Erickson Covenant Church recently concluded a sermon series on the parables of Jesus. We called the series, ‘Classic Short Stories, by Jesus’. Doris Staggs preached one of the sermons in this series but, sadly, the recording of her message failed and we were unable to post it on our Sermons and Podcasts page. However, Doris agreed to share her words in writing here. (Thanks Doris!) Please take some time to read this encouraging message about the persistence of prayer.
Have you ever prayed and prayed but felt like nothing was going on? Did you wonder if God was ever going to answer? Did you feel like you were just talking to yourself?
I have – many times.
What have you asked God for, so many times that you’ve lost count? For health, are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Are you praying for that perfect mate to show up, or maybe praying for that mate you once thought was perfect? What about peer pressure, that bully at school, parents driving you crazy and you don’t know what to do when you graduate? Maybe you have been going to God about unsaved loved ones so long, you have almost lost count of the years? In spite of all your prayers, that situation with your family member hasn’t improved yet, or you still don’t have a job, your partner is still cranky and miserable… What is the point of praying when nothing is going on? Is it worth it? Should you continue to pray?Well, you are in good company. David had the same problem in Psalm 77: 1-10 where he was crying out, praying that God would listen to him. His problems had overwhelmed him. He felt rejected, forgotten and he wondered if God’s promises would ever happen. He even felt too distressed to pray.
Jesus addresses this issue with his disciples in Luke 18:1-9, in a short story about ‘The Irritating Woman and the Dubious Judge’.
We can easily identify with the woman. I like how Jesus uses the poor widow as an example of how we can come to him; someone who had nothing, no money for bribes, she wasn’t famous or influential and she had no mediator. She came before the judge with no power to convince him, all she had was her voice and she was heard. What a beautiful illustration of how we can come to God. We don’t need to be ‘somebody’. We don’t need to have something to offer him. God isn’t bribe-able. We come as we are – with our voice… our prayers… we come often.
I can’t say that I care much for the judge in the story. He is unjust. He doesn’t care about people or God. Is he supposed to be a representation of God? Is God like the unjust judge?
Hardly! Even though at times we may think so.
I used to think God was like this judge. I felt like he had standards that I couldn’t attain and I was pretty sure he wasn’t listening to me. In response to that, I spent a year studying the Bible to find out who God really was. And as I did so, a totally different picture emerged. I discovered a God of immeasurable love (Ephesians 3:18), gentle, gracious (Ephesians 2:8,9) and full of mercy (Lamentations 3:31-33). Today I can confidently say that God is not like that unjust judge. Many times, I have gone to God, not because of who I am but who he is. Not for what I can do for him, but because he is the only one who can do for me.
Jesus says in Luke 18:6-8 that if someone as uncaring and merciless as this judge could give a poor widow what she asked for, will not our amazing God with his vast love and grace, answer our prayers, even if there is a delay? This corrupt judge granted the requests of a widow whom he didn’t care about or respect, how much more will our loving God answer the prayers of his chosen people – the ones he died for.
We use our voice, petitioning him, relentlessly, persistently, knowing that God isn’t like that judge – appealing to a God who sees and who hears, a God who invites us to boldly and confidently come to him. We need to persist just like that irritating widow. Jesus told this story to his disciples so that they would always pray and never give up. Persistence pays off.
Do you struggle with prayer? Do you see God as an unjust judge? Maybe you feel like you don’t have enough money to bribe him, whatever form that takes – you don’t give enough, do enough, you are not worth an answer, don’t deserve one? Maybe you don’t realize that he does hear you, or that he wants to hear you. Or you just don’t know how to approach him. What stops you from praying persistently?
Jesus told us to come to him when we find ourselves overwhelmed, and he will give us rest. He tells us to not lose heart (maybe because it’s easy to do) (Luke 18:1). And he said, “ Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find…. If we sinful people know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
We can be persistent in prayer because of who God is – not who we are – he is a good Heavenly Father.
If you are struggling with prayer, with who God is, I encourage you to spend some time reading your Bible – perhaps in the Book of John. Watch how Jesus responds to people, how he welcomes them and meets their specific needs.
If prayer isn’t a regular part of your life, listen to God’s invitation to come to him, and just talk to him knowing that he will hear you.
If you have been praying and struggling alone, please realize that unlike the widow in our story, you are not alone. You are invited to talk to someone and ask them to pray with you – a trusted friend, a pastor, a leadership team member. You don’t need to stand alone, we; the Erickson Covenant community, will stand together with you.