I’ve prayed a long time for some people, seemingly, to no avail. Yet things aren’t always what they seem. Jesus told his disciples a parable to reinforce his message to pray and never give up (Luke 18.1). The story of Monica (332-387) reminds us to persevere in prayer. Monica was born and raised in North Africa (Algeria), the daughter of Christian parents. She was given in marriage at a young age to Patricius, who had little regard for faith. He had a bad temper and was often unfaithful. They had three children, one of whom, Augustine, became the greatest theologian the church has ever known. Augustine left for college and rejected the faith. He joined a cult-like group and took a mistress, with whom he fathered a son. Augustine was the one who famously prayed, “O Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” Monica prayed 17 years for her wayward son. She prevailed upon Bishop Ambrose to join her in this intercession. St. Ambrose, later to play a pivotal role in Augustine’s transformation, became Monica’s prayer partner. One afternoon, as Augustine walked in a garden, despondent about poor choices he had made, he heard a child’s voice, “Take up and read.” He opened a Bible to a verse about casting aside worldly ambition and putting on Christ (Romans 13.12-14). St. Augustine shared his conversion and journey of faith in what amounts to his autobiography, simply titled Confessions. Augustine praised Monica for praying and drawing him to Christ. He wrote that she gave birth to him twice–once in the flesh and once in the spirit. You can imagine her joy when Ambrose baptized Augustine and his son on Easter Sunday in 387 AD. Later that year, as they were traveling together, Monica became seriously ill. Death was imminent as they came to the realization that she would be buried far from home. Monica reassured him, “Nothing is far from God.” The story of her life. Keep praying. Never give up. Augustine’s prayer in Confessions draws us to God:
So late did I love You, O Beauty, so ancient, and yet so new! So late did I love you! For, behold, You were inside me, but I was outside, and sought you there. I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty that You had made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Things kept me far from You, which would not have been, if they had not been in You. You called, and cried aloud, and broke open my deafness. You gleamed and shined and chased away my blindness. You breathed out odors, and I drew in my breath, and now I breathe heavily for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and now I burn for Your peace.
Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.