Any of you ever had that experience. Don’t you think that we sometimes sound very foolish to God? I don’t know that He gets amused, but I believe He just might. He might, that is, if we even bother to pray. While many people, even those who admit to being unchurched, pray in some fashion, statistics tell us that only 16% of pastors are very satisfied with their prayer lives. On average, a typical pastor spends 39 minutes per day in prayer. That may seem like a lot to you until you discover that in any given week that amounts to less than 2 % of his total time. And that’s a pastor! Here’s a guy whose life is devoted to serving God and who, if he’s the real deal, at least, realizes that he surely can’t do it on his own, yet he spends less than 2% of his time each week asking for God’s help. Why is that? Why do pastors not pray? And, for that matter, why do lay people who really claim to know God fail to talk to that God?
Well, in some cases, they never get still enough. We break-neck our way through our lives with exhausting speed. When we do slow down, we’re so tired that any thought of prayer often ends in a snore. Prayer warriors cultivate the art of quietness that allows them to listen as well as speak. If God could do anything for you this morning in this area, it might just be that He would convict you to carve quietness into your maddeningly busy life. Many believers just don’t pray because they don’t get still enough.
And the lack of stillness reflects another quality that characterizes the life of a prayerless believer. You see, many believers don’t pray because they never get desperate enough. In many ways prayers are acts of desperation. Now, perhaps they shouldn’t be, but they often are. Isn’t it amazing how easily we forget the whole notion of prayer until disaster strikes. In last month’s piracy fiasco, when those Navy seals took out the pirates and rescued the captain, people all over his Vermont home town were riding by the news reporters, hands clasped together in a symbol of answered prayer. Now I guarantee you that, before that incident, that’s not something you would have seen in that town. It was the disaster that led to the praying. Now, I’m not criticizing, I’m just saying that prayers are often acts of despSeration and the reason Christians don’t often pray is that they simply aren’t desperate enough. If God could accomplish anything through this message this morning, I would pray that it would be to impress upon your heart just how desperate you really are without Him. Until you realize that fact, your prayer life will be woefully inadequate. We don’t pray because, often, we just never get desperate enough.
And the reason we aren’t desperate enough to get still enough to pray is because we really don’t understand enough about prayer. Now, when I say we don’t understand enough about prayer, I am not saying that what we need is more teaching or or knowledge about prayer. No, I’m talking about coming to understand just what the purpose of prayer really is. You see, if you and I can connect with the purpose of prayer, I really think we’d find praying a joy and not a burden. We’d learn not to reserve our least effective time for prayer (such as right before we go to bed). We’d make prayer a priority and not an afterthought. And I want you to know that I am praying that God, this very day, will bring you to such a clear understanding about prayer that you will leave here, determined by His grace, to make prayer an integral, important part of your life.
Our text is that same parable we looked at 2 weeks ago. It’s the story of the determined widow and the disgusting judge. Read it again with me:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
In my last message about this parable, we looked at the contrast between God and the judge. Today, we’re going to focus more attention on the widow. What was it that kept her going? Why did Jesus tell this parable about prayer? Why, indeed, should we pray and keep on praying? Well, in the first place. We should pray
DIVISION 1: BECAUSE OF THE RELIEF THAT IT BRINGS
Now it really can’t be denied that this widow in our parable does get that unjust judge to grant her request eventually. If you apply this to our praying, you would have to say that this story teaches us that our merciful heavenly Father will also grant us relief when we pray and ask Him for it. But v. 7 puts some boundaries on this principle. There are some requirements that determine God’s response to our request.
The first boundary is our identity. This promise isn’t for everyone. Notice it says, “And shall not God avenge His own elect . . . In order to pray in faith that God is going to answer, we have to belong to Him; We must be His elect, His child. If you are an unbeliever, only your prayer to Christ for salvation is guaranteed to be answered. God’s promise is for His own elect.
The second boundary is our perseverance. V 7 says, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him . . .” We don’t pray for our request once or twice, then figure God must have lost interest or even be saying “No.” We ask and ask and keep on asking. We persevere in prayer.
The third boundary is God’s plan. As we said a couple of weeks ago, this parable is given in the context of the second coming of Christ. The last part of chapter 17 tells us that it will seem to us that Christ is delaying His coming and we will be tempted to buy into the substitute that the world offers to us. But, in God’s own timing, Jesus will return and set up His Kingdom on this earth.
