Growing in Grace: Prayer
A soldier in the middle of the battlefield. He radios in to his commander for strategy. The enemy is fierce and war is hell, but the solider knows that is commander is wise and will aid him in the fight. A bride who comes to her husband at the end of the day. It’s been a rough 12 hours and she wants to share the burden with her loving spouse. A beggar approaching the wealthiest King in the world asking simply for some bread and wine. The popper has nothing to offer but his own incompetence and need, throwing himself completely on the mercy of his lord. A small child sitting on her father’s lap. Safe in his arms, she chatters away because he loves her and protects her. The Bible gives us many different pictures of the doctrine of prayer.
Prayer is a multifaceted diamond that can be analyzed for ages and then turned slightly, only to find more undiscovered beauty. The text this morning is one of those pictures of prayer given to us by the Lord Jesus. Remember now, we’re waist-deep in our series: Growing in Grace. We’re taking these 1st 2 months of 2018 to thinking through sanctification together; how do we grow as Christians? Trusting Christ, joining a church, serving the church, these are all crucial components to growing in Christ. This morning we are considering prayer. You can only grow as a Christian if you’re a praying Christian.
This parable in Luke 18.1-8 is an interesting pericope. It’s interesting because we know exactly what it’s about. So many of Jesus’ parables are shrouded in mystery. They’re inductive. He doesn’t always reveal the meaning to us. That’s why Christians have spent millennia debating the particulars of Lazarus and the rich man. But not this parable; Luke is kind to divulge its meaning right from the start. Verse 1 says, [a]nd he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. The point of the narrative is that Christians should always pray and never give up.
It’s important to remember the context here in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus had just spent verses 20-37 of chapter 17 teaching about the inaugurated nature of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is already here through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom of God is in the midst of you (vs 21). All of the OT promises to Israel have been fulfilled in the Christ event, but there is a “not yet” element to the Kingdom as well. A day is coming when Jesus Christ will return to raise the dead, judge the world, and make all things new. His coming will bring visible and final judgment to the enemies of God and salvation to his people.
And then we come to chapter 18. In the meantime Christians ought always to pray and never give up. Jesus says in verse 2, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.” Straight away we’ve figured out what kind of judge we’re dealing with. As a 2nd Temple Jew, we would’ve known that this man is certainly not the protagonist. He neither feared God nor respected people. He’s a living, breathing anti 10 commandments. In chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel, a lawyer asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. When Jesus asks him how he reads the law, the legal expert replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then affirms that if you do this, you will live. This judge, who was supposed to enforce the law, was a walking contradiction of the law.
And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ Notice that she has to keep coming to him. The implication is that he is continually ignoring her. Jesus doesn’t give us the nature of her lawsuit, for it is not necessary to understand his point, but the bottom line is that she is being denied justice. There’s not doubt that we’ve all got justice on our mind to one degree or another with the Larry Nasser conviction dominating the headlines. It’s a national story, but it hits closer to home here in Michigan. We all know people who have attended or are currently attending MSU. Some of us even know girls who were patients of Nasser. Can you imagine if this story broke and a judge continually ignored these poor girls? Regardless of this widow’s suit, she was being denied justice.
And then this unjust judge comes to a logical conclusion. 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.’ For Christmas someone gave our boys a giant art kit. I’m talking one of these art kits with like 1,000 markers, crayons, pens, paint, etc. Jack and Alex have been bothering us for weeks now to open it and we have used every excuse in the book to keep it locked up, because, I mean, come on. Why would you buy this for my kids? If you buy my kids something that 1) makes noise, 2) has 1,000 pieces, or 3) needs to be assembled, I will pray imprecatory prayers against you. Anyway, after over a month of pestering, Jack finally broke us down, and we let them open it up last Friday.
This judge, even though he readily admits that he neither fears God nor respects people (he’s basically an atheistic jerk), comes to the conclusion that his life will be easier if he just gives this widow her justice. She has been such a persistent pain in his butt that he would rather do the right thing than obey his personal creed of hate God and hate people. This widow was so steadfast in her nagging, so unwavering in her annoyance, so resolute in her irritation, so unyielding in her badgering that the judge finally gave her justice. This saint persevered; always pry and never give up.
And then Jesus says one of those Jesus things. “Hear what the unrighteous judge says;” We’ve got something to learn from this antagonist. We’re not to draw the conclusion that God is similar to the judge, but we’re to focus on the contrast. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? zWill he delay long over them? If this unjust judge, who hates God and people, if even he will give justice to this persistent widow, how much more will your heavenly Father. Will not God, who lovingly predestined his elect, will he not rejoice in justifying them? Jesus says, I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.
