Luke 18:1-14 “Losing Heart”
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.
A few months ago I was in Germany visiting my ailing uncle. While I was there, there was an evening prayer service offered at a catholic church on a Friday night. I had just come from the hospital actually, where I had prayed with and over my uncle. I had intended to pray in the church too, of course. This being a catholic church, I saw that there were kneeling rails in the pews for prayer. All of the rails were covered with shopping bags and umbrellas. Nobody could actually kneel if they had wanted to. The service did not lend itself to prayer either. I had really just wanted to pray in the church. When I saw all the bags and umbrellas I almost lost heart. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Or will he just find shopping bags.
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. Maybe she should be looking more for the opportunity to pray. 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. So, it seems that he must pray more too. We have here two people who are not praying. Instead, they are just losing heart.
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”!
Honestly again, I was going through a bit of trouble in a situation recently. I did not want to bring the thing up to God in prayer. It just did not seem to matter that much to me. So, I said, “Please do not make me bring this up in prayer to God. I do not want to put you at an unfair disadvantage.” Then, I got the incredulous look that I was half-expecting. “You really think God in heaven is going to see things your way? Fine.” So, I prayed about the situation, and sure enough God took that issue and made His Will known to the other person. I invite you to do the old finger-wag and caveat Deus. Just say, "God will get you!"
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.
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 greatest example of prayer in the bible is Jesus himself, you know. When Jesus was baptized the first thing he did when he came up out of the water was pray. After every miracle he prayed prayers of thanksgiving. He would leave his disciples to go off to pray alone. Before he broke bread or drank wine, he prayed. In the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest he prayed. Upon the cross of his own Death he prayed.
I think that Jesus did not have to tell this parable of the widow to anyone who knew him and his ministry. This story is for those who were new to the faith, having just met Jesus.
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.
How can one boast in prayer? How can anyone come before God with pride in the heart? Yet, in reality we do. How many times I have been asked to pray for others, and my response has been “We have a great prayer team at our church”! “I will certainly have the church pray for you with their powerful prayers.” That is strangely boastful. “We will pray with all humility,” would be the better response.
It is the nature of humankind to be competitive. I have to confess that I use this in my ministry especially among the youth. If you were in Bible Club right now, you would probably have played Bible tag as the kids love to play that. It is a game in which the leader calls out chapter and verse, and the kids have to find it. The first one to find it gets a prize—usually fruity gummies. But, we also play a version of “Family Feud.” Two students stand in the front and slap the desk to answer first “What is the number one commandment from Moses?”
We have never done competitive prayer. I am not even sure how that would look. Prayer is no game! It is something personal and private between you and God. We do take prayer requests for corporate prayer in our church, but we also take a moment of silence when we lift of to God in private our most sincere prayers. I am always a little concerned that someone might pray publicly things that should be kept to one's self. "O Lord, please make the sermon interesting this Sunday.”
This parable is telling us that prayer should never be about putting on display how good you think you are with God. 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. 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!
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. You know, Lord, when I was in that other church and noticed how everyone was using the kneeling boards for their stuff rather than prayer how perturbed I was. But, I can kneel before you anywhere and everywhere. I can pray to you any time and “every when.” I will not lose heart. In Persistence and humility I pray.