Persistence in prayer is the key to everlasting life
At school, I played hockey, rugby, cricket, athletics and table tennis. Later, as a junior master at university in Dublin, I coached three Leinster Provincial Cup-winning hockey teams.
I have always enjoyed playing, coaching and following sports. For me, the best spectator sport visually is rugby, especially at international level, but there are also exciting European club tournaments like the Magners and Heineken leagues and the Guinness PRO14.
Rugby is one of the most aggressive contact sports in which the short-term and long-term damage to joints and limbs must be substantial. It is a tough man's game.
Hence my surprise when I observed, in a Rugby World Cup series, powerful men from Tonga and Samoa, gathering together on the pitch after their separate defeats. In front of huge crowds, they knelt and prayed.
For me, that was remarkable. In our secular world, and watched on television by millions, these men gave thanks to God - in their defeat, but in their joy as well.
I later learned that many of the players on the Tonga and Samoa teams are devout Christians. Prayer is important for them.
Prayer was important in Old Testament Judaism. For example, the prophet Elijah in 750 BC fled to Mount Sinai to be with God. And God spoke to him on the mountain in a still, small voice. You may remember also that the young boy, Samuel, spoke to God in the night on the instructions of his master, Eli, the priest of the Temple at Shiloh.
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Further, prayer was important in New Testament Christianity. Jesus frequently went away to a quiet place to be alone with his Father. Jesus taught his followers to do something similar - to withdraw and be alone with the Father. Jesus gave thanks to the Father as he took the bread and the wine at the Last Supper and gave it to his Apostles. He prayed to the Father.
Jesus stressed the importance of prayer. "You need to pray always, and never lose heart", he said. Underlying this was Jesus' awareness that people might give up and stop praying. Jesus urged them, "Even though you might appear to be making no headway, keep on praying! Don't give up!".
Speaking to his disciples, Jesus used the image of a widow who desperately wanted justice on a particular vital issue against another person. The only person who could deliver justice for her was a dishonest judge, and he said no. However, such was the widow's absolute determination that she persisted. Again and again she badgered the judge, and through her unremitting strategy of attrition, she wore him down. He gave up and acceded to her request.
Jesus said that, like the widow with the judge, persistence is the key to success. You and I should persist in prayer. Never give up - keep on praying.
I conclude with a very simple but important story about the effectiveness of prayer - of having a living and friendly relationship with God/Jesus. This is a magnificent and moving story, disarming in its simplicity and illustrating that prayer does not need to be complicated or wordy.
Jim was a serving soldier on an army base. He was not religious or pious in the conventional sense. Every day as he went about his duties on the base, he popped into the chapel and said, "Hi Jesus, I'm Jim."
Time came and Jim was drafted to frontline active service. Sadly, he was killed in action. He came before Jesus. Jesus approached him, took his hand, and said to him, "Hi Jim, I'm Jesus."