Sermon - October 20, 2013 - Prayer? Hang in There!
now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart... (New American Standard Bible)
I begin my message this morning with an illustration related to prayer. It’s told by a Lutheran pastor in the U.S. He says:
Several years ago, my wife and I, together with our youngest son, were well on our way to realizing the dream of our lives – a visit to Yellowstone National Park. About 100 miles short of our goal, while travelling through the countryside of Wyoming, a little seven- year- old girl suddenly darted from a ditch along the side of the road directly into the pathway of our car.
There was no way of stopping or swerving to avoid the inevitable. Striking the hood of the car with her head, the little child was hurtled through the air for 30 feet and finally came to rest in the soft grass along the side of the road. From what we had experienced in those brief, terrifying seconds, which seemed like a nightmare, we felt, that unless God had performed a miracle, no hope of life for the child could possibly be expected.
The pastor continued,
I hurried to the side of the child and began to pray with a fervency and boldness like I had never prayed before. My wife, who was unable because of shock to leave her seat in the car, joined me in persevering and imploring and pleading with God to spare the life of this dear little one. So heartfelt and persistent were her petitions that she said she could see Jesus Himself, assuring her of His presence and miraculous providence.
When we received the report of the child's condition at a nearby hospital, we were convinced that God had sent His holy angel in response to our prayers to enfold this little girl in His protective care! The report revealed that not a bone had been broken in her little body, and no internal injuries had been sustained. There was a head concussion, however, which took several weeks to heal.
During all this time, day after day, night after night our prayers ascended to the throne of heaven, pleading with God to restore all her faculties and normal abilities. God heard our persistent prayers; and, some weeks later, we received a beautiful card from Wyoming with this welcome message:
'Dear Pastor: I am feeling fine. Don't you worry. I am in school. Don’t think I hate you. Don't even give it a thought. It was simply an accident.'
And her mother added this note:
'We know that Angie's recovery is a miracle, and that our Father in heaven was truly by her side!"'
This account is not a rare thing in the lives of God's people. Christians down through the ages have prayed, and reported amazing answers to their prayers. Because of God's love for us, and His desire that we live an abundant life as His servants, He offers prayer to us as a very special gift, and He asks that we make use of that gift frequently. As God answers our prayers, our faith and dedication to Him are strengthened.
Many Christians want to know how God's presence can be made more real to them. My answer would be this: "Pray, and let Him prove His love and concern for you." That pastor, whose story I just related, had his faith strengthened through that incident. For him, prayer was a way to know beyond a shadow of doubt that the God he worships is a God of power – a God who intervenes in the lives of His people. Prayer strengthened that pastor’s relationship with God.
The Bible calls all of God's people to pray. And it asks us to pray frequently, every day. It wants us to make prayer a habit; a way of life. Prayer has been compared to physical exercise. We get our prayer life in shape through practice. If we neglect it, our prayer life tends to get out of shape. It’s sometimes a little hard to get started but persistence pays handsome dividends. God wants us to hang in there. He doesn't want us to give up. He says
"...ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
God is saying, in effect,
"Give your problems to me. Let me take care of them for you. I love you and I don't want you to be crushed by the burdens of life."
Our God loves and cares, and gives. And one of his very best gifts for us is the gift of prayer. You’ll notice that the widow in our text for today didn't give up easily. She was persistent in what she asked for from that unprincipled and selfish judge. She wanted vindication. She brought her complaint to the judge and she strongly requested that He do something about it. She wanted justice. The point of Jesus' parable is this: If even an earthly judge, who has no time for God and doesn't care much for his fellow human beings, finally gives this widow her request because she was persistent in her asking, then surely God, who sincerely loves us and only wants the best for us, will intercede for His own children. You know, as we pray, we make our requests known to God. And as we pray, the responsibility for finding answers to our problems passes from us to Him. He promises to answer, in His own way, and in His own time. He simply says,
"Your prayers will keep the lines of communication open between us. I won't let you down."
There are many examples of persistent prayers being answered. Dr. Martin Luther had much to say about the kind prayer that hangs in there and doesn't give up. In an introduction to the Lord's prayer, in a sermon written in the year of 1528 – Luther said:
Pray undauntedly and with sure confidence, because God has commanded you to pray. He did not command it in order to deceive you, and to make a fool, a monkey out of you. He wants you to pray, and to be confident that you will be heard. He wants you to open up your heart, that He may give to you. So open up … and receive God's gifts for which you petition him in your prayers.
Luther want us to trust God's promises regarding prayer. As Luther himself learned through all his trials and tribulations, God never lets His people down. Another word for trust is faith. People without faith don't pray. And if they do, they’re just going through the motions. It takes faith to pray. It takes faith to take God at His word. It takes faith to ignore those who consider prayer to be a waste of time. It takes faith to swallow our pride and admit that we need help. A healthy prayer life is a sign of maturity in the Christian life. As we grow and mature as disciples of Christ, prayer takes an increasingly important place in our lives. It takes faith to pray. There’s no doubt about it. But prayer also strengthens our faith. Prayer and faith encourage each other.
