May 23, 2017

May 21, 2017 - Luke 18:1-8

Theme: Persistence as a Prayer Posture

What posture do you like to use when praying? Perhaps you’ve never really thought about it. Most of us have been trained to use the posture of bowing our heads and folding our hands. That’s fine, but there are many other options too. You could kneel, stand, or go completely prone. It’s interesting that each religion has its own type of prayer posture. Christians typically kneel and fold hands. Muslims have strict requirements even down to the direction one faces. Some devout Jews sway back and forth during prayer. Some eastern religions involve dance in prayer.

The postures themselves seem endless, but what is the point? If your prayer posture doesn’t help the true purpose of prayer, namely to communicate with God, it is worthless. Immediately after our text here in Luke, Jesus spoke another parable about a proud Pharisee who loved to look pious and holy during his prayers. He had great posture of the body, but not the heart. The parable immediately before that serves as our text for today and it shows us that true prayer posture has very little to do with how you look, but a lot with your attitude. From Luke 18:1-8:

Luke 18:1-8 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.' 4 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.'" 6 And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Parables can be difficult to understand because the truths are hidden in imagery. However, this is one parable that gives us the meaning right away. While we may not know the exact meaning of every detail, we know the main purpose, which is the importance of a consistent and persistent prayer life. Prayer is a barometer of our faith. If we are spiritually healthy and receiving the proper amount of God’s truth and grace, our prayer life will reflect that. If not, will we be led to lose heart.

To explain this truth, Jesus describes a lowly widow and a powerful judge. These two main characters really couldn’t be more different. The judge held all the authority; the widow had none, especially in that culture. The judge cared nothing for God or man. He gives off a cruel and indifferent attitude. When he helps people, it’s not out of kindness but out of constraint and annoyance. The widow, on the other hand, is fighting for a just cause. She has been wronged in some way and is seeking justice. And finally, as the meaning of the parable teaches us, the widow is persistent, while the judge is willing to concede rather quickly. 

Immediately, in this contrast, we see ourselves in light of God’s authority. God controls all things. He alone has authority in heaven and earth. Nothing is more powerful than God. We, like the widow, are helpless. We deserve nothing. Spiritually, we are on the lowest rung of morality. We have fallen from God’s grace, and our sinful flesh and the great Foe, Satan, both accuse us day and night. Not every part of the parable fits perfectly with our relationship with God, but we do see it clearly.

Another way that the parable may have been intended is the see the judge as those in authority here on earth. Remember that the judge was both an unbeliever (he did not respect God) and he cared little for the people. This picture would have fit perfectly with those in authority at that time, the Romans. It was extremely difficult for the Jews to obey the Romans because they were Gentile unbelievers and they were often very cruel. And yet, if they wanted to accomplish anything politically, or make changes to their lands, they needed permission from the Romans.

In both situations, whether before God or before secular rulers, prayer makes a difference. Jesus is impressing upon the people the great benefit He extends to them through prayer and the amazing blessings it can unlock. Given the story of the parable, no one would expect the judge to accommodate the widow’s desires. But he does. So often, we are beset with problems that in life that are too much for us to handle. There doesn’t seem to be a way out. We aren’t powerful or strong enough. And yet, prayer is still effective.

Persistence and confidence go hand in hand with this. In the parable, the judge says that he is wearied by the widow’s continual requests, and so he grants them to her. The idea behind the word for “weary” is literally to strike someone as to give them a black eye. We hardly could think of the widow coming to blows, but there’s a metaphorical way this works too. The judge clearly cared about his reputation. After a while, he felt that the widow was tarnishing it too much. He allowed her request to clear away the annoyance. She was “blackening” his reputation by wearying him, and so her persistence paid off.

