How to Keep Praying
Preached by Jason Abbott
You might read the first verse in today’s passage and think—Well, I guess I know what the lesson of this parable is now; I guess I can skip past it to the next text and get further along in my Bible reading. I say that, because Luke prefaces the story which Jesus tells first sharing its point. He introduces the story saying:
And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect [or to make the point] that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (v. 1).
So, we could think—I just need to remember to pray regularly and keep my head up and keep on following the Lord. These, however, aren’t simply boxes to be checked on a discipleship list. Christianity isn’t a bunch of to dos. If we skip over this passage too quickly, gleaning only the general point, we’ll miss out on something essential concerning prayer’s power and purpose. We’ll miss out on how we can “always pray and not lose heart.” The how is important.
Friends, knowing what we should do is one thing, but it’s quite another thing to know how we will be able to accomplish it. That’s what we want to get at today.
18 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus teaches us to keep on praying and not lose heart through his short story. But, to do it we must know two things: (1st) We must know God; we must trust him. And, (2nd) we must know God’s goal; we must trust in his ultimate purpose.
1. Know your God (vv. 2-5).
In parenting, Natalie and I can be a lot like the unjust judge and our five kids can be a lot like the nagging widow in Jesus’ parable. Natalie and I can often drift into selfish and insensitive judgments. If you’re a parent, then you know precisely what I’m talking about—you get hit with a machinegun fire of “Can I” requests, and without any thought (but for personal sanity and self-preservation) you categorically answer “No” to them all.
– Can I have a snack? No.
– Can I watch a show? No.
– Can I paint the car pink? No.
– Can I memorize the book of Romans? No.
You don’t think about the request. You hit overload, and you simply say “No” to whatever they ask. You’re not a just judge. You’re not thinking about what’s good. You just want them to go away. (Parents, can I get an amen? You all know exactly what I’m talking about.)
However, other times, my kids play at the persistent widow. And, I truly think it’s coordinated; it’s strategic—like they’re in some dimly lit room, smoking cigars, and plotting out each step of their subversive scheme. They come at intervals at us. Each with the same request. And, they wear us down so that we eventually give them whatever they want just to get them off our backs. Can you hear our resignation?
Though we neither have money nor resources, yet because these five children keep bothering us, we will buy them a Siberian Tiger for a pet, so that they will not beat us down by their continual coming.
Again, we just give in. It’s not reasonable. It’s not good parenting in the least. But, like the unjust judge, we’ve had enough. We’ll give them whatever they want as long as we get some peace and quiet.
This is the type of interaction Jesus pictures in order to teach us to always pray and not lose heart (v. 1). This might seem strange to us. We might wrongly think—If I just nag God enough, then he’ll give in and grant my requests. But, that’s not it. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the point Jesus is making here. He’s setting God in stark opposition to this unjust judge.
This is an example of an “if-then” teaching. The logic is something like this: If even this scoundrel of a judge eventually gives justice to this unrelenting widow, then how much more so will your good, heavenly Father hear your prayers for justice and grant them. That’s the idea. That’s the lesson Jesus is teaching.
Notice something here. (And, this could be the most important thing you learn from this sermon. So, pay attention now.) Jesus wants you to learn to keep on praying and to not lose heart. But, how are you going to do that in a world where injustice seems so often to reign? How are you to do that when it seems most of the judges are unjust judges, when it seems sin usually prospers, when it seems like your God doesn’t respond to your prayers? How can you do that?
Jesus says—Get to know your heavenly Father. Meditate upon his character. Gaze upon your God. Jesus says—He’s not like an unjust judge who doesn’t care about you. Jesus says—You don’t have to wear him out to get justice. To know him—Jesus says—is to know he hears you and will answer.
What you believe about God, friends, will determine whether you pray or not. If you think he cares for you and cares for justice and has the power to see it done, then you’ll keep on praying. If, however, you believe God is detached and unfeeling and too weak to work justice, then your prayer life will waffle. To know the Lord, as he’s revealed in the Bible, is to know that your prayers matter to him.
There’s an older Saturday Night Live skit with Sally Field and Phil Hartman in which Field portrays a housewife who literally prays to Jesus about everything—her kid’s algebra test, her husband’s big work meeting, and her favorite characters from General Hospital. Hartman arrives in the middle of the sketch portraying Jesus; he’s come to discuss her constant praying. He’s come to ask her to not pray so much, to only concentrate on the most important prayers. He’s obviously growing weary from all her prayers about the little things in her life. She’s wearing him out!
It’s a hilarious sketch, but one that runs contrary to what Jesus says about God in this passage. It pleases our heavenly Father when his children run to him in prayer. We cannot wear him out. He doesn’t think our prayers are insignificant. If anything, we should be a people who run to God in prayer in more areas of our lives not less, because the Father is pleased to use the faith exhibited in our prayers—whether small or great—to conform us progressively into Christlike people.
