Monday, 7 July 2008

Pray always, and do not give up

Last Sunday I spoke at my church on Luke 18:1-8. Below is close to what I said. It is a bit long, and if your prepared to read my talk, can I encourage you not to, and instead read A Call to Prayer by J.C Ryle, which I read while preparing for this talk and was really challenged by what he said over 140 years ago.

You can download the mp3 from my church site. It is a little soft, and I kinda mumble when I talk...

Good evening all. If you’re new or visiting, my name is Andrew Vella. I don't normally get up the front and talk from a bible passage- in fact this is my first time. Now with this microphone I kinda feel like a spice girl or something so we will see how that goes. But it is a privilege for me to come up here and to talk from the bible.

Anyway the passage we are looking at tonight tells us to that we are to always pray. So right now, before we get to work, I'm going to pray for myself, that I convey a clear message; and for you guys and you will be able to understand the message from the bible clearly.

Lord we are thankful for this opportunity to be in your presence and to be among your people. To set our hearts and minds on you. To praise you for who you are and for what you have done for us. Thankyou we can have the privilege of entering into this two way conversation that we call worship; where we say and believe things that we know to be true about you and we pray for those moments where you inturn will clearly and powerfully talk to us through your word; so our lives can be touched and changed and transformed to the very likeness of Jesus. I confess to you Lord that we need your words to us, for I am inadequate, and sinful, and powerless, and apart from you I can do nothing. So please Lord speak to us for we are listening and desire to hear and to heed what it is that you are going to say. We pray this in your powerful and holy name, Jesus.[1]

JC Ryle, who I recently discovered while preparing for this talk wrote:

I cannot see your heart. I do not know your private history in spiritual things. But from what I see in the Bible and in the world I am certain I cannot ask you a more necessary question than that before you - Do you pray?[2]

So do you pray?

Is there a more important question that I can ask you tonight?

Do you pray?

Ryle argues that if you see someone praying you may not be able to tell if they are a Christian because there is such a thing as hypocritical prayer. But he says if someone doesn’t pray it is clear proof that they are not yet a true Christian[3].

How can you call God your friend if you don't talk to him? I mean you wouldn't say your friends with some guy you have never spoken with, why wouldn't that be true with God?

Prayer is an important task for believers to do. It shows that they have faith in God. It shows firstly that they believe in a God and secondly trusts that He can answer their prayers.

So do you pray?

In the passage that we are looking at tonight Jesus encourages us to always pray and to not stop. Let’s have a look at the passage bit by bit.

The first verse says:

1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up

The main point (v1)

Here Jesus is talking to the disciples and right at the start of this passage Luke tells us the whole meaning of the parable. He has given the punch line away.

This makes my job a bit easier and to be honest, I’m kinda grateful for that. It may well have been possible for me to miss the entire meaning of what follows.

So the whole point of this parable is so that we always pray and we are not to give up praying. Alright we got that? Always pray and do not give up. Yeah? Are we good? Write that down. Always pray and do not give up.

Now let’s look at how Jesus makes His point. Verse 2 and 3:

2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

So Jesus is tells a story with two characters.

Two Characters (v2-3)

The first character was this nasty old judge that didn't care about God - or anyone else for that matter. The other character in this story was a poor widow who kept asking the nasty old judge for justice. We are not told what the widow was a victim of and that’s not really the point anyway. She was a widow with no man to support her.

Normally back in those days the courts were for men[4]. This lady didn't have a man she knew to defend her nor any money for legal representation. Her only chance for justice was for her to plead her case before the judge and hopefully he would listen to her. But how much of chance for justice do you think she would get?

She had no money, no man to defend her and on the judge’s bench sat a bad judge who didn’t care about God or anyone else.

Let’s see how this mean old judge reacts to this poor widow’s request; verses 4 and 5:

4"For some time [the judge] refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet 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!' "

The heartless judge refuses to listen to the widow... well... at least for a while.

