The Importance of Importunity
“Importunity” is a unique word in Scripture. In Luke 11:8 we read, “I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” That is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible, although we see many examples of it throughout Scripture.
The definition of “importunity” may make it seem like a negative quality—it is defined as “an element of impudent insistence rising to the point of shamelessness.” Based on that, one might suppose that in many cultures, importunity would be considered forward or even rude. However, the Lord thinks of this quality differently. To Him, it is an important and positive attribute.
The parable in Luke 11 that includes this verse reveals the importance of praying with boldness and persistence. In that account, Jesus told of a man who went to a friend’s house in the night and requested the loan of three loaves of bread in order to have something to serve his guests. Jesus stated that although the request was made by a friend, friendship was not the reason the householder arose from his bed and gave what was needed. It was because of the man’s persistent asking.
Just before Jesus related this parable, the disciples had asked Him to teach them to pray. In response, He had given them the model prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” and then He told the parable about the importance of importuning in prayer. He concluded his instruction by making a parallel. In verse 13, we read, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” In other words, if a favor can be obtained through persistence from one who is unwilling and ungracious, how much more readily will God answer the earnest prayers of His children?
Three contexts when importunity does not work
Although Jesus taught the necessity of importunity in prayer, Scripture tells us there are certain times when persisting in prayer about a matter will not bring results. First, if we are asking for the wrong things or with the wrong motive, importuning will do no good. In James 4:3 we read, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” So, when we come to the Lord, we must make sure our motives are pure. If we are coming with any kind of self-seeking or self-serving objective, we are asking for the wrong reason. God wants the glory! If we are asking for something that we know is outside of the Lord’s will, we are asking amiss. These are times when all the praying in the world will do no good.
There is one prayer that a sinner can pray that the Lord will always answer, and that is a prayer of genuine, heartfelt repentance. God will never turn away from a prayer like that.
Another scenario in which importunity will not avail is when sin is present. In Psalm 66:18 we read, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Sinners pray all kinds of prayers. Sometimes the Lord in His mercy may answer a prayer offered up in desperation, but if we regard iniquity in our hearts—if there is any sin or disobedience, or we are clinging to something in our lives we know is displeasing to the Lord—we are not in a position to expect the Lord to answer. There is one prayer that a sinner can pray that the Lord will always answer, and that is a prayer of genuine, heartfelt repentance. God will never turn away from a prayer like that.
Finally, the third reason the Lord does not grant our prayers is when the answer is no. This response can seem discouraging, but we need to understand that God knows what is best for us. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, we read the Apostle Paul’s account of having been given a “thorn in the flesh” which troubled him. He recounted, “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” He was importuning, “Lord, take this affliction from me,” but God did not remove the affliction. Instead, He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul accepted that answer, responding, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
God revealed to Paul why He had allowed that thorn in the flesh in the first place. In verse 7 we read, “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” God had shown Paul revelations that no one else had seen, but he was given this infirmity to remind him to stay humble—to not be exalted because of what he had seen. Paul understood that God had said no for a reason. We do not see anywhere in Scripture that Paul ever again sought the Lord to take that affliction from him. When God says no we can stop importuning, trusting that the Lord’s perfect will is being worked out.
God encourages asking
Other than those reasons for not granting our requests, God encourages us to bring our petitions to Him. As a matter of fact, He not only encourages us to ask, but He commands it! In Matthew 7:7-8, we read, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” In essence He was saying, “Importune! Persevere in prayer!” Importunity pleases the Lord. Persistence pays off.
In Luke 18:1-8, we find another parable of Jesus that illustrates the results of continuing in prayer. “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.” Again, the Lord was illustrating that if persistence pays off in dealing with a corrupt human who has limited power, then so much more it will avail with a just God who has infinite power.
Some may suggest, “If you had faith you would only ask once.” That is not what Jesus said. His instruction was for us to come in faith and keep asking and seeking.
