Persevering in Prayer, or Resting in Relinquishment
This is the final installment in my series on prayer. Over the last three articles, we have discussed a variety of practices for developing a prayer life, communicating with God, becoming more aware of His presence, and learning how to listen in prayer. Now I’d like to share one of my own recent struggles with understanding prayer and take you on this journey in my mind and heart.
There are two ideas about prayer that are both rooted in scripture but that I have been having trouble reconciling together. Let’s take some time to explore each of these individually.
The Prayer of Perseverance
Grab a Bible, flip to Luke 18:1-8, and read the Parable of the Persistent Widow.
We see here in the gospel of Luke that Jesus teaches his disciples to always pray and never give up. He teaches us to be persistent, to continue coming back to him day after day, just like the widow came to the judge day after day seeking justice. This is the type of faith that God wants us to pray with: a persistent faith, a persevering faith, a faith that won’t quit, a faith that wrestles with God in prayer like Jacob and the unknown traveler.
Again, in Luke 11:5-8, the man’s request for bread was answered not based on his friendship but on his boldness. This seems to suggest that Jesus is teaching his disciple that our prayers will be answered when we ask with boldness. This is the preceding context of the well-known passage “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open to you.”
Then in both John 14:12-14 and John 16:23-24, Jesus tells us that when we pray with faith in Him and in His name, He will do whatever we ask. To clarify, praying in Jesus’ name is not using His name as a magic word or to gain power of God; rather, praying in Jesus’ name means to invoke the relationship we have with Him and to rely on His love for us. Though he seems to be teaching us here that when we pray invoke our relationship with Him and rely on His love, He will do what we ask and answer our prayers.
There seems to be a theme throughout the teachings of Jesus that if we persevere in prayer, pray with boldness, and pray faith in our relationship with Him, we will receive what we pray for. This is what I have called the Prayer of Perseverance.
The Prayer of Relinquishment
Now let’s flip to Luke 22:39-46 (emphasis on verse 42), read the account of Jesus praying in the garden. You can also read the parallel accounts in Matthew 26:39 and Mark 14:36.
There are lots of theological insights in this passage we could explore: Jesus’ humanity in the blood, sweat, and tears; angels coming to strengthen Him in His weakness; Jesus’ human will for the cup of suffering to be taken away. But the one that causes me so much struggle to understand is Jesus’ simple prayer, “yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus completely relinquishes His own human will; He lets go of his prayers, submitting Himself completely to the will of the Father. As Richard Foster puts so poignantly, “Here we have the incarnate Son praying through his tears and not receiving what he asks. Jesus knew the burden of unanswered prayer.”
The Prayer of Relinquishment is the prayer that lets go, the prayer that fully submits to God’s will and ceases to press our own will and desires. Abraham experienced this when going to the altar to sacrifice Isaac. Moses experienced this after exhausting his excuses to God in the burning bush. Mary experienced this when she lifted her song to the Lord with Elizabeth. Paul experienced when he let go of the thorn in his flesh and trusted in God’s strength.
There is an element of struggle in this Relinquishment, that we wrestle with God, like Jacob seeking blessing, but coming to a place where we submit in obedience to God’s will, whatever that may be. “Relinquishment”, says Foster, “is a full and wholehearted agreement with God that his way is altogether right and good… [it] is a bona fide letting go, but it is a release with hope.”
The issue that I have struggled with in understanding these two teachings on prayer is how to reconcile the two together. The Prayer of Perseverance and the Prayer of Relinquishment seem to be in complete contrast to one another in practice, and I find myself failing in either one or the other no matter what.
If I persevere in prayer, praying boldly and with faith in my relationship with Christ, not giving up like the persistent widow, I feel like I am not relinquishing the desire of my prayer unto the will of God.
But if I come to a point where I embrace the will of God and relinquish my own will and desire, I feel like I am lacking in perseverance, boldness, and faith that Jesus will hear and answer my prayer.
In my best impersonation of Paul: what shall we say then? Shall we go on praying in perseverance with hope that God may answer? Or shall we relinquish our will unto the will of God?
My best answer: I do not know. I continue to wrestle with this contrast in teaching. Perhaps others don’t see the mutual exclusivity that I do between these two patterns of prayer and may not have the same issues with reconciling them. Perhaps this issue is affecting me more personally because I am currently wrestling with God in a specific circumstance, not knowing whether I should be persevering in prayer or relinquishing the petition to Him, with the feeling that in relinquishment I am giving up of hope. Nevertheless, I’m sure there is a resolution to this problem that I have yet to discover. I will continue to meditate on these teachings on prayer, and I invite you all to wrestle with this with me. Perhaps I will provide a follow-up response whenever the Lord brings revelation of this mystery to my spirit.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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