Prayerful Waiting

Luke 18:1-8

Summary: The Bible is full of stories which give examples of persistent prayer. Jesus also commands us to pray always and not lose heart.

Jesus commands us to pray always and not lose heart. Jesus has a lot to say about prayer. He teaches his disciples to pray the most beloved prayer in Christianity, Lord’s Prayer. He also affirms God’s faithfulness to our prayers.

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”

Everyone who asks will receive; everyone who searches will find; everyone who knocks will have the door opened for them.

But there are times when it seems like we knock and knock and knock, but the door doesn’t budge. Jesus’ encouragement today is this: keep on knocking. Keep on praying. Just keep knocking at that prayer door, even if you end up with bloody knuckles! God is faithful, and God will respond to our prayers.

Jesus tells an eye-opening story to make his point. The “bad guy” in the story is a judge. This guy seems like he should be the last person on earth to be a judge! He doesn’t value justice at all! He doesn’t have any regard whatsoever for people. And he doesn’t care a whit about God.

But there is a certain widow, and she has a bur under her saddle. She appeals to him for justice. He refuses to listen to her case. He stonewalls and ignores her pleas. But she persists. She continues to pester him.

Finally, he rules on her case. It’s not because he believes in justice; it’s just because he’s sick and tired of her relentless appeals!

She simply wears him down. “Pray like that,” Jesus says!

His point isn’t that God is as heartless and uncaring as this horrible judge. No, God is good!

Jesus says somewhere else, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

God is good. All the time. Jesus’ point isn’t that God is like the unjust judge. He’s simply encouraging us to be like this woman. Pray always and never, never lose heart!

We’ve all faced discouragement. There is that persistent, nagging trouble which has wormed its way into the centre of your life. You think on it all day long. And even at night, it’s there when you wake up. Then you mull on it for hours in the dark.

Hello, darkness, my old friend!

I’ve come to talk with you again.

But what about God? Can you share this greatest of your burdens with God?

That might depend on your opinion of God’s receptivity. People can have different views on who they understand God to be. Theologians say that we have different “models of God.”

One model might be to see God as a judge figure. God is continually judging our thoughts and actions. God has a ledger. It has two columns. One column tracks good behaviors and the other tracks bad ones. If this is your model of God, then you probably won’t want to share your deepest concerns with an angry judge.

Another model might see God as a distant creator. God is watching over the entire universe. And with all of the many galaxies, the multitude of creatures, situations of crisis surrounding the world, who am I that God is mindful of me?

But Jesus paints a very different model of God. Jesus bids us to pray always and not lose heart.

The Old Testament is filled with examples of people who prayed with such persistence.

  • The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. During that time, they prayed to God for deliverance. They prayed for 400 years!
  • Hannah had been childless for years. She wanted nothing more than to be a mother and have a child. Her barrenness weighed greatly on her. She prayed bitter, desperate prayers to God.
  • After the Israelites returned from their captivity in Babylon, they considered the Lord’s promise of the Messiah. Israel had no king on the throne, but God’s promise for the Messiah endured. So they kept watch for the Messiah. They prayed for God to send the Messiah. In the beginning of Luke’s gospel, we hear of two old, devout figures. Simeon and Anna are both extremely old. For years they have spent virtually every waking hour in the courts of the Jerusalem temple. They have been waiting and watching for the Messiah.

In Psalm 13, King David gives voice to our agonizing, persistent prayers. He asks, simply, how long? How long must I pray before you answer my prayers? Will you forget me forever? How long must I bear this pain in my soul?

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk voices a prayer similar to David’s. Habakkuk is troubled by the gross injustice going on in Israel. He cries to God:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

And you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

And you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrong-doing

And look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

Strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack

And justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

Therefore, judgment comes forth perverted.

Habakkuk’s words echo in the cries of every generation. His words are repeated by everyone who has ever looked upon the injustices playing out in each day and age. How long, O Lord? How long will your law and your justice be despised? How long do your children need to suffer? How long will the poor be trampled?

Habakkuk says that he will keep vigil for God’s response. He describes himself like a watchman posted on the fortified walls surrounding Jerusalem. He remains alert. He’s looking continually for God’s reply.

This is what it is to pray always and not lose heart. We stand vigil. We make our requests known to God, over and over, and we never stop praying.

God’s answer finally comes to Habakkuk:

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;

It will surely come, it will not delay.

“If it seems to tarry, wait for it.” The Hebrew slaves waited and watched. Hannah waited and watched. David and Habakkuk both waited and watched. They prayed without ceasing and they didn’t lose heart.

This is how God wishes for us to pray. There is no time limit on prayer. God is eternal. God doesn’t have a set time for you and say, “OK, your time is up. We’re done here now.” No. Jesus urges us to pray always and not lose heart.

There are times – definitely! – when it seems like our prayers go unanswered. But life doesn’t run on a straight path. It bends and curves. It goes up and down.

The ancient Greeks were aware of this, too. That’s why they always built winding roads on the way to their temples. They called it The Meandering Way. If you go to the Parthenon in Athens, the pathway leading up to it is filled with switchbacks.

Life isn’t a straight shot. It takes multiple bends and detours. We just can’t see what’s coming around the bend! To us, it looks as if there’s only a dead end. But God assures us that God hears our prayers. God hears, and God will act. “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; It will surely come, it will not delay.”

Friends, pray always, and don’t lose heart.