Mountain tops play tricks on you. I speak here from experience. You climb and climb and climb. You can see the peak just ahead up the slope. Hopes rise. You've almost reached your goal. It wasn't too hard after all. And then as you take the last few steps up what you think is the mountain top the real summit looms into view some distance off and way higher up. Hopes are dashed. Should I walk on or give up? And is that the real summit anyway?
It's very interesting that in Luke's gospel, the first thing Jesus does after teaching the Lord's prayer is to encourage perseverance. 'Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you...' (11:9). A few chapters later we have the parable of the persistent widow, told so that his disciples, 'should always pray and not give up' (18:1).
I wonder how often we are guilty of giving up in prayer, of failing to pray persistently. Perhaps we start well, our prayers fuelled with passion and faith, but then discouragement sets in if the answer to our prayer still seems a long way off - like the distant peak of a mountain perhaps - and we give up.
George Müller is a man well-known for establishing orphanages in Bristol in the 19th century. He was a man of deep faith and child-like trust in God. Each day he brought the immense needs of the orphanages to God in prayer - and then saw God work miracle after miracle to provide.
On one occasion, an orphanage had completely run out of food. George instructed the 300 children to sit down at their tables anyway. He then prayed, thanking God for what he would provide. Within moments there were two knocks at the door, one from a baker and one from a milkman, and all 300 children enjoyed a hearty breakfast.
This is a great story of an amazing and immediate answer to prayer. But George Müller also understood the importance of persevering in prayer: 'It is not enough to begin to pray, nor to pray aright; nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray; but we must patiently, believingly continue in prayer, until we obtain an answer; and further, we have not only to continue in prayer to the end, but we have also to believe that God does hear us and will answer our prayers. Most frequently we fail in not continuing in prayer until the blessing is obtained, and in not expecting the blessing.'
John Wimber, well known for his healing ministry, said something similar: ‘I believe that the fundamental reason more people aren’t healed when prayed for is that we do not seek God as wholeheartedly as we should. In other words, God is able to do greater miracles than we have yet seen, if only we persist in seeking him.’
Is there something that you have given up praying for: a friend to come to faith, a new opportunity at work, financial provision, a broken relationship to be restored, healing for yourself or someone you love? I believe God would encourage you today to keep on praying. Don't give up. As you seek God, and pray in line with his will, remember Jesus' promise: 'Ask and keep on asking, and it will be given you.'