How long should we pray before we give up?

In our culture, we are used to instant gratification. When we want something, we can often get it right away. Does this affect how we pray? Do we pray and expect an instant answer? Is it reasonable to expect that God will answer right away?

Genesis 25 gives us some perspective on God’s timeline for answering prayer. This chapter tells us that Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife because she was barren. Notice Isaac’s age when he took a wife and notice his age when his sons were born. How long did Isaac pray on behalf of his wife?

Gen. 25:19 ¶ Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac;

Gen. 25:20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.

Gen. 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Gen. 25:22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.

Gen. 25:23 The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”

Gen. 25:24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.

Gen. 25:26a Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob;  The Hebrew word for heel is aqb. The Hebrew form of Jacob is yaqb.Gen. 25:25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau.

Gen. 25:26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

Isaac was forty when he took a wife and sixty when his sons were born. That’s a difference of twenty years. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife, but it’s possible he started praying within a couple years after he married Rebekah which means he may have prayed for 15 years or more before God granted his request.

What about us? Would we have enough patience to pray for something for 15 years or more? Are we willing to live by God’s timetable and not our own? Our culture has conditioned us to expect instant gratification, but God does not follow human timetables nor human concepts of fast or slow.

2Pet. 3:8 ¶ But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

When we pray, we should not expect an immediate answer even though we are used to instant gratification. Instead, we need to be patient and we need to be willing to wait for years for an answer because it may be years before God answers our prayer.


Further Reading

Why does prayer work?

Does prayer work?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”