Luke 18:1-14 “Pray Always, But NOT that Way!”
Pray, pray, pray! Jesus tells us that we must pray “always.” The word in the Greek for “always” is not really “always.” The Greek is “pantote.” You can remember this word by thinking of a panda eating oats in Canada—“panda oat, eh.” The “panta” part literally means “every ” and the “ote” part means “when.” We have the words wherever and whenever; everywhere and “_______________.” Hmmm, we do not have that word in English, so I will invent it this morning: “every-when.” This is really not the same idea as “always.”
The first idea with “always” is that Jesus might be telling us to do nothing else but pray. Just always pray. That is not the case. In fact, he is saying whenever you are in need and know not what else to do, pray! This is the idea of “every-when.” Every-when you are in trouble, pray. Every when you need justice done, pray.
Maybe part of our trouble as Christians is that we get down on our knees to pray, but then we forget to get up off of our knees again and start doing God’s work in this world. I think that for us Christians when we are really dead set against doing something, we say “Ah. . . let me pray on that a while and see how the Spirit informs.” I mean, it is right to pray, but it is not right to just “always” pray.
At the Praise Festival on Thursday night at the Holy Cross Catholic church in Kalaheo I had stored my carryall bag under a chair in their sanctuary. Every time I went to get something from the bag, the kneeling pad would drop down, reminding me that I should pray! So, a few of you noticed that the Lord seemed to be telling me to get down on my knees. At the same time, I had to get up and lead the program that was to bring us together to praise God! What would have happened if instead of having a praise festival I had just stayed on the kneeler board?!
The widow who comes to the judge in the parable told by Jesus is finding every opportunity to come to beg for justice to be served over her life. We do not know the issue actually that is causing her to come before the judge again and again. It does not matter. The fact is that Jewish law specifically says that a judge must defend the widows and orphans. That is absolutely part of the judge’s duty, and he is just not doing it.
Yet, Jesus states that this judge does not fear God or respect people. Do we know folks in our lives that we confront who seem not to fear God or respect others? Well, I run into these people at least every day. This last Monday, for example, I was going to change after swimming laps down at Salt Pond. Just as I was about to go into the restroom, one of the lifeguards came and told me not to go in.
I already suspected what the issue was. I could hear a strange voice coming from inside the restroom. Inside was a homeless man who seemed to be talking to himself, or someone who was not there. The lifeguard said that the fellow was on Meth and had already had a run in with the police the day before.
I decided that I should probably knock on the door to make sure he was okay and all. The lifeguard warned me not to. Well, it was one of those “every-when” moments, and so I said a quick prayer for the Spirit’s protection, and went and knocked on the door.
He was certainly not a fellow who believed in God and respected others—that is a nice way to put it. Still, a human being he was. He was in trouble. We helped him. He is alive today maybe because we did help him.
My point is that today, being perfectly honest, you may not run into respectful God fearing people every time you go out the front door. In fact, speaking for myself, it is almost refreshing when I do run into a God-fearing and respectful soul out in the general public. This does not just apply to homeless people—the judge in the parable is the perfect example of the fact that people without faith or respect exist in all levels of society. That is why we are called to pray at “every-when”!
God responds to our prayers. That is the second part of the parable that is so intriguing. The widow keeps going back and begging for what is rightfully hers. Persistence in prayer is so important.
I walked into Baird Hall on Wednesday afternoon to see the white board that the YWAMers were using in the classroom had a critical question on it: “What do you do if you pray over someone for healing, but that person is not healed?” To be clear, I was not in the room when that question was asked or answered. I can only respond from my own understanding.
It is a wonderful thing when the miracles of God’s grace are made so perfectly apparent for witness of God’s power and love. Yet, I have seen God’s healing grace on people that has lasted for weeks, months, and even years. Just because a healing takes longer than expected does not make it any less of a miracle! Should we stop praying because God’s timing seems not to match our hurried schedule of things?
“God heal this person right now! I have a ten o’clock appointment that I cannot miss!” This just shows such a lack of humility before God. God loves to answer our prayers. We just need to be persistent and moreover humble in our prayers!
The second parable that Jesus tells addresses more the way that we pray. Two men are praying in the Temple in Jerusalem. The one is praying loudly off by himself with great pride. This is the Pharisee. The other is a tax collector (not a beloved profession) who is beating his chest in prayer as he cries out to God for forgiveness of the sins that he has committed.
I had a conversation with a young person this last week that echoed this situation. This young person noted to me: (quote) “I think I try to be a good person. At least I try not to hurt anyone else. I mean, I wash my hands before I eat.” This young person obviously had no idea that this is exactly what the Pharisees said back in the day of Jesus. You see, they too washed before eating, ceremoniously, and therefore thought of themselves as “good.”
The truth is that washing hands does not cleanse the heart. Whichever hand sanitizer you might like to use, it cannot protect your spiritual life!
A basic tenet or belief of Christianity that separates it out from other religions is this very clear and sincere understanding that we can never be good enough on our own to make it into the Kingdom of God. That was the fatal flaw in the Pharisees prayer life! If you think that you are going to make it into heaven because you have tried not to hurt others and wash your hands before meals, then you had better think again. We Christians believe that there is but one way to the Father in Heaven, and that be through the Son, Jesus Christ. We know this because Jesus said it. This is why so many people wear John 3:16 t-shirts at sporting events. It is by God’s love having sent Jesus that we are saved.
Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus about salvation through faith is then confirmed in the vision of the angel in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 2) in which the church in Ephesus (Yes, the entire church) is called to repentance. The entire church needs to get down on its knees in order to come into the Kingdom of God!
Going back to Thursday night and that kneeler board that kept dropping down for me. Okay, I admit it: I was proud of our choir! Not just that, I was proud that the youth that were there had been to the bible club at the Middle School. Not just that, I was proud of Shelbi’s hula dance. I was proud of our Marshallese brothers and sisters singing out at the end. I think that kneeler board coming down again and again in front of me was the Holy Spirit trying to remind me to be humble.
Then, Jose Bulatao from the Methodist Church, some will know him as Mr. B, was honored for his many years of Christian commitment on the Westside. He took the microphone noted how much the Praise Festivals over the years has meant to him and his church because it was not a “competition but a blessing in music to God.”
Oh Lord, I had been so prideful when all I meant to do was bless your Holy Name in humble acceptance of the grace you have given over my life and ministry.
I once met another pastor from one of our sister churches on the mainland. We started talking about our respective ministries. We ran down our histories in service to the ministry. I told this fellow that I had been to seminary in Berkeley, later got my doctorate from Fuller, had served churches in West LA, the Pacific Northwest, and now am on Kauai.
This brother’s response to me was: “How did you get to go all the good places?!” I did not even mention that we had been missionaries to Thailand—he probably would have said “Oh, Asian Tiger!” I had not intended to be prideful, but here was another pastor in essence coveting (breaking the tenth commandment) my ministry. He obviously did not know that my ministry includes helping homeless meth addicts who have barricaded themselves in public restrooms!
If you even begin to sense to the slightest degree that someone else might be coveting your life, then you have been prideful in some way. Get down on your knees! Give it all back to God in utter repentance.