God seeks to build up our faith and our trust in Him. Everything He does is intended to help us grow stronger in our faith; to bring us closer in our walk with Him. Many people assume that God answers prayers immediately. If there’ss any delay, they conclude that either God didn't hear them or that He’s not interested in answering their prayers. God often postpones the answer to our prayer. But, because we live in a society that wants everything right now, without any waiting, we find it hard to wait. In postponing the answer, God may be teaching us a lesson. God has a lot more patience than we do, and as we wait, we learn patience too. True prayer is humble prayer. The one who prays knows that the ultimate answer lies with God and with His grace.
The one who prays thinks he knows what the answer to his prayer ought to be. But, if his will differs from God's holy will, then God's will takes precedence. Sometimes we don't know how to pray or what we ought to say. But we come before God anyway. Even our Lord Jesus Himself submitted to His Father's will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, faced with the prospect of a horrible death, Jesus wanted to know if there was any other way to pay the price for human sin. But He ended His prayer with an attitude that Christians emulate even today: "Not my will, but yours be done," He said. In other words, "You know what's best for me, Father. Your will be done."
Jesus’ parable in Luke chapter 18 makes an important point. Verse one:
"...He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart."
The same Lutheran pastor whose story I told earlier says:
While growing up on a farm, my father concluded each day with devotion and prayer. When a member of the family suddenly became ill, the first thing we did was to pray. When drought came, the first thing we thought of was prayer. When a tornado threatened, we went down into the basement and [we] prayed.
For many today, prayer is an anachronism. An anachronism is something seen as old‑fashioned and no longer useful – out of date – past it’s best-before date. Many see prayer as a nice, "religious" thing to do, but they expect nothing in response. Today, many people worship at the altar of science and technology. To a growing number of people, God doesn't seem necessary. Science has done much to improve our physical lives, it’s true. But there remains a great deal in life and in human experience that science is not able to deal with. God's people are called to a life of persistent prayer. Where science and man‑made help ends, prayer begins. When science and technology can do nothing more for us, prayer takes on a whole new meaning. As the Scriptures so clearly point out,
"with God, nothing is impossible."
I mentioned a few minutes ago that God sometimes waits before answering our prayers. So if God delays, hang in there – don't give up. Keep on sharing your concerns with Him, just like the widow in Luke chapter 18 kept coming to the judge with her concerns. St. Paul learned from his own life and experience that constant prayer is absolutely necessary for every Christian. Paul's service for Christ was far from easy. Many times he was forced to his knees to pour out his complaint before God. It was Paul himself who counseled us to "pray without ceasing." Mature Christians pray first, when trouble comes. Only then do they seek other help. Prayer was never intended to be like a fire‑extinguisher, kept for emergencies only. God’s will is that prayer be a constant companion on our daily walk with Him. There’s a West‑African Christian mission that teaches new Christians to follow their example in taking time each day for prayer. In time, each new Christian would wear a path from his hut to his private prayer spot in the bush. But should that prayer‑path became overgrown with grass and weeds, the missionaries would become concerned.
How is it with us? Is our "prayer‑path" smooth and well‑worn with daily use? Or is it overgrown with the weeds of disuse? The woman in the parable before us this morning returned to the judge repeatedly with her request. She was confident that he would eventually act. And she was not disappointed. You know, life isn’t easy. God's people, like everyone else, are faced with many difficult problems. But God's people have one great advantage that others do not have; they have a God who loves them and has promised to answer their prayers. The God of the Christian faith enjoys doing good things for his people.
It’s true. Life isn’t easy. But prayer makes the burden lighter. God has many special promises associated with prayer. One of the greatest was spoken to King Solomon. God said this to Solomon, and He says it to us today:
...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Prayer and humility go together. When we pray, we swallow our pride and admit that we need God’s help. Prayer is submission to the holy will of God. Prayer is an outward sign of an inward faith. Prayer is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with God. Prayer is not magic. It’s not a way to control God. Prayer helps us to be the kind of people God wants us to be. Prayer is talking with God. It’s fellowship with Him, it’s rejoicing in his loving presence. The story is told of a very busy pastor who was behind in his sermon preparation one week and shut himself into his office, which was at home, to get that sermon done. He had hardly begun ,when his three-year-old daughter came in, climbed up on his lap, and put her arms around his neck. Rather perturbed by this interruption, the pastor asked
"Well, what do you want?" She said,
"Why papa, I don't want anything. I just want to be with you."
That pastor learned an important lesson about prayer that day. Prayer is a means by which we come into the presence of our Heavenly Father. It brings us into the joy of simply being with Him. Each and every one of us, including myself, needs an occasional reminder of the great value of prayer. It is my own prayer this morning that the Holy Spirit would lead all of us to "pray without ceasing;" to pray humbly, confidently, and joyfully, in the precious name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, in John, chapter 15,
"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you."
May God grant it. Amen.
Let us pray. Dear Heavenly Father: Prayer is an important part of our life in your kingdom. It’s a privilege that you give us by your grace. Renew our desire and our ability to pray without ceasing. In Jesus' name. Amen.