A magazine cartoon has a little fellow kneeling beside his bed for his bedtime prayer and saying with some measure of disgust, “Dear God, Uncle Jim still doesn’t have a job; Sis still doesn’t have a date for the social; Grandma is still feeling sick – and I’m tired of praying for this family and not getting results.”
Praying was a problem for this little fellow and he isn’t alone. Prayer is a problem for many modern people.
If it wasn’t a problem, then why are there so few people who take prayer seriously? If it isn’t a problem then why do we find it so hard to set time aside everyday to spend with God in prayer?
If we took prayer seriously then we wouldn’t hesitate to be persistent and consistent in the time we spend in conversation with God.
If we really believe that God is a God of love, forgiveness, compassion and gentleness; that he can change us, heal broken lives and restore severed relationships, then we would really be serious about praying to him. In fact, if we really believed this then no-one and nothing would be able to keep us from praying.
But the problem is that too often our earnestness and sincerity in prayer give way to discouragement. We simply give up.
If you think that this is a particularly modern problem, think again. It was also an issue back in Jesus’ day and so Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer through parables and words of encouragement?
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, one of the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray” (11:1). It’s not that this disciple had never prayed before but that he had seen something different in the way Jesus prayed and wanted to learn more. Jesus obliges and gives us what we know as the Lord’s Prayer as a kind of model prayer?
Today in Luke 18 we hear Jesus’ teaching about prayer again. There is most likely something more to the background of this – perhaps one of the disciples had become frustrated with praying because it seemed that God didn’t hear or want to answer his prayers.
So Jesus tells a parable about a truly disgusting judge. This judge had no respect for justice and no feeling for the suffering of others. In Jesus’ day there were those judges who were notorious for accepting bribes, for being corrupt and perverting the course of justice. We hear of a widow who has a case to bring to the judge, but since she is a widow she has nothing to offer as a bribe. Neither does she have anyone to speak on her behalf. She has no standing in the society of the time. She is a picture of helplessness.
But she does have one thing. She has the ability to pester the judge. Even though the judge wants nothing more to do with this woman, she doesn’t give up. She leaves messages on his answering machine, constantly appears in his office, writes him letter after letter, sends faxes, emails. She gives him no peace – she is persistent. She wanted justice and she wanted it now!
Finally this judge says to himself, “Even though I don’t care about God and I can’t stand this woman, I will give this woman what she wants just to get her out of my hair” (vv. 4-5 paraphrased).
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There are two points that come out of Jesus’ parable.
Firstly, the widow was in a helpless situation she could have easily lost heart and given up. As someone who was a nobody in her community, too poor to resort to bribery and lacking in influential friends, the chance of her having any success was nil. And what is more she couldn’t count on the religious principles of the judge because he had none. She is a picture of helplessness and if she lost heart who wouldn’t blame her.
This is the case with much of our praying. I believe one of the big issues that we face in our praying is that we don’t come to God in helplessness and with an earnestness like the widow. We are often far too half-hearted about what we are praying and don’t really believe that God will really give us what is for our good.
If we really believed that God hears and answers our prayers, if we were convinced that prayer changes things, heals broken lives, and restores severed relationships then we, like the woman, would be hammering on God’s door constantly, asking, seeking and knocking, and waiting, our trust sometimes fainting, sometimes growing angry. In the face of every difficulty we would not lose heart, but consistently and persistently keep on going to God even though we have become discouraged.
The Bible records some of the prayers of people who have gone to God with their seemingly hopeless situations. Some of the bitterest complaints about God and his ways are to be found in the Bible. In the Psalms and the Book of Job the cries of bitter and angry people are recorded for us today. Rather than lose heart and give up on God they persistently called out to him,
“My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer; in the night season, and am not silent” (Psalm 22:2).
We hear of Jesus praying on the night of his arrest, “Being in agony he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44). Even though Jesus was in a hopeless situation, he didn’t lose heart. He prayed even more fervently.
It would have been easy for that widow to give up because the odds were against her of ever moving the corrupt judge to do anything in her favour. In spite of how things might look to you and how overpowering chaos and trouble are in your life, and even though the situation appears hopeless, Jesus urges us not to lose faith but to “keep on praying.”
I said there are two points that I’d like to make.
The first one – if we believe that prayer is important nothing should keep us from praying.
The second point is what this parable says about the character of God. If that sleazy and corrupt judge who had no real interest in the widow at his door, will open his hand and answer the requests of the widow, then how much more will our heavenly Father. It is our heavenly Father who has a deep and intimate concern with everything that happens in our lives, and has promised to answer our prayers and petitions.
This parable is about the trustworthiness and generosity of God. If a crooked judge can give what is asked for, how much more will God who is gracious and kind give us what we pray for. Jesus said something similar to this after the parable about the man who persistently knocked on his neighbour’s door at midnight. He said, “Who is there among you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9-11). You see, if sinful parents give good things to their children because they love them, then it follows that our heavenly Father who promised to love us as his own at our baptism and to walk with us throughout life’s journey, will never ignore our prayers, and will always answer them in the most loving way.
Our text today reassures us that God does hear our prayers, just as the judge heard the widow and her pleadings. We can take comfort in the knowledge that God is far more gracious than the dishonest judge is. He answers out of his goodness and kindness and grace. If his answers depended on us, on how well we pray, on how well we have lived as God’s people, then we could never expect to have our prayers answered.
I’m sure every one of us here this morning admits that prayer doesn’t have the place in our lives that it should. Even as we confess our slackness when it comes to praying, he answers that prayer out of love and reminds us that we belong to him and the blood of his Son has saved us. His answers are always good. His answers are never vengeful or vindictive. As God’s child you can count on that.
This parable of Jesus about the widow and the dishonest judge is a story about encouragement. Jesus is saying, ‘Take heart. Don’t give up praying just because the times are hard’.
‘Keep on praying!’ Why? Because of the relationship that we have with the Father through baptism.
Keep on praying because he is gracious and kind.
Keep on praying even if the whole situation looks hopeless in our eyes.
Keep on praying because he loves us and is waiting to answer our prayers in a way that will be for our benefit.
Keep on praying because we have a God who is willing and waiting to hear from us, and who wants to apply his loving answer to every request we bring to him.
Sometimes we may doubt, we may be angry, we may be upset, we may question “why?” but he is always ready to listen.
Let me finish with a quote from Philip Yancey, ‘Persistent prayer keeps on bringing God and me together … As I pour out my soul to God, I get it off my chest, so to speak, unloading some of my burden to One who can handle it better. Little by little, as I get to know God I learn that God has nothing in common with an unjust judge, though at times it may seem so. Persistent prayer changes me by helping me see the world and my life, through God’s eyes. As the relationship progresses I realise that God has a clearer picture of what I need than I do.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2007, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.