Persisting in Prayer

Sunday the 16th of October 2016

Luke 18:1-8

Today I am going to preach on the Gospel reading from Luke 8:1-8 which is commonly known as the parable of the persistent widow. The purpose of the parable is made clear when it says in verse 1: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”

He then tells a story of a widow, who was denied justice because a judge who refused to give justice to her. The man is described as a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. He had all the power and authority to do as he pleased, yet had no regard for God or people. The Widow is the one who is the complete opposite of the judge, in that she has no power at all, yet she is the one who names and even demands justice for all, even her. The judge is self absorbed and only cares about himself and does what he sees fit in his own eyes. The widow gets at the very heart of the matter, she pleads for justice. The widow is not asking for just anything here, but for justice that she is owed, deserved and which God has promised.

The fact that this widow is asking for justice, is often overlooked when we think about this parable. I have often heard people relate to the widow, in that she is pleading with the judge, and that we should be doing the same with our God, with the hope that eventually, just like the judge, God will relent and listen to us. So if we are praying to God and we do not seem to be getting the answers that we want we are encouraged to keep persisting, keep praying to God and eventually he will give us and answer and reward us for our persistence. The problem with this is that it can all too easily lead us in to the trap of thinking that we can manipulate God by nagging him, if we just keep praying are not giving up eventually God will give in.

I would like today to encourage you to see this parable from another point of view. Jesus is telling parable to his disciples. He is teaching them. These disciples were with Jesus, he was there he was speaking with them, they were hearing and seeing everything that Jesus was doing. But in the not too distant future he would be crucified, risen and ascended in to Heaven. What was going happen to these disciples when Jesus ascended? Jesus is saying this parable so that they might pray and not become disheartened, discouraged or to give up. This is all well and good while he is physically present with them, but what about after. What about after when they would be living as his follower in a word that does not fear God or care for people. What about when the culture around them was going to be pressing in on them and persecuting them. what was going to happen these disciples and the early believers faced discouragement, whether caused by the delay of Jesus’ return or the difficult or unjust circumstances they were enduring? What were they going to do, when they were in the middle of difficult times in their lives and they could not see God being faithful this is word and promises to them. It is all well and good when Jesus was walking with them, but what about when they found themselves feeling alone in this world. All of these things happened to the disciples and the early believers and they are still happening to us as his church today.

Jesus goes on to say in verse 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? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” The question was would they believe these words of Jesus? Do we believe them? This parable speaks to all of us here today as his chosen ones, because we are surrounded by a world and a culture that does not fear God, that is self-centred and has no care for others, and which is making it extremely difficult for us believers to have a voice. There are many Christians who are crying out in this world for justice, but are being ignored. We are protesting against things that we believe to be unjust and wrong, but our pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears. The temptation as his church is then to be discouraged, disheartened and to give up. To sop praying and asking God because it seems to us that he is not acting, that he is not stepping in.

God in his word makes a lot promises to us and we are told to cling his promises. That he is faithful and will always keep his word. But when we look around us and take our eyes of him, what do we see? Many people who have grown up in the church community are walking away from God. Why believe in him when he does not seem to be answering the prayers of his people? Many people in fact do see God as the unjust judge that this parable talks about in the fact that he does not seem to care.

Jesus knew what these disciples were going to face. He knew what was ahead of them. He also knows full well where you and I are. He knows what is ahead of us, what pressures and temptation we are going to face in this life. Therefore this parable is not admonishing his disciples, or telling us off, but it is a parable of comfort and assurance. There are times in this life of ours we where cannot see God at work, when he seems hidden from us. There are times when we cry out to him and plead with him, and he does not seem to be listening to us. It is in these times, that like the widow, we are to persist in prayer. To say to our selves: “While I know that God may seem like an unjust judge, that he does not care, God’s actions are just and God will deliver justice in due time.” This parable is to encourage us in faith in times of distress.

The widow was in a position where she had nothing else, where she had no power, no ability to change things in her life, she was dependent upon the judge giving her justice, the widow did not stop believing, she kept persisting. All of us as believers, like the widow, are encouraged to pray and petition without ceasing and not lose heart, confident that God’s justice will in time prevail.

Jesus finishes this parable by saying: “…However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Many people automatically will connect the fact the God will give them justice on the basis of how much faith they have. The widow for example had strong faith, she would not give up, she kept persisting and kept believing even when things were dire for her, and she prevailed, therefore it was her faith that mattered and we are to follow her example. But i believe that faith here is the faith to hold on, not the faith that overcomes. The faith that Jesus is talking about is to believe that God will provide justice to his people, because that it what God has promised to do, even when the situation seems hopeless. To have the faith to hang in there with God, even if it is only be a thread, and to trust that God is faithful to his promises

It is of course a challenge to respond to the parable he just told. When Jesus comes back will he find us hanging in there, persisting in our praying to him, trusting him knowing that has is faithful and has everything in hand, or will we have walked away, turned our back on him, given up and stoped praying and believing.

God is our Heavenly Father and he does listen to our prayers and he does keep his promises to us, even when we don’t see them. I encourage each of you to hang in there during those difficult times we face in this life, to keep persisting and praying to him. Be confident and know that he is faithful and true to his promises and will bring about his justice to all.