Saturday, 12 January 2013
Luke 18:1-8 Persistence Pays Off
A group of male seminary students were gathered in the chapel one day. The dean of the seminary was challenging the students in the area of prayer. He instructed them to be careful what they asked God for. He said, "Men, don't ask God for a big church, because of the stress, problems and worries that go with it. Whatever you do, don't ask God for a big church."
The next year, one of the students who had graduated and entered the ministry came back to give his testimony. He commented about what the seminary dean had said the previous year. He said, "I did ask God for a big church; however, I also asked God for a pretty wife. My prayer was almost answered, because instead of getting a big church and a pretty wife, I got a pretty church and a big wife!"
The parable in today's Gospel reading is a lesson on hope-not the false hope of worldly power or earthly comfort, but the deeply patient hope of the persistent, a hope for those who endure. In Christ's time, women had a very low place in society. They were basically the property of their husbands, and they were especially preyed upon by religious leaders. Unfortunately, the same situation still exists in many parts of society and in many countries today-especially in Islamic countries. The fastest growing group of poor people today is among women whose husbands have abandoned them and their children.
Where is justice in today's society? Can we say that justice is based on the respect of man and fear of God? The widow in today's Gospel reading was so persistent that she wore down the judge to the point where he finally gave her justice. God is the same. If we are persistent in faith and prayer, he will grant our requests. Sometimes it will take time for him to act, but only because he is teaching us patience. God will avenge the injustices inflicted on believers, but only to convince them that their salvation is dear and precious in His sight, and in this manner induce us to rely on his protection. Heavenly aid will not be offered unless we come to him in faith. If we are to be the people of God, then we must live with respect in creation and act with generosity in our hearts and hands so that all may be fed.
The longer the delay in fulfilling a promise, the less likely the promise will be fulfilled. When a promise is delayed, it's easy to lose hope in the one who made the promise. This is the situation today's Gospel reading addresses. Luke wrote this Gospel several years after the life and death of Jesus. People expected Him to return immediately. The longer they had to wait, the more they experienced despair. The parable of the judge and the widow is a parable on trust in God to grant justice and vindication to God's people.
The judge has no reverence for God, and consequently no regard for the rights of man. These two things go together. He that has no regard for God can be expected to have none for man; and our Lord has here indirectly taught us what ought to be the character of a judge or for that matter the character of anyone else-namely, that they should fear God and respect the rights of man. The judge's conduct in this case might have appeared to be upright, and possibly might have been strictly according to law and to justice. How many actions are performed today that appear well, when the doers of those actions know that they are mere hypocrisy? How many actions are performed from the basest and lowest motives of selfishness that have the appearance of external propriety and even of goodness?
The widow's weapons are those for which the judge had little respect or understanding because he did not possess them himself. Among her weapons were patience, persistence, integrity, a strong sense of justice, and confidence in the rightness of her cause. She had the faith to believe that at the end of the day right will win over wrong, justice will triumph over injustice, and good will conquer evil. Throughout history, there have been several examples of people who have used the same characteristics to overcome the injustices that life has dealt them. For example, Nelson Mandela endured several years of hardship and imprisonment while opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa. His persistence finally paid off when the apartheid system was abolished, and he became the first black President of South Africa. The people of God are often oppressed and persecuted. They are few in number and feeble. They seem to be almost forsaken and cast down, and their enemies triumph. Yet in due time God will hear their prayers and will come forth for their vindication.
Faith is comforting to the enduring disciple, but faith should never make us comfortable. Faith is found in the follower who never stops pushing himself right to the very end. Faith is found in persistence, advocacy, and the enduring quest for justice. Like a muscle, faith grows with trials and weakens with lack of use. If an unjust judge will grant the widow's request, then how much more will God, who does care and loves justice, do for His people? God answers prayer in his own time and in his own way. We are told not to pray in despair, not to lose heart. God will come to us. The time we spend in prayer transforms us into the vessels that will hold the answer when it comes.
Why do we pray? Does our prayer flow from petition to praise, thanks and intercession? Or is our petition a response to the praise and thanks due to a loving God and to the intercession of those in need? Let us seek God first in prayers of praise and thanks, and place others' needs on an equal footing with our own. In this way, we can always grow in our prayer life.
We must trust in the face of delay. We must be like the persistent widow and keep knocking on God's heavenly door and keep praying until we get the answer to our prayers. We must remember, however, that God's answer might not be the answer we are looking for. Sometimes he says "yes", sometimes he says "no", sometimes he says "not right now", and sometimes he says, "No.......I have something even better in mind for you". When we get discouraged, we need the company of believers to encourage us and sometimes to correct us and always help us see the big picture. We need to remember that God DOES provide us with what we need-but only according to his time schedule, and not ours.