Jesus summed up this parable with the words, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Importuning in prayer is not evidence of a lack of faith; it is a demonstration of faith! Some may suggest, “If you had faith you would only ask once.” That is not what Jesus said. His instruction was for us to come in faith and keep asking and seeking. By doing so, we show the Lord that we are still holding on in faith that He will answer. When Jesus comes back, we are told He will be looking for those who have faith, so we see how important it is to importune in our prayers.
Importuning for others
At times, the Lord calls on us to importune for others—to pray earnestly and persistently for someone else. People may be in circumstances where they cannot pray for themselves so the Lord calls upon us to step in and pray for them. The Bible tells us that no one can be saved unless the Spirit draws him; sometimes we need to pray for Holy Ghost conviction to come on an individual so that person will see his or her spiritual need.
Importuning for others is illustrated in God’s Word also. In Matthew 15:22 we read about a woman of Canaan who came to Jesus saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” However, Scripture tells us, “He answered her not a word.” It is easy for us to imagine how that woman felt when there was no response from the Lord. How do we feel when God is silent? Maybe you have brought a burden before Him and it seemed He was not answering. What do you do then? Do you give up? The Lord heard every word this woman said; He was testing her faith. And He hears us as well.
What do we do when others try to discourage us from praying? We must keep praying; we must keep knocking; we must keep asking.
Continuing on, we read, “And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.” She could not get the Lord’s attention so she went to His disciples, but they wanted to send her away. What do we do when others try to discourage us from praying? We must keep praying; we must keep knocking; we must keep asking. What do we do when we feel like that person we are praying for is seemingly unmoved? There may be a tendency to become discouraged; perhaps all of us have felt that. However, we must do as this woman did: she kept right on asking.
In verse 24 we read Jesus’ initial response, “But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It almost seems as if He was saying there was no hope for her—that He only came for the people of Israel. Again, He was testing her faith. What did she do? We read, “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” She just kept on crying out to the Lord.
In verse 26 there was what could seem like another rebuff. Jesus told her, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” I love her response. She said, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” What an example of humility! She was willing to take the place of a dog—an outsider. She was not there to defend herself; she was not interested in pleading her own cause; she was there on behalf of her daughter! Just one crumb was all she needed, and she hung on in faith. In verse 28 we read the outcome of her persistence: “Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” He let her know she could ask anything she wanted and it would be hers. In fact, God was so pleased that He used her as an example to His disciples and to us.
Prayers for me
If you are praying for someone and are beginning to think there is no hope, hang on in faith! I am thankful that there were those who importuned for me. A few months after God saved me as a young boy, I was walking across the campground and saw Sister Pauline Martin hurrying toward me. She was an older lady, but she was running! My previous encounters with Sister Pauline had not been pleasant, and that was not her fault. I was rebellious and belligerent, and probably was antagonistic toward her. When I saw her heading toward me, my first thought was, What does she think I did now? Something was different that day, though. She stopped in front of me and reached out and grabbed me by the hand. Looking me right in the eye, she said, “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you are saved! You used to give me so many headaches! I spent hours on my knees praying for you. Thank God, He answered my prayer and now I do not have to worry about you anymore.”
Do you know what that did to my faith? I thought, Wow. I knew people had been praying for me—I had grandparents and parents who were Christians—but I would never have thought of Sister Pauline. Recalling that incident reminds me that I can importune for others; you can importune for others. Do not let go! Hang on in faith. God will hear that prayer and He will answer. We are not inconveniencing the Lord when we importune. He loves it, and encourages us to do so.
Importuning for ourselves
Sometimes we need to importune for ourselves. How can we encourage others when we have not obtained needed victories for ourselves? At times it may feel easier to believe for someone else than for ourselves. However, we need to get hold of promises for ourselves; we need to learn to importune until we get an answer from the Lord.
In Genesis 32 we read of Jacob persevering in prayer until he received an answer from Heaven. Jacob had been running for a long time from his brother, Esau, and now Esau was out to seek revenge for the inheritance that Jacob had stolen from him. However, Jacob had received some promises from God. Even when he was fleeing toward his Uncle Laban’s house many years earlier, God had met him in a dream and promised that He would be with Jacob, would bless him, and would bring him back home in peace. But now Jacob found himself in trouble. It seemed God’s promise to him was not being fulfilled.
