October 20. 2013 Luke 18.1-8

“Persistent Prayer”

Luke 18.1-8

October 20, 2013

 

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

Prayer seems to be problematic for modern people.  Skeptics will scoff at prayer and call it merely a mental exercise.  Even the most religious people will often wonder, “Does God hear my prayer?  Am I really speaking to God or am I just talking to myself?”  Even when things go right when we pray, we sometimes have trouble.  If we pray to be healed, for instance and we are, we might ask, “Would I have been healed even if I had not prayed?”  We feel like it is not easy for us to pray, and sometimes we think it is because we are so “modern.”

Our problem is not that we are modern.  Tom Long says that the problem is that we have the good sense to know that when we pray, we are putting our faith on the line.  Is there a God or not?  Does God listen?  Is there a God who cares enough to hear me and to respond?  These are frightening questions because they are so real.

We think we must have it harder than the disciples, since they were not modern and obviously simpler than us.  Listen:  Just because they did not have toasters or televisions does not mean they were dumber than us.  In fact, they were probably sharper because they had no TV.  If they did not have the same questions that we do, then why would Jesus have told them this story in order to encourage them to: “pray always and not lose heart.” (verse 1)  The disciples had the same problems with prayer that we do, so this text is as much for us as it was for them.

 

What does this text tell us?  Some might read this and wonder “Are we to badger God, to harass him day and night, banging upon his door until we get what we want?”  Well, not really, but there are worse ways to spend your time.

This is one parable that Jesus tells where Luke actually gives us the meaning of it BEFORE he tells the parable.  We are to pray always and not lose heart.

 

Praying always and not losing heart does not mean that we should approach Jesus selfishly.

There was a little boy who wanted a BMX bike for Christmas.  He asked his mother to pray for him to get what he wanted.  His mother scolded him for such an idea, and she told him:  “You can’t pray like that.  God doesn’t give us things just because we want them.”  The next evening as she was getting ready for bed, the mother noticed that Mary was missing from their nativity scene.  In her place was a note, written in a little boy’s handwriting: “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again, then I need a BMX bike for Christmas.”[1]

Praying without losing heart means praying in the confidence that God does hear and love us.  That is Jesus’ whole point in this parable, which uses an anti-hero to demonstrate God’s goodness.  It is an operation in contrast. 

If this corrupt, crooked judge is willing to hear this woman’s case just to be rid of her, then how much more will God, who loves you, hear your prayers?  Jesus has used this tool before in the gospels.  If the sparrows do not worry, and if God cares for them, how much more does God care for you?  If this corrupt and awful judge will hear this woman’s need, how much more will God hear you, whom he loves?

 

This parable is not just about prayer, but about persistence in prayer.  In prayer, in a devoted religious life, in our relationship to God, we are to keep at it.  It is a parable about the nature of our faith as well as a parable about the nature of God.

 

There is a story of a single retired female missionary who was leading a women’s bible study on prayer.  She was telling about when she started out in the mission field, she was single and felt very lonely.  Other missionaries were starting families and were happily married, and she prayed fervently that God would send her the man that she had chosen for her.  She was thankful because she knew that God had heard her prayer.

“But you never got married.  You’re still single,” said one of the women.  “How can you keep praying about that?”

“Yes, I am not married.  But don’t you see what that means?  Somewhere in the world is a 76 year old man that has been stubbornly refusing to do God’s will for over 50 years.  Half a century of hardening his heart toward the will of God – how could I ever stop praying for him now?  He doesn’t have much time left!”[2]

 

Persistent prayer does not change God.  It changes us.  That is not to reduce to prayer to some sort of auto-suggestion.  God does not change; but we do, and contact with God will change us.  Doggedly pursuing God will change us because we are searching for God, seeking God, like the Psalmist says, “Thirsting for God, as if in a land with no water.”  That will change us into more of who God wants us to be.  Also, persistent prayer may change those around us and it can make us all more active in God’s plan.  How can we ever expect to be “plugged in” to what God wants us to do if we aren’t actively pursuing God and God’s plan for our lives?  Honestly, if there is one thing that I can see as a pastor that we as a church need to work on is our OWN hunger for God through prayer.  We have a wonderful prayer meeting here every Wednesday night, but it isn’t attended like it should be.  We need to actively cultivate our HUNGER for prayer with God.

