29 Days of Prayer
THAT MEN ALWAYS OUGHT TO PRAY AND NOT LOSE HEART
Intro: Can we be honest? It is hard to pray at all, let alone to keep on praying until we get God’s answer. There are many reasons we neglect prayer – and none of them are good. There is our physical weakness; sometimes prayer makes us sleepy and unable to concentrate. There is our lack of discipline; we simply do not make the time to spend with God. There is our callous indifference to a world in need. There is our false sense of independence; even if we never come right out and say it, we think we are managing so well on our own that we hardly need to pray. There is our lack of faith in the promises of God. Then there is our outright rebellion. The Spirit calls us to pray, but we refuse. The list goes on and on.
Then sometimes we stop praying because we lose heart. God does not answer our prayers the way we wish. We pray for the sick, but they are not healed and even die. We pray for God to provide, but we are still out of work. We pray for someone we love to be saved, but he/she keeps running away from the Lord. We pray to have a spouse, but we are still alone. Soon we start to wonder whether God is listening. Eventually we may get so discouraged that we stop asking God for help at all.
Luke 18:1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,
It is not necessary to understand “always ought to pray” as unbroken, continuous prayer. Instead, it is to pray consistently. It is to pray persistently, again and again without giving up.
1 Thess 5:17 Pray without ceasing.
Rabbis taught their disciples to limit prayer to three times per day, following the example of Daniel upon hearing the troubling news that anyone who prayed to a god other than the king would be cast to the lions.
Dan 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.
A devout Jew must not constantly pray since it was considered tedious to both God and man according to the rabbis.
A different picture of prayer emerges in this parable.
Not only must we pray without ceasing for God to intervene in history, but we must also seek Him when He seems far away, and our confidence is beginning to waver.
There will be times when we have no emotional energy for praying. We no longer feel the warmth of our love for God. What creeps into our minds? The sinister thought that prayer is pointless.
Like a nail in a tire that deflates slowly overnight, we find that our motivation to pray has sprung a slow leak.
But Jesus says we “ought always to pray.” This is where “anyway Christianity” must kick in.
You don’t feel like praying. You secretly imagine that it is an exercise in futility. But you do it “anyway.” Pray because Jesus says so.
In 2 Chronicles, King Jehoshaphat choose judges for the land and tells them…
2 Chronicles 19:6 …“Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment.
2 Chronicles 19:7 Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.”
Such a warning is always needed in every culture.
Corrupt judges were a problem in Israel in the 1st century. One scholar described them as “Robber-Judges” rather than “Judges for the Law” which was their real title (“Judges of Prohibitions”).
What kind of judge surfaces in Jesus’ parable?
Luke 18:2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.
Right away we learn that we are dealing with a fool. Jesus describes this judge in a way that undermines all confidence that anyone could look to him for justice. He is exactly how a judge should not be.
“who did not fear God”
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
“nor regard man” = lit. “he is not ashamed before people” – this is easy to miss outside honor/shame culture.
80% of the world has an honor/shame worldview where the honor of the group trumps the rights of the individual, and where relationships and reputation guide behavior. The Bible mentions shame about 10x more than guilt.
Shame – the intensely painful feeling/experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
In an honor/shame culture, external sanctions from the group reinforce right behavior. And it is always wrong to fail to fulfill the group’s expectations.
This judge had made himself immune to the peer pressure of the community. He could not be shamed by them.
One of the sharpest criticisms possible for an adult in a middle easter village today is mā jikhtashī, “he does not feel shame.”
This judge was the worst kind of authority figure. Nothing shames him. There is no spark of honor left in his soul to which anyone can appeal.
In the case of this parable, he is hurting one of his society’s most vulnerable people, a destitute widow – the very kind of citizen he holds office to protect. He should feel shame.
But every single dignitary and peasant can cry, “Shame on you!” and it will make no impression on him.
He has no fear of God; the cry of “for God’s sake, judge” will do no good. He also has no inner sense of what is right or shameful to which we can appeal. Thus the cry, “for the sake of this poor widow!” will likewise be useless.
Obviously, the only way to influence such a man is through bribery. What’s in it for him? He must be paid off.
So even before we meet her, what chance does this poor widow have in his court?
Luke 18:3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’
illus: Plutarch tells of a poor old woman who begged Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, unsuccessfully for justice. When Philip told the woman he had no time for her, she blurted out, “Then give up being King!” Amazed by her, Philip reversed course and heard her case, and many others because of her boldness.
In ancient Israel, a woman’s link to the outside community depended largely on a male family member: a father in the case of daughter, a husband in the case of a wife, and a son in the case of a widow.
The widow is the best symbol of the innocent, powerless oppressed person in the OT. She has absolutely no leverage in society.
When Eliphaz was trying to paint Job in the worse possible light by outlining his sins for him, one of them was “you have sent widows away empty” (Job 22:9).
Psalm 68:5 A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.
Knowing that the judge is degenerate, and the widow has no influence, we are prepared for a total failure of justice in this matter.
This woman had legal rights which were being violated by both her oppressor and this crooked judge. Someone is withholding finances that are rightfully hers.
“Get justice for me from my adversary.”
One scholar described her as “too weak to compel, too poor to buy justice.” Another says of her, “she had neither a protector to coerce, nor money to bribe.”
She is not asking for revenge – only justice and protection.
Summary of parable so far:
(1) The widow is in the right (and is being denied justice)
(2) For some reason, the judge does not want to serve her (perhaps because she has paid no bribes?)
