Perseverance in Prayer
A couple of weeks ago, you may remember my calling up a young boy, Jacob, to jump continuously, reaching for a broom that I had in my hand. If you were here, I’m sure you remember the jumping but do you remember why I had him do it? The point was that Christ was the broom; Christ, who sweeps away our sin, puts it away never to be found again, is not some far-away, distant God, removed from human experience, but the God who descends to our lowliness, who puts Himself within reach, but who also requires that we keep reaching. The problem with that may be though, that we stop reaching or, better yet, we never even start to reach. We grow tired, we don’t see enough results, we listen to the naysayers who tell us that it’s a waste of time and we wonder whether or not God is even there.
In the gospel reading that we heard this morning, the Canaanite woman that Jesus met is one of the best examples we have of perseverance. What is perseverance? Is it simply continuing with an action over and over? Actually, no.Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. The key to this is “despite difficulty or delay”. There are obstacles to being faithful to God.If you’re struggling, I say join the club. Those obstacles we call the passions, which are not the things we love or feel passionate about but, rather, passions are the things in our minds and our bodies that cause us to sin, to be apathetic, to be greedy, gluttonous, or overly materialistic.
I’ll give you a great example in my own life. When I graduated from UMass and got my first job, it was great having some income. Within a couple of months, I bought a new car, started eating out every day, and started taking vacations in Florida. Then, after five years of that, I literally wiped out my savings, moved into a room smaller than the size of our coat room at the Center, and gave up my freedom to do most things. I became a seminarian. I say all that not to look for sympathy at all because the fact is: those were the most liberating years of my life. Despite being busier than I had ever been, despite the homework, the late-night choir rehearsals, chapel services early in the morning and late in the evening every single day, I was free because my relationship with God had never been so deep or so life-transforming. I kept reaching and God kept showing Himself to me. I had never known joy like that in my life despite the car, the vacations, and all the earthly things I sought to keep me happy.
It was then and there that I realized that the most important thing about the Christian faith is not about doing good things, not about knowing all of the details of the faith or the numbers of the Scripture verses. It is about persevering in our establishing and maintaining a prayerful relationship with God, a relationship that heals, that inspires, that completes what is lacking and that transforms us into His own likeness. After all, it was Jesus who taught us that perseverance is the essential element in prayer. That spiritual joy that we all seek, that remains all too elusive for many of us, arises from a pure heart and from perseverance in prayer. In the epistle to the Hebrews, it says, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set in front of Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In those two verses, we see the whole message laid out for us. With the example of Christ and the Saints who witnessed their faith and showed us the way to follow, we need to separate ourselves from the sin that weighs us down, entangling us in godless living. Instead, with perseverance, overcoming obstacles, putting aside our own vices, we focus on Jesus Christ. We make the relationship with Him our goal – not His qualities, not His wisdom, not His miracles – but the relationship with Him our unending goal. Then, just like Jesus, we will find our joy, our freedom, and the fulfillment that we all desire when we begin to experience the godly life and the glory of God in our midst.
So finally I’ll say this: if you feel like you’re struggling more than most, if you feel like God is not listening, like you’re not making progress, it’s all about the obstacles. Remove the obstacles. Don’t give yourself any excuse to fail. Keep your prayer book handy and work at it like your life depends on it. I guarantee you’ll see results. Just remember: by perseverance, the snail reached the ark.