In context, then, v 7 of chapter 18 says, “And shall not God avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him . . .? If you look carefully, that verse does not necessarily say that we will get the specific thing we are asking for in prayer and it certainly doesn’t say that we will get it on our timetable. What it does say is that we, as the elect and loved children of God, will ultimately be avenged. We will be vindicated. Our relief will come. When the dust settles and the smoke clears on this world, Jesus will be reigning on the throne and you and I will be reigning with Him. Ultimately that’s really all that matters.
Now I hear what you might be thinking: “What a cop-out, Rusty! Why don’t you just go ahead and say that God just isn’t going to answer my prayer rather than saying He’s going to do what He wants and not what I pray for? You’re just letting God off the hook! How does God doing what He wants bring me relief?”
O, my friend, its because you might think you know what’s best for you, but do you really?
In his book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani shares a story from a trip he took to India with his father. While walking the streets of New Delhi, a little boy approached them. He was "skinny as a rail, and naked but for tattered blue shorts. His legs were stiff and contorted, like a wire hanger twisted upon itself." Because of his condition, the little boy could only waddle along on his calloused knees. He made his way toward Skye and his father and cried out, "One rupee, please! One rupee!" Skye describes what happened when his father eventually responded to the boy's persistent begging:
“What do you want?" [my father asked].
"One rupee, sir," the boy said while motioning his hand to his mouth and bowing his head in deference. My father laughed.
How about I give you five rupees?" he said. The boy's submissive countenance suddenly became defiant. He retracted his hand and sneered at us. He thought my father was joking, having a laugh at his expense. After all, no one would willingly give up five rupees. The boy started shuffling away, mumbling curses under his breath.
My father reached into his pocket. Hearing the coins jingle, the boy stopped and looked back over his shoulder. My father was holding out a five-rupee coin. He approached the stunned boy and placed the coin into his hand. The boy didn't move or say a word. He just stared at the coin in his hand. We passed him and proceeded to cross the street.
A moment later the shouting resumed, except this time the boy was yelling, "Thank you! Thank you, sir! Bless you!" He raced after us once again—but not for more money but to touch my father's feet. …
Isn’t this us? We’re like the ragged indian boy. We think we know what we need, and we come to ask God, but what He has in mind for us is of eternally more value than anything we could ask. Look, I know you’ve been disappointed in many things that have happened in your life, but, when You get to heaven and you see how all of these things blended together to achieve God’s purpose in you, I really think you’ll be just like that little indian boy. I believe you and I will shout up and down the streets of Heaven, “Thank You, Jesus! I couldn’t see what You were doing when my husband died; I couldn’t see what You had in mind when I lost my job; I never understood it when my business went bankrupt, but now I know: Your will was better than mine. Thank you Jesus!”
Listen, Christian, by faith you’ve got to grab hold of the truth: God’s going to vindicate you! You’re not going to get everything you pray for, but You can rest assured, if you will seek His face and stay on Your face in prayer before Him, He’s going to pour His grace into you and He will avenge you. He will vindicate you.
No, you won’t get everything you pray for like you pray for it, and certainly not when you pray for it, but that’s really a good thing. If we got everything we asked for, when we asked for it, we’d miss the real purpose of prayer. Yes, we do pray because of the ultimate relief prayer brings, but we also pray
DIVISION 2: BECAUSE OF THE ENDURANCE THAT IT PROVIDES
In the most practical sense, this parable is all about endurance. You see that in it’s context. If you, once again, look back into chapter 17, the connection is obvious. We are told to persevere in prayer because, while we are waiting for our Lord to return, we will be tempted to quit. Endurance will be needed.
You also see the need for endurance in the story itself. It is most obvious in the behavior of the widow. Instead of giving up on her request for vengeance, she continues day and night to call on that unjust judge to deliver her. It is also obvious in the statement made about God. V 7 ends with this curious phrase: though He bears long with them. The idea is that God uses delay in our lives for His purpose. Our job, in the middle of waiting is to keep on praying. It may seem like He’s a little like the unjust judge at times, when that wait is especially painful, but our call is to keep talking to Him.
Why? What’s the point of continuing the pray? You see it in the purpose statement of this parable. Look at v 1: Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. Now this not only tells us what we ought to keep doing, it tells us why. Not only do we pray instead of losing heart, we pray in order to prevent us from losing heart. That’s the point: PRAYER ACTUALLY BRING ENDURANCE. The reason I am to pray and pray and keep on praying is because it is that practice that brings God’s grace into my life and allows me to endure. If I don’t pray, I will lose heart.