Knowing God’s promises and holding onto God’s promises are two different things.
Knowing God’s promises and holding onto God’s promises are two different things. God’s Word is full of promises—promises that often go unfulfilled in people’s lives. They are not unfulfilled because of a lack on God’s side; we need to get hold of them!
Jacob prayed a prayer asking for deliverance. In verse 11 we read, “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” Jacob realized he was in trouble. He already had begun to humble himself and acknowledge that all the blessings he had were from God. He could see the mess he had created and realized that he needed to get some things settled in his heart. Even though he had promises, he did not have peace; he needed a definite assurance from God.
Continuing in verse 24 we read, “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Sometimes we have to get alone with God, setting aside all distractions. Jacob was there until “the breaking of the day.” This was more than a five-minute prayer! This was more than merely tossing a prayer heavenward while dashing out of the house with a cup of coffee in hand! This was a prayer born out of desperation. Jacob realized he was at the end of his own resources, and needed something more. How many of us have taken hold of God and prayed until the breaking of the day? Jacob was desperate, and sometimes it takes desperation to motivate us to continue in earnest prayer until the answer comes.
There is some speculation regarding who it was that Jacob wrestled with, but whoever he was, he represented God’s power and blessing. In verse 25 we read, “And when he [the divine representative] saw that he prevailed not against him [Jacob], he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.” I love Jacob’s response in verse 26, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” He was saying, “God, I need you! I am desperate! If You do not step in, there is no hope.” He would not let go until he had an assurance from God.
When we take hold of God and cling to Him, saying, “I am not going to leave until You bless me,” that pleases the Lord. The Lord is not trying to get away. He wanted Jacob to realize how desperately he needed Him, and Jacob pressed through. In verse 28 we read the words of that divine representative, “For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” How awesome it is to think that an insignificant, weak human being can have power with God! That power does not come through our cunning or our intellect or resources, but only through importunity. It is when we get a hold of God that we have power and prevail.
The challenge for us
The Lord will bless us if we are willing to hold on in prayer. We show the Lord our willingness to importune not just through our words but also through our actions. We can say that we are hungry for the Lord, but how much time are we spending in prayer? Do we make it a point to be in God’s house? Do we make the effort to be in prayer after the services and in our own homes? These are actions we can take to prove to the Lord that we mean business.
The Lord does not always fulfill His promises the first time we express our needs. Sometimes we may have to take a step of obedience more than once. Sometimes we may have to pray more than once.
The Lord does not always fulfill His promises the first time we express our needs. Sometimes we may have to take a step of obedience more than once. Sometimes we may have to pray more than once. Namaan the leper was told to dip in the muddy Jordan River seven times. He had a promise, but he had to follow through; he could not quit until he dipped seven times. Elijah prayed earnestly that it would rain; God had given a promise, but the prophet had to send out his servant seven times to see if the answer was coming. On the seventh time, the servant reported there was a cloud like a man’s hand. That was enough for Elijah! He knew the answer to his prayer was on the way. All of these individuals had to persevere. God blessed them as a result, and He will bless us if we are willing to hold on—to keep seeking, keep asking, keep knocking.
If you are not saved, it does not matter how many times you have prayed and asked the Lord to save you. If you are willing to get truly honest with the Lord—to humble yourself and open your heart in complete surrender—He will save you today. If you need to be sanctified, God says to hold on; He has that blessing for you. If you need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, that is a gift God has promised to pour out upon all flesh.
The blessings you need from God are available. If you keep knocking on Heaven’s door, the Lord will answer. He will not be upset or impatient or put out or frustrated by your persistence. He will be thrilled! He sees someone who means business. He sees someone who wants Him more than anything else, and He will reward that kind of faith. As we pour out our hearts to Him and persevere in prayer, we can be certain that He will respond.