I know that there is something about the idea of prevailing prayer that, at least on the surface, seems contrary to a Calvinistic way of thinking, but the conflict is only superficial. In two of the parables of the Lord Jesus, there is the story of a person who prevailed in a request by means of perseverance. In Luke 11:5-10, there is the story of a man who lacked food to feed a guest who arrived at his home at midnight. He went to his neighbor. At first the neighbor did not want to be bothered, but at last he gave the things that were needed because of the man’s persistence.
Jesus then repeated His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told of a widow who gained justice from a dishonest judge through a similar course of persistence. He then added, “And shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?” (v. 7). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). He wrote to the Romans, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Rom. 15:30).
In all of these texts the emphasis falls on the discipline of prayer and persistence. Persistence! That is the thing. We are to realize our need and then have persistence in seeking its fulfillment.
Now as we do this we are also to pray knowing that God sees our needs more than we do and is actually far ahead of us in fulfilling them. In fact, this is one ministry and perhaps one of the greatest ministries of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).
Do you see what this means? It means that God the Holy Spirit not only dwells within us, hearing what we say and then responding to it. He also takes an initiative in prayer, probing our hearts to see our greatest needs, and then interpreting our prayers in that light to God our heavenly Father. God loves us. He wants to help us. Thus, He searches us out to see what He can do for us.
When my sisters and I were very young, I remember what great difficulty we had in our home to discover before Christmas or before birthdays what we could do for my father. I am sure he had obvious needs, but to us at the time it seemed as if he were the only man in the world who had everything. He liked to fish, but he seemed to have all of the equipment he needed for fishing. He liked to hunt, but we could not help him there. Thus, we were always at great pains to discover some need that we could fulfill for him. If he would ever drop a hint of some need, we were then quite delighted if we could respond to the need and give him the thing he desired.
In exactly this way we are told that our gracious God and heavenly Father searches our hearts to see what we need, and then He delights to answer the need out of His inexhaustible storehouse of blessings.