The widow’s persistence (v4-5)

The unjust judge eventually gives in and grants her justice for the ever so noble reason of: getting her off his back. She would come at him time and time again asking for justice, the judge was just worn out from her persistence and it frustrated him to no end. He granted her justice just so she would stop bothering him.

The Greek word used here for “wear me out” is actually quite a forceful term. The root Greek words means “to strike under the eye” or “to give a black eye”[5]. Paul also uses this word in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where he says he “beats his body”. In both these senses the word is conveying a quite a relentless, deliberate force.

The widow’s shameless insistent cries to the judge has him feeling like he is going to get a black eye from the force of her requests. She was relentless for justice and the judge felt under attack by her cries. This poor widow was able to defeat this all powerful, selfish judge by the weight and the force of her constant requests[6].

So far we may very well conclude that the moral to the story is that if we pester God constantly he will reluctantly give in after awhile so he isn't bothered by us anymore. We get what we ask for, and God gets peace and quiet from us. That sounds fair doesn’t it?

That’s what this passage means doesn’t it?

Maybe, but let’s see what Jesus draws out of this story; verse 6 to 8:

6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly…"

Jesus tells us to focus on the judge and what he says.

Listen to the judge (v6-8a)

Now the judge said in verse 4 and 5 "I don't care for God or people yet since this lady keeps bothering me I will still grant her request, so I can get some rest." How is that the take home message?

How is the judge’s bad attitude towards the widow helpful to us? Why does Jesus want us to focus on that bit, so that we will always pray and not give up?

In verse 7 Jesus draws a contrast between this unjust judge and God. Jesus moves from a lesser example to a bigger example. In this case we have the lesser example of the unjust, heartless, indifferent judge who grants justice reluctantly, and the greater example of our God who is not unjust, heartless or indifferent and He will give us justice for the opposite reasons.

God is bigger and better than this unjust judge, how much more will God answer our cries?

Two obstacles God doesn’t have (v2,4,5)

The unjust judge mentions two obstacles that he was faced with when handing out justice for the widow[7].

Have a look at verse 2 and 4.

Jesus repeats these two obstacles the judge faced. He says he doesn’t fear God and he doesn’t care about man. In verse 5 the judge says “yet” despite these facts he will grant justice by selfish motives. I take this to mean that if the judge did care about God and the widow then he would have already been naturally inclined to help her.

Now this was a parable, a story made up, but with Jesus talking to a Jewish audience they may have known that it was the duty of not only the judge but for the whole community to care for widows. In this story, the Jewish guys would have been thinking that the judge in the story was a disgrace. You see there are a whole bunch of verses in Deuteronomy about how a widow was to be looked after; and when in comes to specifically justice and widows Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 27:19 and Isaiah 1:16 all say that justice shouldn’t be held back from them.

This judge paid no heed to the message of the Bible. He had no care for God and His word and so no care for the people God has made. He was also not ignorant of this fact. He wasn’t misguided that he was a good person, he knew he didn’t care about God or man. And so in the face of God’s word he consciously refused justice to this widow.

Now it’s easy to beat up on the judge in the story, but we also ignore God’s word sometimes. In fact this parable tonight may very well be a sharp reminder that it is our duty to always pray and not give up. We may forget sometimes that the bible say that God does care about us and will hear our prayers.

God does care about us

This judge granted justice not because he had a reverent fear of God or because he cared about others, but because of selfish motives.

How much more will God grant us justice since he is God and does care about us?

God is already inclined to help us.

This is the main meaning of the story and the application of this was mentioned in verse 1

God is not unjust or disinterested in us – that’s verse 7 therefore we should always pray and not give up- that’s verse 1.

We should pray because of who God is. We shouldn’t pray because we think we have God under the thumb, or because we think it will get us into heaven.

We are to pray always because God is just and is interested in us.

Do we always pray and not give up?

