Why Should I Continue to Pray? Does God Listen?
In the 1990s, a psychologist by the name of Anders Ericsson and some colleagues did a study at Berlin’s Elite Academy of Music. They divided violinists into three categories – elite performers, good violinists and then those that would probably never play professionally but good enough to get into the academy. They did this study and they found that most of them started playing around the same age, around age 5 and they practiced about the same time. But around the age of 8, they started to see a differentiation in terms of how much time they put into playing the violin. The researchers found that by the age of twenty, the elite performers had practiced a cumulative total, on average, of 10,000 hours. The good performers had practiced about 8,000 hours and the violinists who would never play professionally had practiced about 4,000 hours. What’s interesting is that they didn’t find anyone in the elite group that had practiced less, not one exception. Evidently, everybody had to pun in the time and the effort and in a sense, you could say that there are no naturals, or maybe you could say all of us are naturals. But the real question is – how much effort are you going to put into it?
Neurologist Daniel Levitin says, “The emerging picture from studies is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve a level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. In study after study, composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players and master criminals, what you have is this number coming up again and again. No one has yet found a case in which true world class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain that long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
Let’s put it in spiritual context. I think it is safe to say that we give up to soon, spiritually speaking. It says, always pray, do not give up. Some of us, we barely pray for something one time. We barely make it to the end of that first prayer and we give up on it. Just do a quick survey of Scripture, and I’m not using these numbers because 7 is some magic number, but what if the Israelites had stopped marching around Jericho after the 6th trip? Or what if Elijah had stopped praying for rain after the 6th time down on his knees? Or what if Naman had only dipped in the Jordan River 6 times?
I love counter-factual theory. It asks the ‘what if’ question. The walls wouldn’t have come tumbling down, rain wouldn’t have come and Naman would not have been healed of leprosy because they would have stopped one time too soon. I think there is something to this, what we need is a level of faith that has this tenacious persistence, I’m just going to keep on knocking until there is an answer to this thing. I think you see that in this persistent widow. And honestly, I think you see it throughout the gospel. Let me keep reading, verse 2:
He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’
A little observation here, this woman goes outside of protocol, she doesn’t make an appointment, she doesn’t wait for the court date. She is desperate and desperate times call for desperate measures. I think that Jesus uses this women to set up an example, if you will, and you can see this throughout the gospels, that God honors a level of spiritual desperation that won’t take no for an answer. I think it is so critical that we get this point because, listen, we get so caught up on protocol. I remember it being so important what we were wearing to church and some of the petty things that God couldn’t care less about, but we get caught up on these protocol issues as if those are the important things. But if you look at the gospels, notice who it is that God rewards. I think about the four friends who bring their paralytic friends to Jesus. How do I say this? They are cutters! They cut line! It’s not nice or fair, they can’t get into the house because it is packed because everybody is trying to get to Jesus, so they somehow get up on the rooftop and lower their friend, and their friend is healed. That was a desperate act to do whatever it takes to get the friend to Jesus. And it is rewarded isn’t it? Jesus didn’t say, ‘Why don’t you raise him back up and go outside and get in line.’ There is something about the way Jesus responded to the level of desperation. I think about a tax collector named Zacheus. I love this guy, he is a tax collector, I think he is looking the part, I think he is wearing the three-piece suit, and Jesus is coming to town and the crowd is thick, you can’t get through. This is random but do you know that the word ‘crowd’ is repeated 101 times? Everywhere Jesus went, He attracted a crowd, you couldn’t keep people away. So, the crowd forms and what does Zacchaeus do? He was short and he couldn’t get a glimpse. I love this. Here is this grown man and he climbs a tree! Are you over forty and still climb trees? I don’t know, there is a part of me that still wants to be climbing trees with my grandkids, I like this. He is so desperate, he doesn’t care how foolish is he going to look, it might rip his clothes, but he was going to do whatever it takes to get a glimpse of Jesus. And who does Jesus invite to lunch? It’s not the people at the front of the line, it’s someone who was desperate enough to climb a tree to get a glimpse of him.
Then I think about the prostitute who crashes the party at the Pharisee’s house. This is one of the most beautiful, funny, awkward moments in the entire gospels. She did not care what people thought. If there was ever a wrong place and a wrong time, that was it. She was desperate to get to Jesus because I know He is the One who can help. Ok, you are going to have this song in your head now, but Desperado, I know it had reckless, careless connotations to it but I think God honors spiritual desperados, people who have a desperate part of their soul that will do anything to get to Him. I think that’s what you see in this persistent widow. Don’t you think we need a little more tenacity in our relationship with God? Always pray, never give up. That’s not protocol, that’s just a hunger deep within your soul. I’m not going to quit until I hear God speak and see an answer to this prayer.