Have you ever experienced failure while expecting success? Have you ever prayed and failed to get the response you anticipated? If you have experienced any of these in the past what was your next line of action? Give up? Run away? Get depressed? Blame yourself or someone? Before giving a personal answer(s)to these let me first tell you a true life story that is highly didactic.
Jane was one of the most brilliant students during her time in the Secondary School (High School) in Nigeria. It was not surprising that she emerged with a very outstanding result excelling in all the subjects she took. The next stage of her academic development was then to enter into one of the universities in Nigeria offering an engineering course.
When the time came Jane sat for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board Exams which is the precondition for entrance into Nigerian universities. Everyone awaited her result with unquestionable optimism. When the result came out it was deeply devastating that Jane could not make it up to the cut-off mark. Everyone including Jane blamed those who calculated her scores for being careless and inaccurate.
Jane took the next JAMB Exams and the result turned out to be worse than the first. This time, everyone began to ask further questions on various issues including Jane’s state of mind. The story did not end there as Jane took the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and the ninth JAMB Exams in quick succession and they were all bad news. In fact, after the fourth trial, her parents withdrew from assisting her and advised her to go and learn a trade and/or get married and forget about going to a university.
It was at the time Jane was trying to sit for the tenth time that I met her when she came to me for counselling. She was emotional as she recounted her fate and how she had to leave her home to stay with her aunt who had been helping her with accommodation and finance. I was moved by her unwavering faith that God will hear her one day and that she will never give up.
After a meaningful session that ended with some prayers Jane sat for the tenth JAMB Exams and this time she moved her first choice to medicine as the course of study and when the result came out she not only passed, she scored an outstanding mark that was a story for the news. As I am writing this reflection Jane is working in a hospital in Canada as a Surgeon and she is also married to a medical doctor and they have two lovely boys.
Failure is often the inability to try again, it is the proneness to call it quits and the action of giving up. In the First Reading (Gen 18. 20-23), we are presented with the dialogue between Abraham and God and how Abraham made persistent supplications to God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from imminent destruction on account of their grave sin that aroused the anger of God. In the spiritual dialogue with God, Abraham persistently prayed to God to spare the sin cities in six descending steps:
- Abraham: Spare the city for the sake of fifty righteous people!
God: There are no such numbers of righteous people there.
- Abraham: Spare the city for the sake of forty-five righteous people!
God: Forty-five righteous people do not exist in the city.
- Abraham: What about forty righteous people could you spare the city?
God: I will not destroy the city if there are forty-five righteous people.
- Abraham: Suppose thirty are found will you spare the city?
God: For the sake of thirty I will not but they are not to be found.
- Abraham: What if twenty can be found?
God: For the sake of twenty I will not destroy the city.
- Abraham: I beg your pardon, what about ten?
God: For the sake of ten I will not but there are no ten righteous people there.
There is in this prayerful dialogue a deep sense of persistence and patient on the part of Abraham. We all know that beyond the calamitous destruction he was thinking about his nephew Lot and his family. However, he was not selfish about them he wanted other people to be saved alongside his relations. The beauty of the narrative lies in Abraham’s persistent supplication whilst patiently waiting on God to take the final decision.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 11:1-3), our Lord Jesus Christ was asked by one of his disciples to teach them how to pray like John taught his disciples and then our Lord graciously gave them a formula of prayer that we traditionally know as the Lord’s prayer. Immediately after teaching them the prayer he added that prayer should be backed up with persistence. Drawing from the narratives of the First Reading and the Gospel, we shall anchor the rest of this reflection on three centres of gravity: Prayer, Persistence, and Patience.
