayed for on this side of Heaven.

Prayer is not only an avenue for talking to God. It deepens faith in God, teaches patience and perseverance, and can lead to lives being changed forever. So pray without ceasing, trusting in God’s eventual answer.