It took ten plagues for God to deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt. I remind myself of this truth often. Imagine with me: Moses meets God at the burning bush, takes off his shoes and falls on his face in fear of this Great I Am. God sends him to Pharaoh to command the release of his people (he tries to get out of the job, unsuccessfully). (See Exodus 4, 7)
Moses walks into Pharaoh’s palace (where he grew up and from where he fled some 40 years earlier) and stands face to face with the ruler of Egypt who believes he is a god; Moses’ confidence is in Aaron his spokesperson and the two wondrous signs in his hands, given by God. “Let God’s people go!” says Moses. As a sign that he is sent by the One True Living God, he throws his shepherd-staff on the ground and it becomes a snake. But then the court magicians did exactly the same with their sticks – what an unexpected surprise! The magicians could do the same sign God gave as proof of His divinity and supremacy!
When Pharaoh did not let God’s people go to worship the Lord, Moses performed the first plague by turning all the water in Egypt to blood (Exodus 7:20-21). Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and unwilling to let God’s people go.
We know the history. It took nine more signs before Pharaoh let the Hebrew slaves go. The one sign was not enough. Two plagues could not do the job either. Did Moses miss God when he turned the water into blood and Pharaoh did not release the slaves? No. Did he do something wrong that caused the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? No. Moses had to go to Pharaoh ten time and instruct him to release the slaves ten times and call down ten plagues upon the Egyptians. It simply took ten plagues for Israel to be delivered from Egypt – Moses needed to be persistent in obeying God. There is a need for endurance.
This Biblical account is not unique in illustrating our need for persistence. During Israel’s battle with the Amalekites they had the militant advantage for as long as Moses kept his hands in the air (Exodus 17:11). Noah was persistent in obeying God to build an ark for 120 years and preach repentance to his generation, yet only his household was saved (Genesis 6:22; 2 Peter 2:5). Abraham’s persistent faith for an heir is commended by God, so that he was called “friend of God” (Genesis 22:18; Romans 4:17).
More contemporary examples of persistence, its needs and rewards are captured in the memories and legacies of William Wilberforce who dedicated his life to the abolition of the British slave trade, and Thomas Edison for his persistence in the design of the light bulb. Persistence pays off!
The Bible has much to teach us on a need for persistence. It is fueled in prayer before God and results in faithful acts of obedience.
Persist in prayer
I have heard many people teach and encouraged demotivated individuals to pray once, believe and “leave it with God”? Yet the Biblical text is full of examples and instructions regarding persistence prayer. Jesus himself once prayed for a blind man, but afterward he could not see clearly. So Jesus persisted in prayer and the man’s sight was fully restored (Mark 8:23-25). He instructed and encouraged his disciples likewise to persist in prayer, saying that they “always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). He taught them “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Although less clear in the English, this instruction in petitioning, acting and persevering for a desired outcome is given, implying persistence until the desired outcome is achieved. His own life was one of persistent, passionate prayerfulness (Hebrews 5:7; ). The disciples followed Jesus’ example of persistent prayer and modeled it to the early church (Acts 1:14; 2:42), also instructing them to “persevere in prayer” (Ephesians 6:18), “be steadfast in prayer” (Romans 12:12) and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Examples of persistent prayer also abound in the Old Testament. Abraham persisted in prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-33). Jacob’s persistence in wrestling with the Angel of the Lord secured him with the blessing of God and a changed identity (Genesis 32:24-31). Moses persisted in prayer on behalf of God’s grumbling, unthankful people for forty days so that they were spared (Deuteronomy 9:25). Hannah was shamelessly persistent in her petitions for a son, and Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:10-12). Likewise Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s persistent prayers were heard, and John the Baptist was born (Luke 1:12). Simeon persisted in prayer for Israel’s Savior and he was rewarded to lay his eyes on Jesus before his death (Luke 2:25-32). Elijah persisted in prayer and the draught over Israel was broken (1 Kings 18:42-45). Daniel had a disciplined prayer life (Daniel 6:10-11) and persisted in prayer for the restoration of his nation until he was heard (Daniel 9:1-3; 10:2-3, 11-12).
But persistent prayer must be accompanied by persistent faith in action. In the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture, “waiting on God” and “hoping in God” are typically used as synonyms for persistence in prayer and obedience while waiting for God’s intervention (e.g. Psalms 88 and 130; Isaiah 26:8 and 40:30-31). There is a need for persisting in doing good as well.
Persist in doing good
Jesus’ life is the perfect example of persistence in doing good (Acts 10:38), of doing the Father’s will (Matthew 26:36-45; Philippians 2:5-8). His disciples followed his example and instructed the church to do the same, and “not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13) but remain “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Joseph’s life is an example of someone who persisted in doing good, even though he was victim to much betrayal an suffering. (Genesis 41:43, 44) Although he suffered unjustly at the hands of his brother and as slave to Potiphar and as prisoner in jail, he persisted in doing good, and God continued to bless him, until later he was appointed as ruler in Egypt. (Genesis 39:10, 12, 23). Because of his persistence and faith God entrusted much to him.
Nehemiah’s life is one of persistence and faithful endurance. Amidst great resistance from without and within (Nehemiah 2:19-20), even in the face of war (Nehemiah 4:7-9), he obeyed the burden of God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, to remove the shame of his people and to restore true worship in Israel (Nehemiah 8:1-3). Likewise, the lives of the David, prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea as well as the early church serve as inspiration to us of persistent faithfulness to God, suffering ridicule and rejection, imprisonment, beatings and even fatal martyrdom in faithful obedience to God.
Is there something you are “waiting” or “hoping” for in God? Have you tried but failed, even though you did what God commanded you? Then remember: it took ten plagues to deliver the slaves from Egypt. Don’t give up!
So what are you trusting for? Do you have unfulfilled dreams or unanswered prayers? God has not forgotten you – he cannot (Isaiah 49:15). He hears your prayers and is willing and able to intervene (Isaiah 59:1), but you have need for persistence, so pray and work until your bucket is full (Revelations 8:4-5).
Follow the example of our Biblical heroes. Remain determined in your dream. Do not wobble due to residence, do not yield to pressure. Be not spineless in the face of the impossible nor waver when the wait is long. Are you weak or battle-worn? Then “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14; see Isaiah 40:31)
But be steadfast in your faith, tenacious in your pursuit, unshakeable on your course. Be relentless in your prayers and unremitting in doing good. God honors persistence!