I think we may struggle from time to time with praying to God, because we fail to remember things about God. We need to know who we are praying to, and as Josh said during the Nehemiah series:

We are what we are, and we do what we do on the basis of what we know to be true about the Living God[8].
Now what do we know to be true about the Living God that we are to pray to?

What do we know about God?

Up to this point I have been saying that God loves us and is interested in us. But on what basis do I say this? Is it just a feeling, or a nice hopeful idea that I wish was true? No, I say this on the basis of looking at the historical Jesus who died on the cross and rose again after three days.

Luke, in this book that we are looking at, writes an orderly account of Jesus’ life so that we may believe in Him[9]. The same guy who is telling us to pray always, is the same guy who died to forgive our sins. In fact when Jesus said this parable he was already on His way to Jerusalem[10] where he knowing was going to his death. Jesus was not some victim of historic or political forces beyond His control that led him to be killed. We even see later in this same chapter that Jesus knew and predicted that he was going to die and rise again[11]. And then after all that he said would happen happened, at the end of this book, we see that Jesus showed people His pierced hands and feet to verify what he said was true[12].

Jesus lived a perfect life, and yet was killed for us, who are not perfect, who have broken God’s rules.

Jesus substituted Himself on the cross for us.

Jesus took our place and punishment from God, so that we can be seen as right and clean before God. This is the God that we pray to.

Our God who saved us from death and His wrath. Out God who adopted us as His chosen children.

While we were still sinner and far off, God made a way for us to be brought near to Him. God has removed all obstacles on His side for us to pray to Him. He has substituted Jesus’ perfect life for ours, so we can approach His throne. He then asks and encourages us to pray to Him.

God says “Bring it on[13], cry out to me day and night. I want to hear your prayers.” And you know what? God doesn’t get worn out by our requests, you can’t do it. You can’t wear God out. God is keen to hear from us.

The unjust judge didn’t know the widow or cared about her and yet because of her persistence the judge granted her request. Is God like that to us?

Does he know who we are? Will God keep putting us off?

What does verse 7 say, how does God see believers?

They are His chosen ones, His elect. God knows who His church is; in fact God picked the believers out.

He chose them.

God is not indifferent to us, like the unjust judge towards the widow. When we call on God He knows who we are. We are not strangers to Him. He has adopted us as His chosen children. He doesn’t have to ask who is calling, He recognises our voice.

God does love us and is interested in us.

Next Jesus says God will grant us justice and quickly.

Quick justice

Now I struggled with this bit in the passage as we are told to constantly, persistently pray to God and yet it says here that God will give us justice quickly. If God answered us quickly, then would there even be a need for us to be persistent?

Wouldn’t all our prayers be answered after our first request and so there is no need for us to be so relentless or insistent?

But I think verse 8 is saying that God will grant His chosen ones justice and when he does, when it comes, it will be quick. It will be like a twinkle in an eye[14], like a thief in the night[15], unexpected and fast. We may think that God’s timing is always late, but he is always on time.

God is on a different timetable than us.

Jesus leaves us a challenge at the end of verse 8:

8 …However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Jesus here is refereeing to his Second Coming.

Jesus asks if He will find faith when He returns.

Will you have faith? (v8b)

In Chapter 17, just before this bit, Jesus was talking about how he will return one day, and then he goes on to tells us this parable for us to always pray, knowing that He will return to earth.

Now I don’t care if you’re a pre-post-a-pan milleniumist, we know that Jesus will return one day. What are your thoughts about Jesus’ Second Coming and about Judgement Day?

Is it a comforting thought or a terrifying one?[16]

We are told here that God will grant his chosen ones justice. God’s chosen ones will get justice by Him, but when He returns to earth, will He find people with faith here today? Will He find people praying to him?