God loves justice because he is just. He is ultimately justice. Justice is just because it is measured against the very character and nature of God. And if this evil man will even give justice if he’s pestered enough, will not the perfect loving God hear and answer the prayers of his elect? Jesus calls us to persevere in prayer. Notice that he assumes that we will experience injustice. Jesus assumes, because we live in a fallen world, that people will mistreat us, that we will get cancer, that natural disasters will destroy our homes. But he calls us to keep praying and never give up!
And then Jesus says, Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Wow. What a buzz kill. Way to end a great story on a sour note, Jesus? What is he saying? Is he genuinely asking whether there will be any Christians when he returns? I don’t think so. Jesus is clear in other places that the gates of hell will not stand against his church. His holy elect nation of priests will out last every worldly kingdom, including the current world power – the USA. What is Jesus saying? He’s ending the parable by placing it in your lap. Do you have this kind of faith? Are you persevering in prayer, or do you give up too easily? How long do you pray for something before you assume that God doesn’t care anymore? 1 week? 1 month? 1 year? Have you ever prayed for something for 10, 20, 50 years? Can God answer a prayer 50 years later?
Brothers and sisters, the call this morning is to keep praying and never give up. You grow as a Christian through prayer. Let me give you 3 practical tips that might help you if you’ve struggled to have consistent prayer in your life. First, make prayer a spiritual habit. It is a means of grace given by Christ to make you more like him, and you must practice prayer. That means praying when you don’t want to, when you don’t feel like you’re on a spiritual high. One of our weaknesses as Protestants is that we value spontaneity, inconsistency, and feelings. We mock RCC for kneeling at specific times, responsive readings, and “doing the same thing over and over.” And while their doctrine of justification by works is damning, their understanding of spiritual habit is commendable, I’d even say biblical. Jesus practiced the Jewish customs faithfully in his day, which required liturgical ceremony. Spiritual habits are helpful because they help us to inhabit the gospel story.
Praying only when you feel like praying will lead to an inconsistent prayer life. Don’t trust your feelings, they are marred by sin. Make prayer a habit. Find a time every day to pray. Whether it’s 1st thing in the am, or it’s right before bed, or any time in between, make it a habit, so that you can train your heart to love prayer.
Second, pray out loud. We’re used to this when we’re praying with a group, but some of us may feel weird when we’re alone. There’s nothing wrong with praying in your mind, but it can be easier to get distracted. Pray out loud. View it as a conversation with God. It will help you stay focused, and you can actually end your prayer and not trail off into other thoughts.
Third, pray through substantial content. So often our prayers are dominated by us coming to God with requests. This is good and biblical, but ought not be exclusive. Martin Luther gives 3 helpful suggestions of content to pray through. (1) The Lord’s Prayer: read through Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6 or Luke 11 and pray. I’m not advocating for mindlessly reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but to pray it. Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name. Then meditate on God’s holiness, his fatherly attributes, the glory of his name. Your kingdom come; thank God for the kingdom that has come in X and pray for conversions so that the population of the kingdom can grow. Pray through the Lord’s Prayer.
Luther’s 2nd suggestion is to pray through the 10 Commandments. Work through them 1 by 1 and praise God that there are no other gods other than him, that he can’t be contained in an image, that his name is holy, that he has given us a Sabbath every Sunday morning at church. Pray through the 10 Commandments.
Luther’s final suggestion is to pray through the Apostle’s Creed. This great summary of biblical doctrine can aid you in meditating on truth about Christ. We believe in God the Father, we believe in Jesus X. I love that song. It causes me to worship. Try praying through the Apostle’s Creed.
One final word of encouragement, prayer as a means of grace is not merely individual prayer. Prayer with the saints is just as important, if not more important than your personal prayer. That’s why we dedicate so much time to prayer in our Sunday morning services. That’s why we encourage every flock to spend time in prayer together. Even if you don’t have time to study together in flocks, it’s more important that you pray together than study. Prayer is a means of grace for God’s people collectively, not just for each individual Christian. Give yourself to prayer with the saints.
Being a nagging old widow is just one aspect of a faithful prayer life, but Jesus encourages us here to be like her, for if even an unjust judge would finally justify her, how much more will our loving heavenly Father justify us? The great irony is that the one who told the parable of the widow’s justice would receive injustice, so that we can be justified. Jesus persistently prayed that the cup of God’s wrath would pass from him, but if it wasn’t possible, your will be done. Jesus, who was the only just man who ever lived, received God’s condemnation on the cross, so that we might be justified.
Because that’s true, we can always pray and never give up. You will grow as a Christian through prayer. It is a means of God’s grace to make you more like Jesus and prepare you for the new creation, where you’ll speak with God face to face. Pray with the church; pray on your own. Pray. Whether you’re a solider in the middle of a battle, a bride conversing with her husband, a popper begging for bread and wine, a small child sitting in her father’s lap, or a widow nagging for justice, pray and never give up!