In the old English, the word importunity is used where modern translations will use “persistence.” This persistence is the context for the famous promises of Jesus, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Luke 11:9, 10). In our prayers of asking, seeking, and knocking, we are to be persistent and determined in our actions.
But please do not misunderstand the context of the passage. The persistence has the foundation of relationship—Christ is highlighting both of these elements in our prayer lives. Some religions call for persistence and determination alone for a divine answer. Think of pagan contexts where impersonal offerings and rituals are conducted for favor. There is no merit in the tenacity of the pious by itself.
On the other hand, some versions of Christianity water down the relationship with Christ as a mere assent to His existence. James says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). Having a relationship with God—having a good, tight, bonded, strong, close, fervent, passionate, and powerful relationship with God—naturally results in your being persistent because you know the individual and have confidence in the relationship. This intensity is the feature in Christ’s statement, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13). In other words, if we selfish sinners can do good things for our children and for our persistent friends, how much more can an infinitely perfect Being do good things for His children and His persistent friends?
This mixture of relationship and persistence is seen in the life of Martin Luther. “From the secret place of prayer came the power that shook the world in the Great Reformation. There, with holy calmness, the servants of the Lord set their feet upon the rock of His promises. During the struggle at Augsburg, Luther ‘did not pass a day without devoting three hours at least to prayer, and they were hours selected from those the most favorable to study.’ In the privacy of his chamber he was heard to pour out his soul before God in words ‘full of adoration, fear, and hope, as when one speaks to a friend.’ (Merle d’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, b. 14, ch. 6)” (The Great Controversy, 210).