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Tonight my cat reminded me of a Bible story that I love, from Luke 11:
Suppose you went to a friend's house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, "A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat." And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, "Don't bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can't help you." But I tell you this -- though he won't do it for friendship's sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.
That's the NLT; the KJV uses the word importunity instead of shameless persistence. But you get the idea. Now back to my cat.
She loves going outside. Outside is the most incredible, magical, wonderful, amazing place in the whole wide world to her. She is not an outdoor cat, you see, but I occassionally let her out into the backyard if I'm there to supervise her (because I'd rather not have her run away or get eaten by turkey vultures!).
She spends most of her life inside, and she spends a lot of that life relentlessly meowing at me, asking to be let outside. Of course, I'm a busy guy, so often I simply ignore her wails.
And tonight, I ignored her as I often do. I have a lot of things to work on tonight, so I told her that she'd have to wait until tomorrow. But something was noticeably different tonight. Her meows were louder and more frequent. They sounded almost pained; you could hear the desperation in them. And as she kept that up, I had a change of heart. I decided I'd make a little time in my schedule to play with the cat outside. She was very happy about this.
Maybe you've wanted something for a long time that doesn't seem to be happening; you've wanted it badly. Maybe you've even consciously prayed about it, but nothing seems to be moving. I like Jesus' short parable, because it reassures us that we we will get what we need as we keep asking. I had ignored my cat's pleas, but as she kept asking, it touched me. I wanted to change my own schedule to accomodate her better. And if just the simple cry of a cat can implore a man to do that, imagine how much more of an effect your prayers -- the prayers of a beloved son/daughter of God -- can have with your Heavenly Father.
Now, I don't think the analogy is perfect, so don't try to dissect it too much. I don't think God is actively ignoring you because He's too busy making spaghetti, for instance, and that your prayers will change His schedule. Not at all. In fact, I'm quite sure God is always listening and unfolding things just when you're ready for them.
I think the moral of this story is less about the final effect, and more about your approach. Being "shamelessly persistent" is a quality sometimes looked down upon. People who are "shamelessly persistent" might be labeled as "someone who won't take 'no' for answer." And certainly, there is a line to be drawn with obsession. But to me, the reason Jesus praises the value of importunity is because it means that you're starting to believe that you deserve the things you're asking for -- that you haven't been disqualified or excluded from goodness. And you believe it enough to keep asking for it, despite opposition.
Earlier this evening, my cat's need was to go into the backyard. She kept asking, and she got what she was asking for. If the cat can do it, so can you.