Nov 8, 2023



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. Each of Augustine’s 13 chapters of his spiritual autobiography, Confessions, begins with prayer.  This prayer opens his Confessions:

“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom.”  And man, desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud.  Still, he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation.  Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.  Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee.  But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art.  But “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?  Or how shall they believe without a preacher?”  Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek him,” for “those who seek shall find him,” and finding him, shall praise him.  I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee.  I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.

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.