 

Tony Campolo tells the story about the time he was preaching this revival at a little Pentecostal College near where he lives. He likes their spirit they have there, and enjoys their company.  Every time he goes to preach there, the faculty will lay hands on him before the service to pray for him.  Once, he says, at this particular revival, one of the men on faculty while laying hands on Campolo, began to pray

“For a certain man, Lord, a man that is about to leave his family.  Don’t let him do it, Lord.  Don’t let him leave his wife and three children.  Lord, you know his name – you know its Charlie Stoltzfus.  Don’t let Charlie leave his family all alone in that silver trailer on the frontage road right off of the interstate at our exit.”

Campolo was kind of taken aback by this man’s prayer.  To name names like that is a little, well, forward and maybe rude in a public group.  But the man prayed the same prayer every night, while laying hands on Campolo.  He was persistent about it.  He would not give up.

The last night of the revival, Campolo got in his car to leave this place.  He had just gotten onto the Interstate to head back to Philly, having just used the exit at the college when he noticed a hitchhiker.  Being Campolo, he pulled over to give the guy a ride and so he could talk about Jesus.  The guy got in his car and Tony introduced himself.  “Hi.  I’m Tony Campolo.”

“I’m Charlie Stoltzfus.”

Without saying a word, Campolo got off at the next exit and headed back the other way.

“Hey mister…um…where are you taking me?”

“Home.”

“Why are you taking me home?” Charlie asked.

“Did you just leave your wife and children?” Tony asked him.

With his mouth agape, Charlie answered, “Yes, I did.”

“Well I’m taking you home.” Tony drove right up to his silver trailer.

“How did you know where I live?”

“GOD told me,” Tony answered.

Tony then took this dumfounded man into his house and prayed with both Charlie and his wife; they both accepted Jesus into their hearts and today Charlie Stoltzfus is a minister, having graduated from that little college where some had persistently prayed for him.[3]

Persistent prayer changes more than you or I can ever know.  Jesus does not want us to lose heart.  Pray constantly.  God loves you too much for you to lose heart.

All of the pain and sorrow we carry in our lives can never be eased unless we pray with persistence.  All of the questions we have about the things that bother us can never be answered unless we take those questions to God.  Can our burdens ever be lifted from us if we do not carry them to the only One that can lift them?

There is a song that Jim Murphy sings:

Bow the knee; trust the heart of your Father

when the answer goes beyond what you can see. 

Bow the knee; lift your eyes toward heaven

and believe the One who holds eternity. 

And when you don’t understand the purpose of his plan,

in the presence of the King, bow the knee.[4]

 

We cannot save ourselves; we do not have it in us to secure our relationship to God.  Only God can do that; but we can do something.  We can be persistent.  We are able to keep putting ourselves in the place where the Grace of God can get to us.  We are able to trust God.[5]

But this story is not just about our need to pray persistently.  This story is about God’s character.  You want to talk about persistence? This story tells us that God loves us persistently.  Jesus loved you all the way to the cross.  How much more persistence do we need to see on God’s behalf?  God pursued you to the cross and still is pursuing you to this moment.

What has God been persistently hounding you about?  Someone once called the Holy Spirit the “Hound of Heaven,” because the Holy Spirit pursues us with a dogged determination like a hound on a hunt.  You might be hiding, dodging or just trying to avoid having attention called to you, but God is too persistent to give up.

What has God been hounding you about?  What has the persistent, unrelenting Spirit of God been taking you to task for?  If you have been hoping that this urge or feeling will go away, trust me – it won’t.  God is working on you.  The hound of heaven is after you and will not give up pursuit.  It is better for you to confront what it is that God wants for you, rather than to try and ignore it.  Give God his answer today.

 

[1] Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story, Word Publishing, Nashville, p. 59.

[2] Campolo, Ibid, p. 60.

[3] Campolo, Ibid, p.60-61.

[4] Chris Machen and Mike Harland, Bow the Knee, Centergetic Music, ASCAP, Allegis Publications, AG-1076, 1997.

[5] Will Willimon, Pulpit Resource, October – December, 2004, p. 14.

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