A man went to his spiritual advisor for some help. He was struggling with some problems, and felt far from God. The learned advisor suggested to him that he pray with “importunity.” Not knowing the word, but not wanting to admit ignorance, the questioner went away hoping to be able to put it into practice as best he could.
So he decided to pray as though he were “important.” After all, isn’t that what “importunity” means? It certainly sounds that way. So he puffed out his chest and wind-bagged a loud, flowery prayer that made him feel pretty good about himself and not think much about God at all. It was probably similar to the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18: “thank goodness I’m not like others.” But, alas (as they say in parables), this didn’t seem to help, and he felt further from God after praying, still surrounded by troubles.
So he decided to pray only when he had the “opportunity.” Maybe he had mis-heard the advisor, and “opportunity” was the word. So when it came to mind, he would pray, though his mind was not so good, and so he rarely prayed. It’s really what we need, isn’t it, to feel less guilt about prayer? Just pray when it feels right, or when you remember, when you get around to it. But alas, his life wore on, and his perceived distance from God only increased, and his troubles threatened to swallow him up.
And so he then prayed as one who was spiritually impotent (impotunity?). Not important, but impotent. Not opportunistic, but powerless. He confessed himself unable to rescue himself; powerless to stem the drift of his life. And so he prayed as an impotent man, helpless and desperate. He threw himself on God, admitting that he could do nothing else. And, as he adopted this approach to prayer, he found that he was compelled to do so time and time again; imploring God for help; begging God for mercy. He would pray as he lay awake at night, and as he was involved in the drudgeries of life during the day. His prayer was never from his heart or his lips.
And then, the clouds began to clear, and he was able to experience an escape from his troubles. God brought to mind pertinent passages of Scripture that would guide him on his path, and he began to rediscover the joy of the Lord. He decided to go and relate his experience to the rather obtuse, spiritual advisor, who, when he heard the story, said, “Exactly, importunity!”