Jesus isn’t asking us a question to sit around and speculate; to ponder if there will be people left on earth when he returns. Jesus is challenging his disciples, his followers to have faith till the end. Jesus wants them to say to themselves “I will have faith when you return. I will stand for you. I will cry out to you my Lord”

Mark Dever said:

How long will you trust God? Isn’t it the very nature of trust to continue trusting? We don’t give up praying just because we don’t see immediate results or any reason to keep on praying. We are commanded to do so.[17]

Our duty

It is our duty to pray. We should to do it. Pray and faith stand and fall together. Jesus says the mark of His chosen ones are the ones that pray- those that cry out to God day and night.

Do you believe and trust Jesus in your everyday life? What would demonstrate this?

I would say consistent prayer would.

Now I don’t want to guilt you into praying, as I’m not even sure guilt will sustain your perseverance. I don’t want you to think that God is going to get angry at you if you don’t pray. I want to encourage you to see that God has allowed you to pray to Him. I think encouragement will sustain you in long term genuine prayer. And this passage is an encouragement as it wants you to see who you are praying to.

You are praying to God, who has saved you from death, who has chosen you. God who has allowed you to approach Him. God who wants to hear your prayers.

Some of you are already great prayers and we need to learn from you. And can I just say, keep it up. Your prayers are not in vain. God does hear you when you call out to Him. I’m talking in part to the people who identified themselves as prayers a few weeks ago. Now I realise that no one put their hand up, including myself, but I know there are some people here that are persistent in prayer, and so please continue on, stand firm in your commitment and communication with our Lord.

But if you’re like me you may think that prayer is hard. I’m not an expert in prayer, and preparing for this talk I have been really challenged in my own private prayer life. Now every morning before I get out of bed I ask God for strength for the day. If no one is the car with me on the way to work, I ask God for help with whatever problems I am going to face. Before I got to bed, I ask God for forgiveness for my many sins and shortcomings and I praise Him for His grace and forgiveness. I’m not perfect with this, but I am trying to take this message to heart, to always pray.

Prayer is a hard thing to do for it isn’t a natural. Well, we were created to worship God with our lives, but since the Fall, since we are tainted by sin, our natural self doesn’t want to cry out to God. Our natural self is only interested in its self and thinks it doesn’t need God for anything.

In reality we have been given this body to be able to relate to God. It is because He is holy and we are not, that we do not naturally cry out to Him. We sometimes ask for help only when things are going bad; but ask yourself: Do you only have a Santa Clause relationship with your friends? Do you only call on your friends when your stuck and need something from them? How would your friends perceive you if you did? Why do you assume you have that relationship with God?

We can take comfort if we do have a heartfelt desire to pray, for that desire is outside of us. That is an external desire that was put there by God. That is how we can be sure that we are saved, for we desire the things of God. We desire God. The Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, is always there to help us pray. Surly we can hope to be heard by God because of Him.

Prayer is private so no one may notices it. Since no one notices it (besides God) it may well get neglected.

Pray is hard and we come up with all sorts of excuses not to do it. We may even use our own theology as an excuse. We may say to ourself that God is sovereign so why should we pray in the first place?

But isn’t because God is sovereign that we do pray? For if He wasn't, what good would prayer do? This passage it telling us that God will give us justice. He couldn’t do that unless he was sovereign. It is a Christian’s duty to rely on God and to praise Him. It is something we should do, always.

We may also hide behind the excuse that we are too busy to pray, even though we always find time to do what we enjoy. We seem to alway be able to watch a TV show that we like, and we seem to be able manage our time to go out to dinner or see a movie with friends. We all have the same amount of time in the day; it just depends on what we do with the time we have.

Prayer is time well spent. This widow was able to convince an unjust man to act, how much more will our prayers be heard by our loving and caring God?

We have to schedule our own time to pray our own prayers. That is why those weekly prayer meetings are great. If you don’t know, there are two groups that meet weekly at 7am in the morning, they even supply breakfast. They meet on Monday and Wednesday mornings in Calwell and Chifley. If you want to know more about these groups come and see me afterwards and I’ll point you in the right direction. Also I know of a prayer triplet in this church that meet every Friday morning before work. These prayer meetings are great as it allows you to have a chance to gather weekly for the sole purpose of praying to God. You may want to think about joining these groups or forming your own prayer group to help you with your prayer life.