(3) The judge favors her adversary who is either influential or has paid the bribes
Let’s describe the court scene:
The judge is found in middle of a large open hall called the court of justice. He is seated on a slightly raised dais, half buried in cushions. He is surrounded by various secretaries and other notables. The populace crowded into the rest of the hall, a dozen voices clamoring at once, each claiming that his case should be heard first. The more prudent litigants did not join in the fray. Instead, they whispered their wishes to the secretaries, passing them bribes. When the greed of the underlings had been sufficiently tickled, one of them would whisper to the judge, who would promptly call such and such a case – nearly always the one who had paid the largest bribe.
Ordinarily women in the A.N.E. did not go to court. It was a man’s world and women were not expected to participate with men in the pushing and shouting world of the court system just described.
Knowing that there was much reticence to have women appear in court, we can understand more clearly what the widow’s presence before the judge in the parable truly meant.
She was entirely alone with no men in her family to speak for her. She is utterly helpless before this miserable judge.
Luke 18:4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man,
Luke 18:5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
The judge confesses the accuracy of the evaluation of his character. He does admit that he prefers not to be troubled or wearied.
“weary me” = prizefighting term for a blow under the eye that swells and discolors the face (1 Cor 9:27 – Paul: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection…”).
Her effect on him is registered as a punishing metaphor (lit. “she is beating me black and blue and will be the end of me”).
This exaggeration on the part of the judge “lest she wear me out” (she is certainly not strong enough to fight her way to the judge and bludgeon him) is to indicate how irritated he is with her persistence. He is convinced she will never give up.
Her persistence has the same effect that Delilah’s pleas had on Samson.
Judges 16:16-17 And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart…
The judge gives in to her demands, but it has nothing to do with moral reform in his own heart. He has no more fear of God or respect for people than he ever had.
He is motivated solely by something practical.
The widow’s incessant pleas interrupt his life. They exhaust him. They tax his patience. They bruise his reputation.
The judge has reached his limit. He is “done in.” To get her off his case, he must deal with her case!
Luke 18:6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said.
Luke 18:7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?
If this woman’s needs are met, how much more the needs of God’s faithful children, His elect, who pray not to a harsh judge but to a loving Father?
However discouraged and hopeless our situations may seem; they are not as bad as the widow’s circumstance.
We can rest assured that our petitions are heard and acted upon.
God’s people are passing through a world in which we are assailed, we are assaulted, we are sometimes even annihilated.
Considering that reality, we must never give in, we must never lose heart, we must never throw in the towel. We must keep praying for God to put things right. This prayer requires unrelenting perseverance. We are invited to cry out to God, day and night!
“though He bears long with them”
The NT has 3 words for “patience,” and they are all applied to God. The one used here, translated “bears long” is used of the one who “puts his anger far away.”
It is the patience of the victor who refuses to taunt the one he has defeated. It is the restraint of a star running back who scores a TD, hands the ball to the referee and jogs back to the sideline with his head down.
Restraint is the key.
A classic example of this virtue can be seen in David as he stands over the sleeping body of Saul with his spear in his hand. Saul has come to kill David, and yet David has infiltrated Saul’s camp and can easily kill him.
David’s bodyguard wants to take vengeance, but David shows great “patience/restraint.” He puts his anger far away and refuses the request.
We learn that David’s restraint had a two-fold purpose: (a) the glory of God (b) to give a sinner room to repent
1 Sam 26:9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him; for who can stretch out his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?”
1 Sam 26:21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly.”
Obviously this patience/restraint is a quality God must exercise as He deals with sinners. In Ex 34, God declares that He is both “slow to anger/longsuffering” and gracious to sinners.
Alongside this wrath there is a divine restraint which postpones its operation until something takes place in a man which justifies its postponement.
illus: The rabbis supply us with a marvelous illustration of this virtue. They tell of a king who was deciding where to station his troops. He decided to quarter them at some distance from the capital city so that upon civil disobedience it would take some time to bring in the soldiers to restore order. In that interim period the rebels would have opportunity to come to their senses and “So, it is argued, God keeps His wrath at a distance in order to give Israel time to repent.”
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
The Lord does not lash out at the sins of His people, but rather exercises restraint, giving them room to repent, because He is slow to anger.
If even this unjust judge grants the request of the troublesome widow, how much more will Heaven’s Judge, who is perfect in love, cause justice to be done for His holy ones whom He loves and towards whom He shows the highest long-suffering, regardless of their own unworthiness?
Luke 18:8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
When the fullness of time has arrived, God will suddenly and without delay put an end to the distress into which His chosen ones have been plunged by a hostile and evil world. “Speedily” does not equal “immediately.”
The serious question is whether the faithful are going to persevere in faith, so that when Jesus returns, will He find real faith in Him and in His promises? Will He find anyone praying in this way?
Sometimes praying feels like we are hurling our requests against long periods of silence.
illus: An elderly preacher read this parable and gave a one sentence interpretation, “Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.”
Will He find a people still crying out for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven? Or will our zeal have fizzle out and our love have grown cold?
Better God’s delay than the unreadiness of men.
The real question is not whether God will do what He has promised to do, but whether we will trust him to do it.
This is a warning that believers must not let our faith waver, even if it appears that His Return is being delayed.
If a corrupt and self-seeking judge finally does the right thing, how much more will God, who is compassionate and merciful, render justice to His children!
We do not appeal to a disgruntled judge but to a loving Father who will vindicate His elect and will do so quickly.