Tim Keller in his great book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God uses an illustration from O. Hallesby. In God’s providence, I was recently reading this passage from the book, and found it very helpful. Tim writes:
If we overstress submission, we become too passive. We will never pray with the remarkable force and arguments that we see in Abraham pressing God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, or Moses pleading with God for mercy for Israel and himself, or Habakkuk and Job questioning God’s actions in history.
However, if we overstress “importunity,” if we engage in petitionary prayer without a foundation of settled acceptance of God’s wisdom and sovereignty, we will become too angry when our prayers are not answered. In either case—we will stop praying patient, long-suffering, persistent yet nonhysterical prayers for our needs and concerns.
Hallesby likens prayer to mining as he knew it in Norway in the early twentieth century. Demolition to create mine shafts took two basic kinds of actions. There are long periods of time, he writes, “when the deep holes are being bored with great effort into the hard rock.” To bore the holes deeply enough into the most strategic spots for removing the main body of rock was work that took patience, steadiness, and a great deal of skill.
Once the holes were finished, however, the “shot” was inserted and connected to a fuse. “To light the fuse and fire the shot is not only easy but also very interesting ... One sees ‘results’ ... Shots resound, and pieces fly in every direction.” He concludes that while the more painstaking work requires both skill and patient strength of character, “anyone can light a fuse.”
This helpful illustration warns us against doing only “fuse-lighting” prayers, the kind that we soon drop if we do not get immediate results. If we believe both in the power of prayer and in the wisdom of God, we will have a patient prayer life of “hole-boring.” Mature believers know that handling the tedium is part of what makes for effective prayers.