But can I just warn you that there might a danger in our weekly corporate prayers.

Sometimes we may think that since we prayed corporately we are covered, we have done our task for God or for the church, so we are fine. Now don’t get me wrong it is good that our church is strongly committed to prayer. I mean on the 23rd of this month we have our quarterly parish prayer meeting. Each week before this service some people pray for the night ahead. During the service every week we schedule a time of prayer. There are those weekly prayer groups that meet all over the shop. Our bible studies pray together, but let me say this:

No one can pray your prayers for you, in the same way no one can eat your own food for you[18].

You have to do it for yourself.

Do you have a set time to pray every day? If not, maybe you should think about when you could do that every day. There is no magical or special time of the day for prayer, God is ready anytime to listen to you.

We are to pray and to not give up.

Pray always and do not give up

This is the kind of faith that the widow had. This is the kind of faith that we are to have.

Do you cry out to God day and night?

Are you persistent in prayer?

There are so many things that we can pray to God about and we are instructed here that it is something we should always do.

We can pray for this church, its vision and its leaders. We can pray for our non-Christian friends, that we will be an example of Christ to them so they can know Him. We can pray for our relationships with others. We can confess specific sins to God. We can pray for our work during the day…

There are countless things that we can pray to God about, and He wants to hear them.

God is sovereign over all things, including our work, our relationships, our non-Christian friends and this Church.

When things look hopeless will you stand in your faith and pray to God?

When things are going well do you forget to pray?

It the duty of the God’s chosen people to persistently cry out to Him day and night.

Some good advice I have heard[18] is that if you feel prompted to pray, then do it; right then and there. There is nothing greater or more worthy thing to do than to pray. If you put it off, you may very well forget.

Remember the widow who conquered an indifferent and unjust man by her persistence.

If an unjust judge responds how much more will our loving and caring God respond?

God is not like the unjust judge. His is not disinterested in us.

Please people, don’t listen to me; listen to Jesus: always pray and do not give up.


[1] Most of this prayer was taken from Voddie Bauchem in his talk at the 2006 Desiring God conference

[2] J.C Ryle A Call to Prayer. This really challenged me and shaped most of this talk.

[3] Ibid

[4] John MacArthur said this in his sermon Persistent Prayer for the Lord’s Return. I think John over emphasise the second coming in this passage, but give good insight into the historical setting of this parable.

[5] ὑπωπιάζω (hupōpiazō)

[6] I got this point from John MacArthur in his sermon
Persistent Prayer for the Lord’s Return

[7] This point I got from John Piper sermon Always Pray and Do Not Lose Heart on 9/1/1983

[8] Josh Dinale Building a City on God #1 & #2 on the 26/5/2008 and the 1/6/2008

[9] Luke 1:1-4

[10] Luke 17:11: “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.”

[11] Luke 18:31-33: “the Son of Man… will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

[12] Luke 24:38-40: “He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.”

[13] Santo Garofalo said this in Keep Believing and Praying

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:52: “…in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. …we will be changed.”

[15] Matthew 24:42-44: “you do not know on what day your Lord will come. …the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

[16] I got these two questions from Mark Miller in
Have you ever wanted to quit praying? on the 6/5/2007. This was one of the best sermons I heard on this passage.

[17] Mark Dever’s sermon Jesus Predicted His Death - Luke 18 in 2007

[18] This analogy came from JC Ryle in
A Call to Prayer

[19] Dr Joel R. Beeke in The Great Obstacles to Sanctification: Fighting Prayerlessness and Pride

1 comment:

  1. It was a cracker sermon mate - faithful, convicting and has still kept me motivated to pray. Thanks for all the hard work you put into it.