Does that describe you? Are you ready to quit? Have you already quit? Did you come to the place in the middle of your problem where you said, “I don’t see any use in praying anymore because I just don’t think that it does any good?” I tell you, if you say that, you are missing the whole point of prayer. It is your prayer life that determines your endurance.
And what applies to each of us individually applies to us collectively. Find a church body where discouragement has set in and quitting has started, and I will show you a place where meaningful prayer has largely stopped. Look around you, Peace Church member. Why is it that places are vacant that used to be filled with people who were genuinely following God? Why is it that Sunday School teachers quit their jobs and leaders walk away from leadership? Why is it that people who used to give their money faithfully have quit and are now scraping to get by even more than they were before? Why is it that church members excuse their absence on Sunday to play at the beach? O, yes, you do need a vacation from time to time. But, friend, missing two months of Sundays is not a vacation: It’s a dereliction of duty! Why do people do that? I’ll tell you why: If you don’t pray, you will faint. Quitting will become more and more attractive. You will lose heart and, if you’re not careful, the enemy will pick you off and have his ungodly way with you. If you don’t pray you will faint.
I haven’t seen too many people faint in my time. I’ll never forget one time when it happened and, it could have been deadly but for the grace of God. It was in speech class at the Bible College. We were all giving demonstration speeches. You know, that’s where you find some object or skill, then give a speech and demonstrate how to do that skill. I don’t remember what my speech demonstrated, but I’ll never forget Mike’s.
Mike decided that he’d demonstrate to the class how to make popcorn. Now this was before the big days of microwaves, so he had a popcorn popper. I know some of you probably don’t even know what a popcorn popper is. Well, it was a self-contained unit. In the bottom of the pot there was a heating element that heated up the bottom of the pot when it was connected to the wall socket. You poured oil into the bottom of the pot, put in the corn, and, in a few minutes, you had popcorn. Easy right?
Well, it wasn’t on this day. Mike began his speech by telling us to pour in the oil, cover the pot with the lid, and plug it in to heat up the oil. As he told us, he was doing that to his own pot. Once he had it plugged in, he started talking about the process of popcorn and, I suppose kind of lost track of time. Finally, he got to the spot in his speech where he told us we needed to pour in the popcorn kernels. He walked over to his popcorn popper to show us how and that’s when it got exciting.
Mike reached down to pick the lid off the pot. What he didn’t remember is that he had turned that oil on several minutes ago and that oil had been heating up. When he lifted the lid, a big cloud of smoke shot up out of the pot. The full force of that heat and that smoke hit him right in the face. In a split second, he went down. I don’t mean he wavered back and forth or acted dizzy. He didn’t have time to say a word. One minute he was standing and the next minute he was on the floor. That hot oil, once starved of oxygen by the lid, now had plenty of air and it burst into flame. For the next several minutes the class erupted into pandimonium. An hour later, the pot had been quickly extinguished and Mike was on his way to the hospital. The teacher later told me that when she got to Mike lying on the floor, she had felt no pulse.
Why did Mike faint? Well the heat of that flame may have had something to do with it, but the main reason he fainted was because that hot smoke entered his lungs displaced the oxygen, and, starved for oxygen, his brain basically shut down.
Here’s the point: Prayer is your spiritual oxygen. Without it you will faint. That’s why that first verse says “ . . . men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” Without prayer, you will quit.
See, at it’s heart, prayer really isn’t about what you request primarily. Yes, we do ask for God’s grace and He delights to meet our needs according to His will. And there are things I believe that God wants us to have that we never get because we don’t ask for them. There are measures of His grace we will never experience because we never prayed for them. But in the final analysis we pray not only because of the relief it brings and the endurance it provides, but also
DIVISION 3: BECAUSE OF THE RELATIONSHIP THAT IT BUILDS
The end of this parable is a little discouraging when you first read it. I mean you read about the return of Christ and how we are not to stop waiting for Him to return. Then you read this parable about the widow who kept on praying that she would be avenged and we recognize that it is you and I who are supposed to, like the widow, ask and ask and keep on asking. Then we are told that God, who is not a derelict like the unjust judge, will avenge us speedily. We can count on it! Then, after all of that, Jesus ends his story with this question in v 8: Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? In other words, even though we have been told to pray so that we will not be discouraged, Jesus seems to imply that very few people will actually heed this parable and He wonders out loud at the end of this story, “Hey, when I do return, will any of you still be here trusting in me and looking for me?” Why would He do that? Why would He end this story with such a negative sounding question?