Praising and thanking a benevolent God strengthens trust, which in turn gives hope. Interceding on others' behalf deepens bonds of friendship and love. Prayer petitions based on those other prayer types will naturally increase faith, hope and love. They will empower us to obey God's commands.
This parable is less concerned with telling us to keep on praying than it is with interjecting into our impatience, faithlessness and hopelessness the promise of the Kingdom, the assurance that though hidden now behind the Cross, the Kingdom will be manifested in the end in all its glory. When it seems that evil is all around us, it can be difficult to believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The day is coming when we will give anything to see the slightest evidence that God is working our His will in our lives as His disciples. The Kingdom will be revealed in time. It is hidden behind the Cross, but it is hard at work in the midst of human suffering. When life closes in on us, we must keep fighting. People who fight sometimes win, especially if they win by overcoming adversity. People who refuse to give up have something wonderful happen to their souls. Sometimes people who hang in there find God. That, my friends, is the real test of our faith. There will be a crown of life waiting for them. God will be there for them. They will NOT be forsaken. Prayer does indeed make a difference. While we wait for God to answer our prayers, we need to do all we can to provide our own answer.
Many of us live barren lives spiritually. That's a pity, because untold riches are just within our reach. Prayer does work. To dismiss it as unsophisticated, unscientific or selfish is to miss the meaning of the Gospel. The very power and presence of God is available to all believers. We must pray as if we are praying to a loving parent, because our God loves us as a parent loves a child. This is not surprising, since God is our heavenly Father. The purpose of the world is to create souls who can glorify God and enjoy him forever. Sometimes adversity enhances the process.
Prayer helps us to accept our lot in life. We can't control what happens around us, but through prayer we can influence how we react to what happens around us. Prayer offers assurance that God intercedes when our prayers are inadequate. We can count on God to hear us when we pray. God will be with us, especially when we are hurting. God is like a loving parent who wants to be especially close to his children when they are hurting.
In the Bible, the word "hope" bristles with excitement and expectation. If our hope is based in good deeds, then hope is likely to disappoint us. If it is based on the integrity of God and his promises, and built upon the gift of the Holy Spirit, then hope has a different meaning altogether. Hope has to do with our holding on to God's promises, a holding that is determined by our confidence in the integrity of God. Our hope must always rest on God's love and his faithfulness.
Prayer becomes God's way of including us in his works. Prayer is our way of discovering God's will for us. Persistence is evidence of faith which gives us hope. Faith will not succeed without prayer. God is revealed by Jesus as a God who invites us to come and establish a relationship with him. That requires persistence. The only people who experience the goodness of God are those who try to relate to God rather than to use God. Persistent prayer-in other words, continuing communion with God-reshapes our hearts to God's original design.
The mark of true faith is a faith that continues when it seems that there is no answer. The point of this parable is that we should always pray and never give up, because as believers we ought to look up in prayer. There are times when we feel like the widow-powerless, no resources, no strength, and too many problems. The widow's diligence is displayed because of the resistance she faced and the resilience she forged. When we feel life has dealt us a blow or life has been unfair we deal with it by taking it to God. God wants to answer our prayers. Persistent prayer helps us focus on God, clarifies our request, prepares us for the answer, and strengthens our faith.
This parable reminds us that in the last days God's children will have problems. Our time today is a difficult one to live in for Christ. These are difficult times with all kinds of pressures. There is tremendous stress placed on those of us who are sincerely trying to live for the Lord. We can still live for Christ in difficult days because of God's grace and love. Prayer will give us the strength we need to cope with life's problems, temptations and difficulties. It is often difficult for us to pray because we have an enemy that wants to discourage us and does everything he can to get us to give up on prayer. The Holy Spirit helps us to defeat the enemy, but only if we pray in faith and not give up. The Holy Spirit energizes us to pray, teaches us what to pray for, and gives us strength when we feel like giving up.
If you are lacking joy in your Christian life, ask if your prayer life is lacking, because your prayer life is connected with your joy. He said, "Ask, that your joy may be full, that it may be complete". Joy comes as you have a close, personal relationship with Jesus, and that relationship can only be accomplished by spending time with Him. As you spend time with Jesus naturally you are going to have joy because He is a wonderful friend. He is a wonderful counselor, and he is a wonderful encourager. The only way you can spend time with him is through His Word and through prayer.
Have you prayed, and prayed, and there still seems to be no answer? Does it seem as if God is asleep, and absent from your cry? Well, Jesus has given us the answer by discussing the problem, delivering the parable, and defining the principle. Therefore, don't give up, don't lose heart, don't quit now, but just keep praying until the answer comes.
Thanks be to God. AMEN