After my sermon on prayer two emails arrived. The first came the next day querying the parable in Luke 11: 5-13 about the friend's persistence winning through as he kept knocking on the door. 'It makes it sound as though God doesn't really want to answer our prayers ' wrote the emailer. Certainly, it is an unusual not to say daring story. We must be careful about unpacking it. As a prayer about intercession it is about how our prayers for others, like the friend knocking on the door for loaves for his visitor's sake, takes us into a maturing process by which we come to understand more of the ways that God works out his purposes. The mystery of prayer must always leave the outcome to God. How many times have urgent prayers for healing, for example, not seemed to have a positive outcome. And then some do have a glorious answer. What matters is our continuing dependency and faith as children of a living Father - that he hears us and will answer in his own way.
When I initially introduced the idea of 'five' prayers for persistence I met criticisms that it made prayer some sort of mechanical exercise or worse a manipulative practice. As though we were insisting God answer our way. The truth is that we always needed to pray about what we should pray together. From the outset we sought the prayers to be in God's will. I like the way in the parable that its a question of feeding a hungry guest with three loaves specifically required. That does sound like something which God approves!