10/17/2022 9:55:57 AM
Persistent in Prayer
Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, October 16, 2022
The strength of any relationship can often be measured by the communication within that relationship. We could be talking about children and their parents, brothers and sisters, a business partnership, a friendship, or a marriage, but wouldn’t you agree that it’s true that the strength of the relationship can be measured by the communication that is (or isn’t) taking place? If the conversations between two people are flowing on a regular basis, and the discussions that take place are healthy, and both parties generally leave with positive feelings, then that sounds like a strong relationship, doesn’t it? On the other hand, maybe the interactions are sporadic, and there is a lot of conflict, and one or both parties leave feeling defeated, then that relationship might need some work.
What about your relationship with God? How has the communication been lately? More specifically, if you had to describe your prayer life in one or two words, what would you say? If you’ve been spending some time every day in God’s Word and responding in regular prayer, you might say that your relationship with God is growing, getting stronger, staying relatively healthy. On the other hand, if your devotion time and prayer life are more sporadic, inconsistent, or lacking, maybe this is a good time to listen closely as Jesus encourages us today. The truth is that we can all get distracted by everything else in our lives, so no matter how healthy our relationship is with God at this moment, just like any other relationship, we can all benefit from a reminder to keep working on it.
Today, especially, Jesus speaks to his disciples in a parable, and his intent isn’t a mystery at all. We are told right here in the opening line of the chapter. Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Another way to say this is that Jesus encourages us all to be Persistent in Prayer. Let’s take a look at the story he tells.
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!’ ”
Now, if this parable is meant to teach us about prayer, we have to be careful that we understand him correctly, and don’t look too hard for too many direct parallels. Here’s what I mean: the story Jesus tells has two main characters—a widow and a judge. The story of your prayer life has two main characters as well—you and God. Let’s review so we get things right.
To sum up the parable, this woman wears down the judge who doesn’t sound like a good man at all, but in the end, he gives in to her request and does his job. Is that what prayer is supposed to be? Are we supposed to think that we can wear God down over time in order to get what we want? Or should we get the impression that God only answers prayer when we beg and plead and bother (or even threaten) him so much that he simply gives in so we’ll leave him alone? Of course not. Jesus tells us so.
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.
You see, Jesus isn’t teaching us what prayer is like. Jesus definitely isn’t using the example of a godless, uncaring judge to teach us anything about God and his attitude when he hears us pray. Instead, the point of comparison is the way we go about prayer, and the attitude we bring to our prayers. So Jesus is using what is called an argument from the lesser to the greater. In other words, Jesus is saying that if this made up woman in a made up situation gets what she wants from a made up judge when she is bold and persistent, we can expect so much more when we pray to our God with boldness, confidence, trust, and persistence! Why? Not because God is like this judge, but precisely because God is so different from the judge in the story.
We don’t pray to some grumpy old man who has a little bit of say in our lives. No, whenever we pray, we are talking to the Almighty God, the creator and maintainer of the universe. He has the beginning, the middle, and the final say in the lives of almost 8 billion people at any given moment, and yet when we speak to him, he listens! Did you catch those three little words that describe us? Again, will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? No matter what time it is, no matter how much or how little we have to say, God has made it his job to hear every word of our prayers and do exactly what is best for us. Of course God already knows what we are going to say, but he is ready and waiting for us to say it, and he promises to give us what we need, whether rescue from danger, relief from suffering, or renewal in forgiveness—all because for Jesus’ sake, we are his chosen ones.
You see, by ourselves, we have no claim at all on God’s attention, except for the negative kind—his anger and punishment for our sins. But as those who are clothed in Christ through our baptism, made holy through the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross, and nourished with his own body and blood, we have been made worthy of God’s everlasting love. His Holy Spirit has given and preserved in us a faith that connects us directly to our Savior and comes with a package deal: full forgiveness, eternal salvation, daily blessings, God’s never-ending care, … and the opportunity to pray in Jesus’ name and know that we do so as dear children approaching their dear father.
Here's how Paul described it to the Romans in chapter 5: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We have access to God, day or night, around the clock, from now until forever. What do we do with it? Do we keep God like a card in our back pocket until we need him, maybe in those times when we’ve tried everything else and have no one else to turn to? Or do we make full use of this access and turn our lives into one ongoing conversation with God, hearing him speak in his Word and then communicating with him in prayer? We know what Jesus would encourage us to do…. always pray and [never] give up.
Why is all this important? Well, it might help to know the context of the conversation. Jesus had been telling his disciples to watch and wait for his return in glory. And maybe he was hinting at something we have come to know…that it might be a while. We all know how the longer we have to wait for something, the harder it is to stay focused and watchful. Sadly, we are so easily distracted. Temptation is all around, and this corrupt world constantly bombards us with the offer of entertainment, pleasure, fulfillment, and happiness in so many things that will ultimately fade away. Anyone who turns away from God to chase worldly gain is in danger of giving up their relationship with God completely. No wonder Jesus tacked on this question at the end: However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
It’s a sobering question…, but we—his chosen ones—know the answer. By God’s grace, when Jesus returns, he will find faith wherever his Spirit is working, wherever the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us is preached, wherever children of God confess their sins and receive absolution in Jesus’ name, wherever the church is administering the sacraments rightly, wherever believers are engaged with God in worship and prayer and growing closer to him by the day. No matter how strong that relationship might be at this moment, let’s keep at it, trusting our Lord’s word and taking his encouragement. Keep your ears open to his word. Keep your eyes open, watching out for temptation as we await his return. Keep your heart and your mind and your mouth open in prayer and praise, and this communication with God will bring blessings every time. Sometimes it will be immediate; other times we’ll have to cling to God’s promises like Jacob wrestling with God.
Either way, our relationship with God grows stronger through regular communication. We have heard his word today. Let’s all ask for the strength to be persistent in prayer throughout our lives, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.