I have often used the word "relentless" to describe my 7 year old daughter - unyielding, persistent and steady. When Becca sets her mind on something, whether it be writing a book or pursuing a line of argument, she doesn't let anything or anyone stand in her way.
I read a book recently by Alan Weisman called, "The World Without Us". A primary theme in the book is nature's relentless force. At one point, the author oberves how even flowers, germinating in the cracks of concrete, will eventually "heave aside entire slabs of cement". Nature's unblinking persistence gives me much hope.
Relentlessness seems also to be a quality God appreciates. Of course, it goes without saying that any personal characteristic aimed in the wrong direction can do much damage. But when everything is neatly lined up, relentlessness is not such a bad personality trait.
Jesus has something to say about being relentless too. He tells a group a story about a widow and an unjust judge. The unjust judge has no real interest in doing the right thing. You get the idea that self-gratification is his primary motivation. Appeals on ethical or moral grounds aren't going to get anyone very far with him. But he messes with the wrong person when he rules against a certain widow in that city, because she is determined to grab hold of justice for herself. If it takes her the rest of her life, she is prepared. Everyday she goes and pesters the judge with her demands for justice. She is unrelenting. And eventually, in an effort to make his life easier, the judge caves to her demands.
Now here's the interesting thing about this story. It's actually not about a judge and a widow. That's just the window dressing. This story is about our relationship with God and more specifically, it's about prayer. The prelude to the parable reads, "Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lost heart". Later, comparing the unjust judge to God, Jesus says, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?" Pray always without losing heart and cry out to God day and night. Take the desires of your heart and soul seriously and be relentless in prayer. That's the message here.
In the book, "Quarks, Chaos and Christianity", physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne writes, "If the future is truly open, not just a rearrangement of the past, will not God have to know the world in time, as it develops? If this is the case, even God does not yet know the unformed future. This is not an imperfection in God, for the future is not yet there to be known. If this is right, then there must be an experience of time within God, in addition to his external nature....History unrolls, rather than just existing. We make the future; it is not up there waiting for us to arrive. Of course, I believe that God is fully prepared for the future, but I do not believe he knows beforehand exactly what the choice of a free agent, or the outcomes of a free process will be."
Polkinghorne then applies this idea to the act of prayer. "We have our little part to play in bringing about this future; we have our little room for maneuver. God has also reserved to himself some providential room for maneuver in bringing about the future of the world. When we pray, the first thing we do is we offer our room for maneuver to be taken by God and used by him in the most effective way in relation to his room for maneuver, in accordance with his providential will. In more traditional language, we offer our will to be aligned with the divine will. I believe that when this alignment takes place, things become possible that are not possible when human and divine wills are at cross purposes. Therefore, prayer is genuinely instrumental. It genuinely changes the world."
So then let's pair this idea of giving over our room for maneuver to God with the idea of relentless prayer. It's a beautiful marriage. When we repeatedly, everyday work to align our will with God's, things happen. Sometimes amazing things happen. And if we, together with many others, all offer our room for maneuver over to God, well you can see how powerful prayer can be. Sometimes I have a tendency to downplay the power of prayer. I can't get my mind around it most of the time and so I've been known to dismiss it. I need reminders like this that I have a cosmic tool at the tip of my tongue that God urges me to use always.
Here's a final reminder we need to hear often. God is also relentless. My husband and I went to see the final Harry Potter movie this last summer. It was great! Here's what I love most about Harry Potter. The whole underlying message of the series seems to be, "Love always wins." No matter how crippled or at a disadvantage Harry and his friends are, still, love always wins. That too calls to mind the idea of flowers causing pavement to buckle. The other night during her bedtime prayer, Becca was talking about something weighing on her heart. Then she stopped and said, almost as if reminding both herself and God, "But love always wins." God's love is relentless. It is always there. It is the greatest force in this universe. It is always striving, pulsating, radiating, becoming. Tapping into this power with prayer creates a pretty awe-inspiring catalyst for change.
Perhaps prayer is this world's heartbeat of hope.