It may work this way with secular rulers at times, but it’s different when it comes to God. He isn’t annoyed by the believers’ persistent prayers, rather He rejoices in them. God wants us to approach communication with Him with the same tenacity as if we were trying to be an annoyance, but with a much different purpose. He says, And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

God gives us justice, not because He wants to get rid of us, but because He wants us as His own. His justice is a product of His love. Sometimes this is tough to see in the parable because this is the absolute contrast to the unrighteous judge, even though he is the “God-figure” in the imagery. And yet, we feel this same confusion in reality too. Very often, when the justice of God touches our lives, it doesn’t feel like a loving thing. Pure justice is simply doing what is right, and as sinners we are full of wickedness and evil. God’s justice shines the bright light of His Law on that sin and exposes it. This is not a delightful process. It’s so unnerving at times that we try to run and hide from the truth. We purposely refuse to do what we know to be right. We blatantly believe lies instead of the truth. All because it’s hard to face true justice.

Sometimes, the process confuses us too. We reason, if God is love, why does He punish sin? If God cares about me, why am I scared of His presence at times? If being a believer is the right thing, why is life so difficult? Faith and reality seem paradoxical at times, just as the divide between the unrighteous judge and Jesus. 

Right here is when prayer proves to be such a valuable asset. In the confusion of this world, God provides a way for us to talk to Him. He says that we can access Him whenever we want. He promises to always listen. He provides what we need. Who do you turn to when life gets tough? We all go to those who love us the most. A lot of the time, we just need someone to listen to us. There’s an element of caution here too because even if these moments we don’t have the license just to say whatever we want, especially about others. But what a helpful blessing, to have loved ones who will listen in our times of trouble.

How much more so with your heavenly Father! Paul wrote: Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

We have a God who promises to give us everything we need in the face of sin, all because of Jesus. Think again of your closest loved ones here on earth. Why do they offer you an open ear? Is it because you always have a perfect track record of kindness to them? Hardly. They do it because they love you, pure and simple, even when you’re unlovable. That’s usually how you sort out those who really care about you and those who just pretend.

Why does God listen to prayer? Why does persistence in prayer pay off? Because he loves you. He did not shy away from sending His own Son to the cross for you, an undeserving sinner. If He did that, how much more will He give you what you need! Truly, with this kind of God fighting for you, what can be against you?

The term out text uses to describe God’s love is avenge. It says that He, as the righteous Judge, will avenge His own. He will take care of the things that bother us in faith, things that hold us back from Him. The thing about avenging something, or providing vindication, is that only those who are worthy deserve it. Think about it. A guilty criminal has no right to vindication. A sinner has no right to claim that someone avenge them. Yet, God says He will do that for us. Why? We are not deserving. We are guilty of hell. True enough, but that is not all we are. We are forgiven. We are holy. We are deserving. Only in Jesus. And so, we have the right to plead to God for vindication. We have a just claim, even as the widow in the parable did. Because we have Jesus. His nature was so loving and compassionate that He had mercy on us in our fallen state, and He chose to rescue us by His death and resurrection. Let us now make full use of that blessing by pleading persistently to the Lord for His grace and mercy in our prayers.

Consider the widow one last time. The only weapon she had was her voice. In this way her persistence was vital. So often, we are tempted to look at just about everything else in life for help before we turn to the Lord in prayer. There’s a lesson here for us. At times, our requests may be to the Lord because of encounters with people like this unjust judge. People who don’t care about God or others, yet we must deal with them because they hold authority. Jesus says, prayer can help – be persistent with it.

In other times though, we are up against foes even greater. Satan, demons, and the like; enemies that seek to rob us of all hope. In those moments Jesus would have us remember who He is. He has all authority in heaven and earth. He loves us more than anyone else and in a way that can bless us much greater than anything else. He says to you, prayer can help – be persistent with it. In a way it’s much simpler than we think. Turn first to prayer and find God’s help from the very beginning of a problem. Let it be your one weapon.

So, what posture do you prefer? There’s plenty to choose from, all with certain degrees of helpfulness. But, don’t get too caught up in how you look when you pray. Think more about your heart. And in that case, persistence is the best posture. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

No comments:

Post a Comment