Whenever I call my dad, out of habit, I’ll often ask if it’s a good time to talk. And, without fail, he always responds—Son, it’s always a good time to talk to you. My dad always says that and means that. He really does love it when I want to talk with him. Friends, the very same thing is true of our heavenly Father.
In Habits of Grace, David Mathis expresses this beautiful, encouraging truth in the following way. He writes:
Such a pervasive call to prayer as we see in the New Testament is not the stuff of impersonal achievement and raw discipline [our works], but intimate relationship [knowing our God]. It has underneath it not an iron human will, but an extraordinarily attentive divine Father who is eager to “give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11). Not only is he a Father who reveals his bounty in words, and “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8), but he wants you to ask. He wants to interact. He means to have us not in a hypothetical relationship, but in reality. He is even more ready to hear us than we are to pray. 1
Friends, when Jesus encourages us to keep on praying and to not lose heart, he does so by revealing the character of God the Father. Knowing the heart of God is the key to becoming men and women of constant prayer. And these two feed off of one another—as you know God more, you’ll pray more; and, as you pray more, you’ll come to know God more.
Before we move on, let me just say, if you’re feeling flat and one dimensional whenever you pray and want to learn more about how to invigorate your prayer life, there are innumerable resources out there (likely more than any of us could count). Let me recommend just three to you now:
– As I’ve already mentioned, Habits of Grace by David Mathis has a section on prayer which is very practical.
– Jerram Barrs has a very insightful book that’s called The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us. He brings together all Jesus’ teaching on prayer.
– Last but not least, there’s the Handbook to Prayer: Praying Scripture Back to God. It aims to help us to incorporate the Bible into our prayer life.
This brings us to the second thing we must know if we’re to keep on praying and not lose heart. Namely that we must:
2. Know God’s goal (vv. 6-8).
This story is told in a section where Jesus is teaching about what’s to come—about where all things are headed in the end. He’s describing God’s ultimate purpose or goal for creation. So, remember that last week Bechtel described how our views of the future determine how we’ll live in the present and how our views of the present determine how we’ll live in the future. In short, our beliefs about the end of things will transform how we live now. And, this is also true when it comes to our praying. Let’s look again at what Jesus says after telling his story. He explains:
Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (vv. 6-8).
First, notice that Jesus teaches that in the end God will give his elect justice. That’s the most foundational point Jesus makes here. The prayers of God’s people will not go unanswered. Thus, as we read this, we must remember there’s no question about that. It’s certain; you can count on it.
What’s hard for us to understand is the timing. We want to know when God will deliver justice. Jesus tells us here that it’ll be delivered “speedily” to his people. But, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t feel speedy. It feels like God’s “delay” is long. When we read about another school shooting, we wonder why God didn’t stop it before it happened. When we hear about war crimes committed by Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which will likely go unpunished, we wonder why God allows such injustice to continue. When loved ones die, when rape occurs, when evil continues unchecked, we wonder why God delays at all. Have you ever felt this way?
If you have, then you’re feeling a biblical tension. A tension many of the men and women in Scripture feel and express. In other words, this is not a question God tries to sidestep, but one which he personally introduces. God wants you to ask it. He wants us to cry out—How long, O Lord? God wants us to pray to him in unison with the Apostle John—Come, Lord Jesus! The Lord want us dissatisfied with life in a fallen world. He wants us to want life in a restored world.
So, we ask—Why does God continue to delay? Why hasn’t Jesus returned? Well, the Apostle Peter was faced with that question when writing to a local church, and this is what he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record for us:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Friends, the Lord God hates school shootings more than you. He despises wars and all the awful crimes committed in them more than you. He hates death and rape and evil more than you. Yet, the Lord patiently endures these things which he hates so that all who would turn from them to him might be saved. God’s delay is a delay out of love for his elect—not out of spite or malice or incompetence. Simply put, God won’t deliver his justice until the last repentant sinner receives his mercy.
If this is the Lord’s goal—to extend grace and mercy to sinners through faith in Christ and only then, after all who’d turn to him have done so, deliver his justice—shouldn’t we “keep on praying” in that same direction? Shouldn’t we pray in unison with God’s purposes? You must ask yourself:
– Am I praying for lost people?
– Am I concerned for them like God is—praying for them daily?
– Am I willing to endure what’s ugly and evil in order to pursue lost people and work with God for their salvation?
Well, the last line of today’s text is an unsettling one to us. There Jesus asks—When I return, when I come back, will I find faith on the earth? Will I find people who know their Creator and, thus, continue to pray and work for justice and mercy? Will I find both faithful men and women who have not lost heart because they know where history is headed, because they know God’s goal for it?
It’s unsettling for us because it makes us reflect on our commitment to Christ. Will I persevere to the end? Will I faithfully finish the race?
If you find this question unsettling, it likely indicates you have a soft heart. The Lord is at work in you. Recommit your thoughts to him. Rededicate your prayers to him. Set your sites on his goal for you and creation. God has begun a good work in you, and he will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Persevere in Christ!