by Chris Ritter
Jesus prayed. He prayed in the morning, at noon, and at night. Jesus prayed before he ate his meals, giving thanks to God. Jesus prayed in times of victory, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed in times of temptation and testing. He prayed with others and he often wandered off to pray alone. Jesus prayed before he made big decisions. He prayed at a wedding and he prayed at a funeral. Jesus prayed for his disciples and those in need. He prayed at his baptism and while he was hanging on the cross.
With all that Luke tells us about the prayer life of Jesus, it is not surprising that some of his parables about about prayer, too. Today we study Luke 18:
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”Luke 18:1-8 (New International Version)
A Prayer Question
This week I received a message on Twitter from a follower in North Carolina asking a question about prayer. Evelyn asks:
“So do you believe our prayers move the heart of God? Do our petitions change God’s mind on how things work out? I have had too much time to think in the ice storm.”
Evelyn knows, of course, that prayer is more than just asking for things. In prayer we fellowship with God, search our hearts, give thanks, worship God’s majesty, repent of our sins, and submit to God’s will. But a part of prayer is, of course, making requests of God. The question is a good one: Do we change God’s mind when we pray?
One way to answer this question is by leading with God’s immutability… his unchanging nature. Maybe prayer is like gazing at the stars. It is a good thing to do. It gives you perspective. But don’t be so arrogant as to believe that your star-gazing changes the stars in any way. Sometimes people say that prayer changes us, not God.
Another response might be based on God’s omniscience… his all-knowing awareness of everything. Jesus said that God knows what we need before we even ask. And God is love. Consider Matthew 6:7-8:
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
If God is all-loving and all-knowing, maybe the only appropriate prayer is a prayer of resignation to God’s will.
But the same Jesus that said God knows before we ask also said, “Ask, seek, and knock.” The tense of the Greek verbs used carried the meaning of “go on asking, go on seeking, and go on knocking.”
Remember when God came to Abraham in Genesis to inform him of the looming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham asks God if he would spare the city if fifty righteous people were found there. It would not do for God to destroy the righteous along with the wicked. God agreed: If fifty people were found in the cities, the cities would be spared. Abraham asked, “What about forty-five?” God agreed. “What about forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten?” An amazing negotiation happens. Abraham stopped asking at ten and there were in fact, not ten righteous people in the city. Those who were righteous were led out. But God allows himself to be moved by Abraham’s requests.
God, in his complete sovereignty, has ordained prayer as the means through which he works in this world. We do not change the heart of God when we pray. God is love… whether we pray or not. We do not change the mind of God when we pray. God’s general will is fixed and is done perfectly in heaven. One day we will live in that sweet by and by. But today we find ourselves in the nasty now and now. Through prayer, we invite God to intervene in our broken world and bring his Kingdom in.
John Wesley said: “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.” Through prayer, God bestows on us the dignity of being agents of his Kingdom. We invite his power into the broken places of our live, community, and world. And God delights when we come before him in prayer.
There is a mystery to prayer. Why does one worthy prayer result in a miracle when another seems to result in nothing? I have been blessed to witness miracles. Then there are times when it feels like my prayers fall off my bottom lip and hit my shoe. Most of the time, the results are somewhere in between. Prayer is not transactional… like pulling the arm on a heavenly slot machine. It is part of our relationship with God. Relationships are multi-faceted and complex.
Then there is timing. When you place an order at a nice restaurant, your food does not instantaneously appear. Behind the kitchen door there are all sorts of processes set into motion: Slicing, dicing, sautéing, and seasoning. When we pray, God puts things into motion. In that process he also honors human free will. In a world of microwave ovens, prayer is mostly a crock-pot process.
Don’t Give Up
Luke tells us that Jesus is concerned that his disciples might get discouraged in their praying. He told the parable so they would “always pray and never give up.” Jesus wants us to keep praying. Satan doesn’t.
Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”
We have the example of Daniel who prayed three times a day in spite of a royal edict making prayer to God illegal. We have Hannah who prayed diligently year after year in spite of family drama. We have Hezekiah who took the threats from a looming enemy and spread them out before the Lord in the temple. We have Jacob who wrestled with God all night long and said, “I will not let go until you bless me.”
Someone commented that the church in Acts prayed for ten days and preached for ten minutes. Three thousand were saved. Today we want to preach for ten days and pray for ten minutes. No prayer, no power. Much prayer, much power.
More things are wrought by prayerAlfred Lord Tennyson
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
A Double Contrast
The story Jesus told to keep us from being discouraged in prayer is of an unjust judge. He neither feared God or respected people. He cared for nothing, not even his own reputation. There was also a widow who needed justice. Widows at this time were some of the most vulnerable people is society. They had no none to stand up for them. Judges are supposed to be equalizers. Our image of justice in America is a blindfolded woman holding a scale. Right is right and wrong is wrong. It doesn’t matter how connected you are or how much money you have.
If the judge had feared God, he would have realized that he had a special obligation to the widow as her only line of defense. Consider the following:
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.Psalm 68:5
“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’Deuteronomy 27:19
You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.Exodus 22:22-24
But the judge had no regard for the woman.
The widow had an adversary. Luke doesn’t provide the details, but perhaps her property was in danger of being taken away. Or maybe her business was being robbed. She needed justice and her only recourse was the unrighteous judge. She was summarily rejected.
But the widow would not give up. She kept coming. She made herself a nuisance. She was doggedly determined. Finally, in exhaustion, the judge did the right thing and made a judgement in her favor.
So… Bug God?
The lesson of the parable is not that God is reluctant to be bothered with our needs, but we should keep begging him like a child standing in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart. The lesson is one of contrasts. If an unjust judge would answer the request of an unconnected widow, how much more will a loving, righteous, generous God hear the prayers of his chosen ones. God is our heavenly Father. He has made covenant with us to be our God. We are not coming before a tyrant. We are coming before a friend.
Luke 18 pairs beautifully with Luke 11 where Jesus also teaches about prayer. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. There was something about the prayer life of Jesus that they wanted to duplicate in their own lives. He gives them the model prayer. Then he tells a story about a friend who needed bread to serve some unexpected guests who arrived in the middle of the night. Even though his friend was in bed for the night, he got up to help him because of his shameless audacity. Then Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” He reminded the fathers listening to him that they know how to give good gifts to their children. How much more does God love to bestow the Holy Spirit on those who ask.
Jesus’ teachings in Luke 11 and 18 call us to persistent, fervent prayer. James 5 says, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much.” Any prayer worth praying is worth praying intentionally. Think about what you need for God. Get on your knees. Don’t be afraid to get loud. There is a memory of Jesus’ prayer life contained in Hebrews 5:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.Hebrews 5:7
Jesus’ prayers were loud, intense, and emotional. This type of prayer assumed a heart with a large, compelling vision for what God might do in our world. What is your God-sized, kingdom-focused desire? If we want to see our children saved, our church grow, our families restored, and our bodies healed, and our nation turn to God we need to pray. Prayers like this must be offered in faith and anchored to specific promises in God’s Word. We need to pray… and keep on praying.