Well, I don’t really think that Jesus is being negative for negativity’s sake. The negativity is there to catch attention. I believe Jesus wants us to really focus in on what He’s looking for. See, we often pray to, hopefully, get what we want from God. That’s our purpose in prayer. But that’s really not God’s purpose. His purpose is found in this little verse. He’s looking for those who really have faith in Him.
One commentator wrote:
The faith that the Son of Man will look for is not simply an identification with his message nor a faith that avoids strange teaching. Rather the context indicates that the Son of Man will be looking for those who are looking for him. In the interim, will believers keep the faith? Will they continue to pray and look for vindication? Even though Jesus expresses the idea as a question, he is exhorting them to keep watching. He is calling for a faith that perseveres in allegiance to Jesus.
See, at its heart, this parable isn’t talking as much about our being avenged by Christ as it is about our remaining allied with Him. The reason Jesus asks this question is found in the parable itself. If I persist in prayer, I will develop a deep, abiding relationship with Him, and as I love Him I will find trusting Him and easy thing. If I pray and pray and keep on talking and listening to Him, I will be so close to Him that faith will come easily. If I do not pray, however, I will find trusting Him impossible because I will not know Him. And the truth is, you don’t really trust people you don’t know.
Let me show you what I mean. It’s 3 p.m. in the afternoon. You’re a mom of two toddlers: a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Today’s been an especially hard day. It may have been like the one a mom was having the other day when I called. I was calling her to tell her I was praying for a family member that was sick. As soon as she answered I knew this would be a short phone call. She answered in a breathless voice and, as soon as we started to cry, her two children started wailing in the back ground. I said, “Having a tough day?” She said something like, “You have no idea!” I got off the phone quickly and thought to myself: “I’m glad it’s her and not me.”
Well, let’s say you’re having one of those days. It’s been one thing right after another. You’re trying to talk logic with two year old who only understands that they want what they want when they want it. All day long, all you’ve thought about was getting away. You’ve thought, “If I could just have one hour alone where I didn’t have to console a child or clean up a mess.” You dream of just getting into the car and driving to Wal-mart or Target and walk through the store without having to be a policeman to two kids or say “no” to the endless “Mommy, I want’s . . .”
In the middle of your daydream, the doorbell rings. Standing on the other side of the door is a nice looking, middle-aged lady. She seems sweet, but she’s unfamiliar. You’ve never seen her before in your life. She hears your two-year-old crying and she says with a smile. “You need a break. Get in your car and take a drive to Target. I’ll watch your kids.”
Would you do it? I don’t care how desperate you are for a break, moms, you would not do that, would you? Why not? Because, even though this lady may seem nice, you don’t trust her! Why don’t you trust her? Because you don’t have a relationship with her! And why is it that you don’t have a relationship with her? Because you’ve never spent time with her, talked to her, and gotten to know her.
Now, if you had a year or so to get to know her and you guys met every couple of days and just talked and then she rang your doorbell and made the offer, you’d probably say, “Yes!” What makes the difference? It’s relationship!
And that’s why prayer is so important. If we are going to persevere until the Lord returns, we must trust Him. If we trust Him, we must know Him. If we know Him we must talk to and listen to Him. What would that look like? O, it would be different in every circumstance because God knows how to tailor each conversation to who we are and where we are with Him. But if you want a picture, it might look something like this:
DVD - THE WAY WE PRAY ENDING
I am fully convince that, if our church goes anywhere spiritually, and especially if we are going to reach those who are lost and bring them to a place of maturity with Christ, we must increase substantially the prayer in our church and in our individual lives. That’s why in this invitation, I’m going to ask you to do something very concrete. In your bulletin there is a response insert. I want each one of you to take that out and look at it right now. If you don’t have a bulletin, there are also some located in the backs of each pew.
Describe the options: Wednesday nights - check; Sunday nights - check; Sundays - check; One hour per week - check and list the hour between 5:00 a.m. and 10 p.m. at night. Our goal is to have the entire clock covered