Sermon text: Luke 18:1-8Mark opened this week's sermon (see his own introductory thoughts here)—like last week's—with an analogy to cell phones. If someone called you again and again, he pointed out, you'd either answer or demonstrate that you really didn't want to talk to the person calling you. The sermon text leaves us asking if God is in fact that person: the one you have to call over and over and over again to get through, no matter how important, because they just don't answer the phone.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
It's a reasonable question. Jesus compares God to an evil judge who gave justice to a widow only so she would stop pestering him. We naturally ask, "Is Jesus really saying that God only answers our prayers so that we'll leave him alone?"
Of course, as with last week's sermon, the answer is revealed in how the story is told. God is good, so if even an evil judge will eventually hear a righteous plea for all the wrong reasons, how much more will God delight to hear our prayers? We should, as Luke points out at the beginning of the parable, be encouraged not to give up praying, even when it seems our prayers are going unanswered. God who is just will certainly respond more righteously than the evil judge.
Mark commented, "Waiting in prayer is a very significant thing for each of us." Every Christian who has walked in The Way for any length of time has probably had to wrestle with the question of seemingly unanswered prayers. Whether it is for a friend's salvation, a parent's health, or a child's rebellion, most of us have spent long months or years praying for something to happen, and waited a long time for the answer. Sometimes the answer we've prayed for never comes. Jesus' parable offers two lessons for us as we seek to endure in prayer.
First, we need to keep an accurate view of God's character. Jesus draws a contrast between a good Father and this wicked judge. We are like the widow: we do not have the power or authority to effect a change in the circumstances we are praying about. We are utterly dependent on the judge to accomplish our hopes. If we believe that God is like the magistrate in the parable, we will pray reluctantly, if at all. When we do pray, we will find ourselves trying to twist God's arm so he will do as we wish. In contrast, if we believe God is good and that He delights to answer our prayers, we will pray with confidence. We will be able to trust that He is good and working for good. We can believe that God is working, no matter how little we see.
Second, we are called to keep the faith. Prayer and faith are directly related. Why are we praying? Is it because God does not already know the outcome, or because he calls us to participate with him and to grow in faith? Mark argued that prayer fixes our faith on the One whose plan is already working.
Mark often does something I really appreciate: instead of offering up simple checklists for his applications, he raises questions for us to ponder. Instead of simply offering condemnation to the people who don't meet the requirements and pride to those who do, he challenges us to examine our own hearts with the questions he offers.
Today, he offered up two applications, one a question and the other an encouragement:
- Are you praying consistently about the things that trouble you?
- Pray with other believers, in church, with family, and with friends.
Mark's closing point deeply resonated with me today. Our vantage point, he noted, is too narrow to truly see how God is working. He is doing more than what we can see—much more! When we repeat our prayers, it is not because we do think God has not heard, but because we believe He has.
Repetition of prayers is a declaration of faith.