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Luke 18_1-8

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TITLE:  It's OK to Nag God!  SCRIPTURE:  Luke 18:1-8

Have you ever been disappointed by prayer?  Most of us have.  Jesus said:

    "Ask, and it will be given you;

    search, and you will find;

    knock, and the door will be opened for you. 

    For everyone who asks receives,

    and everyone who searches finds,

    and for everyone who knocks,

    the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).

But we have asked without receiving.  We have searched but not found.  We have knocked, but the door has remained shut.  I remember in particular two of my boyhood disappointments. 

When I was about eight years old, I wanted a Red Ryder BB gun.  I prayed for a Red Ryder BB gun, but I never did get one.  I suppose that one reason had to do with the fact that my brother and I played with the neighbors BB gun and shot each other.  

A few years later, I wanted (and prayed for) a car.  I'm not sure why I wanted a car, I couldn’t drive yet, I was only twelve years old.  Perhaps another reason had to do with the way that I drove once I finally got a car.  The Lord was protecting me!

Larry Crabb is a Christian psychologist who has written a number of books.  In one of them, he talks about being ten years old and hearing someone talk about Matthew 21:22, where Jesus says, "Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive." 

That sounded good to Larry, so he thought he would give it a try.  He wanted to fly like Superman, so he went out to the driveway and prayed, "God, I want to fly like Superman.  And I believe you can do it.  So I'll jump, and you take it from there."

Larry jumped four times, but each time he found himself only about six inches further down the driveway.  Remembering that experience today, he says:

    "I had believed and I had asked, just like Jesus said.

    But I didn't receive.

    Thus began my 50-year journey of confusion about prayer."

Confusion about prayer!  Most of us have experienced confusion about prayer!  Jesus made it sound simple, but in our experience is hasn't been simple, so what goes!

Jesus addresses this issue in our Gospel lesson today.  He was speaking to his disciples, and he "told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart" (v. 1).

"Their need to pray always and not to lose heart!"  Jesus wanted to teach his disciples to pray always and not to lose heart -- so he told them this parable about a judge -- a bad judge --a dishonorable judge.  This judge, Jesus said, didn't care about God or anyone else.  He cared only about himself -- his own comfort and well-being.  People couldn't trust him.  He didn't care about justice.  Judges like this tend to favor wealthy litigants -- people in a position to return the favor.  He certainly wouldn't care anything about a poor widow.

But a poor widow came to him demanding justice.  When she didn't get it, she kept coming back.  She kept nagging the judge.  She kept bothering him.  Jesus said:

    "For a while he refused;

    but later he said to himself,

    "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,

    yet because this widow keeps bothering me,

    I will grant her justice,

    so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"

We need to be careful with this parable, because it is easy to misread it.  Jesus is NOT saying that God is like this judge.  Jesus is NOT saying that God cares nothing about us.  Jesus starts by telling this story of a really terrible judge, and then he says:

    "And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones

    who cry to him day and night?

    Will he delay long in helping them?

    I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them."

Jesus isn't saying that God is like that judge -- just the opposite is true.  He is contrasting the evil judge with our loving Father.  If an evil judge will help someone just to get that person out of his hair, we can be sure that our loving Father-God will do even better by us.

Jesus concludes the parable by asking, "And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  This would be an easy verse to skip, because we figure that we have heard the main point already -- and what does this verse mean anyway?  "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" 

This verse holds the key to the whole parable.  Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  His point is that we can count on God to be faithful, but he is asking whether God can count on us to be faithful. 

It might help to know a bit more of the background.  When Luke was writing this Gospel, Christians were being persecuted.  It was difficult to be a Christian in those days.  It seems certain that Luke included this parable in his Gospel as a way of encouraging Christians to remain faithful even in the face of persecution -- encouraging them to continue praying even though it didn't seem like their prayers were being answered.  And so the parable ends with the question, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  Will he find Christians who have persevered -- or will all the Christian have melted away because of persecution.

We probably aren't being persecuted for our faith today, but this parable has something to say to us anyway.  It promises that God will help us -- will grant us justice -- will vindicate us -- will bless us.  But it also reminds us of the need for constant prayer -- for crying to God day and night (v. 7). 

It might be helpful to remember that God sees things differently than we see them.  God sees the big picture, but we see only the little bit that surrounds us.  We also need to remember that God's time is different from our time.  We live in a world where we have become accustomed to instant answers -- instant solutions.  We flip a switch and the light comes on.  We flip another switch and the heat comes on.  We flip another switch and the entertainment starts.  We don't like the idea of delayed gratification.  We don't like waiting.  But Peter reminds us "that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day" (2 Peter 3:8). 

So instead of thinking of God as some sort of genie who pops out of a bottle to grant us every wish, it would be better for us to think of God as a loving Father who provides what we need -- but according to his time schedule -- not ours.

Madeleine L'Engle is a Christian author who wrote a book, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, in which she tells of her struggles with prayer.  She tells of a conversation in which she said to her mother:

    "I prayed very badly in church yesterday. 

    I often pray badly when I try to say my prayers at home. 

    But if I stop going to church, no matter how mad church makes me,

    if I stop praying at home, no matter how futile it sometimes seems,

    then real prayer is never going to come. 

    It's -- well, it's something like playing the piano. 

    You know what happens

    when I don't have the time to play the piano for a week or so --

    my technique falls apart."

Madeleine's mother responds, "It certainly does.  It's never very good."

So Madeleine  says: 

    "Okay, but at least the very small amount of technique I have

    is needed when I try to play the C minor Toccata and Fugue."

Her mother nods and says, "You're beginning to play it quite nicely."

So Madeleine says:

    "Well, then, do you think prayer is any easier than the fugue? 

    If I don't struggle to pray regularly, both privately and corporately,

    if I insist on waiting for inspiration on the dry days,

    or making sure I have the time,

    then prayer will be as impossible to me

    as the C minor Fugue without work."

Isn't that insightful!  She understands what Jesus was saying about "continual coming" (v. 5) and crying to God "day and night" (v. 7).  She understands the need for constant prayer.  And so she says:

    "If I don't struggle to pray regularly, both privately and corporately,

    if I insist on waiting for inspiration on the dry days,

    or making sure I have the time,

    then prayer will be as impossible to me

    as the C minor Fugue without work."

The issue that this parable raises then, is not whether God is faithful in his giving.  The issue is whether we are constant in our praying. 

My model for constant prayer is praying the scriptures.  Praying the scriptures keeps me focused. Too often we begin to pray and lose track of where we are. We end up jumping all over the place. Knowing the scriptures are true, it is easier for me to believe what I am praying will be answered.

In this parable, Jesus calls us to that kind of constant faith -- that kind of constant prayer -- that kind of constant belief when belief seems to fly in the face of the facts.  It is Jesus' promise that, if we live lives of faith and prayer, that we will eventually see God move mountains for us -- that we will see wonders that no one could have predicted.

Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"  Let us answer, "YES!  You will find me believing -- and praying -- and expecting.  YES!  Jesus will find faith on earth -- and he will find it in my life."

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