Prayer: Prayer describes our communication with God; it is at best the only way we can dialogue with God. Prayer was foundational to the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before launching into the ministry proper he spent forty days and forty nights in prayer and fasting (Matt.4:1-2). He often withdrew from people to pray by himself (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). He prayed for others (Luke 22:32; 23:34; John 17) and taught (us) how to pray (Matt.6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). He prayed before his passion and death (Luke 22:41-44, John 12:27-28). He also continued to pray until he ascended into heaven (John 20:22; Luke 24:30;
Prayer is a great facility we have from God but which we regrettably under use. There was an old poor woman who received the benevolence of a philanthropist who provided her with electricity since she did. After some time, it was observed that her house was always in darkness and the philanthropist sent someone to find out what was happening. The person came at night only to discover that the electricity was working but the old woman only uses it to see where her oil lamp is in her dark room and after lighting the lamp she would switch off all the bulbs.
We are very much like this old woman when it comes to prayer. Most of us pray only when there is an urgent need. When that need is over we continue to cruise through life without due attention to prayer. Prayer should be part of our daily life just like the food we eat. Prayer should be the following for us among other things:
- Our powerful connection to the mightiest Power.
- Our strength in our weaknesses.
- Our comfort in sorrow.
- Our weapon against sin and disobedience.
- Our door to the health of soul, mind and body.
- Our ladder to God.
In life, when we stop praying we start perishing.
Persistence: It was our Lord Jesus Christ who said that we need to pray ALWAYS and never lose heart (Luke 18:1). He made this statement while dealing with the theme of persistence in prayers. In the Gospel today, he enjoined us to be importuned in our prayer like the man whose friend came in the middle of the night to ask for something and who had to attend to him on account of his persistence beyond their friendship.
Persistence in prayer actually honours God because it demonstrates our dependence on Him. When someone keeps knocking at a door continuously there is a clear demonstration that there is something behind the door that is very valuable for the person knocking. This can also be applied to seeking and asking.
Persistence in prayer, like in the case of Abraham, is an invitation for us to remain in the game, never to give up or quit as quitters never win and winners never quit. To be more practical and truthful to ourselves, how committed and relentless are we in our prayers? Sometimes we believe that we have prayed enough. It is not how much prayers you have said over an issue it is about how consistent and persistent you are. Keep praying until you have no reason to pray again.
Patience: Waiting is often tiring and at times frustrating for many. However, the real fact is that we have to wait. Waiting is part of our humanity that is why we wait to be born after conception and we wait to grow and the rest of our lives would still go through the process of waiting for one thing or another. David reflecting on the theme of patience said, “be patient and wait for the Lord to act” (Psalm 37:7). In another place, he said, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). The book of Lamentation (3:25) tells us that the Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks him. And from the oracle of Isaiah (40:31) we are told that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
Don’t Give Up: Yes giving up is the watershed of failure! Often that time you wish to give up is actually the right time for your liberation. Imagine what would have being the fate of Lot and his family if Abraham gave up when God mentioned that fifty righteous people cannot be found in the cities Sodom and Gomorrah.
Have you taken time to watch a toddler learning how to walk? Can you really count how many times the toddler has to fall and the persistence in rising again and walking again. The truth is that you can move to the next level. You can get to that place where you intend to be. Keep asking! Keep knocking! Keep seeking! Do not give up!
- Paul tells you in Phillipian (4:13) that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. So
- Angel Gabriel tells you in Luke (1:37) that nothing is impossible for God.
- The book of Deuteronomy (31:8) tells you that God will go before you and be with you. He will not leave you or forsake you so do not be afraid or discouraged. So do not give up.
- Paul tells you in 2nd Corinthians (4:8-9) that you may be hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted not abandoned, struck down not destroyed. So do not give up.
- Our Lord Jesus Christ tells you in Matthew (11:28) to come to him all you that labour and overburdened and he will give you rest. So do not give up.
- God tells you through Isaiah (41:10) not to fear for He is with you. He tells you not to be dismayed for He is God. he says that He will strengthen you, help you and uphold you with His righteous hand. So do not give up.
- God tells you as he did to Joshua (1:9) to be strong and courageous. He tells you not to be frightened or dismayed for He will be with you wherever you go. So do not give up!
As you march into a new week remember to keep praying persistently and patiently wait God will surely give you an upgrading answer. Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.