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Prayer Changes Things

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I have a secret to share (well, it’s not really a secret). Some of you already know it because you do it, too. Somehow so many of us have gotten this idea that prayer has to be really formal or that there is a “proper position” one should be in when praying or “proper words” to say while praying. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, when one is in the middle of something that is happening RIGHT NOW (like getting fired from a job), and you need help RIGHT NOW, you don’t have to be formal or wait until later to get into a formal position to pray. You can pray anytime, anywhere, no matter the circumstances, and nobody else even has to know you are praying, either.

In fact, when I’m sitting in my car at red light with a bunch of other folks in cars around me and we are all waiting for the light to turn green, I could be praying and nobody around me would even know if they were looking in my direction. I look just like anybody else sitting behind the wheel of my car while we are all waiting for that light to turn green. Your eyes don’t have to be closed and your head doesn’t have to be bowed to pray to God in any situation you might find yourself in. Of course, there is nothing wrong with praying with your head bowed and eyes closed and a lot of prayers are said that way, but when you need help or strength at any given moment, you can pray anyplace, anytime, to God who will listen and hear and help–right then. Whether it’s needed to help keep you calm in a trying situation, or in very difficult circumstances that goes on for a long time, the help you need is accessible 24/7 if you call out to God for his help.

Here’s an example of what the apostle Paul gave us regarding prayer from Romans 8:26-27:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

As clearly stated in these two verses, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Wordless groans . . . Think about that. That means prayer can happen anywhere, anytime, in any situation. Jesus also gave us instructions on prayer and regarding God’s care for us in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. Jesus words on prayer are found in Matthew 6:5-15:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.

    but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
    and the glory forever. Amen.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Keep this always in mind: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). And if you can’t get to your room (or you don’t even have a room of your own to go to), pray anywhere, at any time, from your heart. It doesn’t not need to be vocal (as in being said “out loud”) for God to hear what’s on your heart. You don’t have to be in a church building or any other type of formal setting to pray. Just pray and ask for God’s help in every and any situation.

Jesus continued in Matthew 6:25-34 with the following:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In other words, don’t go chasing after everything that everybody else around us is chasing after (money, material possessions, success, fame, power, etc., even revenge). And don’t pay attention to the mockers among us as they have always been around, and Jesus faced them constantly during his time on earth. We must keep our focus on God. After all, He knows what is going on and we don’t have a clue what is really going on most if not all of the time.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus taught his disciples (and that includes us today) a parable that is referred to as The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Here is that parable:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Emphasis mine.)

As Dr. John MacArthur, pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s University and Seminary, and teacher with the Grace to You media ministry, describes this parable in his book, Parables (2015), in Chapter 10, “A Lesson About Persistence in Prayer”:

Widows and corrupt judges were familiar characters throughout the culture of that time. Justice was often hard to come by…. (p. 178).

Rome had appointed local magistrates and village judges–municipal authorities who judged criminal cases and looked after the interest of Caesar. They were the worst of all–notoriously lacking in both morals and scruples. They were paid large salaries out of the temple treasure, even though they typically were Gentiles and unbelievers. The Jews generally regarded them with the same utter disdain typically shown to tax collectors. Their official title was “Prohibition Judges,” but–changing just one letter in the Aramaic term–the Jews referred to them as “Robber-judges.”

From Jesus description of this judge, it seems clear that he was one of these Roman appointees. He “did not fear God nor regard man” (Luke 18:2). That is a well-chosen characterization. Similar expressions are fairly common in literature from ancient times, even outside the Bible. Such a word portrait was used to depict a notoriously unscrupulous person. This was someone who showed no true reverence for God, His will, or His law. Furthermore, he was completely indifferent to the needs of people and their just causes. This man had become a judge because he loved the status and the money, not because he loved justice. He was unmoved by compassion or understanding. And to compound the gravity of his wicked character, we discover that he was not naive or self-deceived; he was fully aware of how thoroughly debauched his character has become. He freely acknowledged to himself, “I do not fear God nor regard man” (v. 4). By his own confession he lived in open defiance of both the First and Second Great Commandments (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). He was an utterly amoral human being, and his wickedness had all kinds of tragic implications because he was making daily decisions that affected people’s lives….

In short, this judge was bereft of basic decency, lacking in nobility, devoid of natural affection, and without regard for either God or humanity. His own character was so barren of virtue that most would consider him inhuman. He seemed impervious to any appeal.

And yet this parable is told to teach a positive lesson about God and how He answers our prayers–using the wicked behavior of this unrighteous judge as an illustration. This is very similar to the parable of the unjust steward in the Jesus was using a wicked person’s actions to depict something pure and righteous.

The only other character in this parable is a poor widow, the victim of some injustice or oppression, whose only recourse was to seek redress in the courts. Someone had defrauded her. She was apparently destitute and alone. In that culture the courts belonged exclusively to men. No woman would have appealed to a judge in the first place if there were a man in her life. Not only was her husband dead; she evidently had no brother, brother-in-law, father, son, cousin, nephew, distant male relative, or close neighbor who could plead her case. She represents those who are dirt poor, powerless, helpless, deprived, lowly, unknown, unloved, uncared for, or otherwise desperate.

Jesus built this illustration around a widow because as far as the Old Testament goes, her case ought to have been clear-cut. Regardless of the legal merits of her claim, the judge should have done something to care for her purely on the grounds of mercy. Moses’ law was explicit on this point. God Himself said, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless” (Ex. 22:22-24). The principle is echoes in Isaiah 1:17:

Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.

The law was full of similar special provisions for widows. “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge” (Deut. 24:17). Widows were to be cared for, and legal authorities had a particular duty to see that their needs were met.

Apparently this woman also had a solid case on legal grounds alone, because she was pleading for justice, not special treatment. And she was relentless…. She came back again and again and again, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary”–literally, “Vindicate me!” It seems she was seeking redress for some injustice that had already been done to her. And her desperation suggests that everything had been taken from her. She had nothing left to lose.

But the judge’s initial response to the woman was unbelievably cold. He simply refused her–dismissed her case with extreme prejudice and without any real consideration (v. 4). Perhaps whatever fraud or theft had been committed against her seemed paltry to him, but it was a threat to her very existence. The utter lack of any concern or compassion in his reaction to her is shocking….

This went on “for a while” (Luke 18:4). But then the judge suddenly had a change of heart–not because he repented of his wickedness or admitted the righteousness of the widow’s cause, but because he grew weary of hearing her pleas…. The unjust judge spoke to himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (v. 4-5)….

This woman’s repeated pleas were like a verbal cudgel. She was not merely troublesome; she was painful to him. So this powerful and impervious judge was defeated by a helpless woman, merely through her persistence. He still had no regard for God or man; he was looking out for his own self-interests. He needed to get rid of her. So he finally ruled in her favor.

The point of this parable is clearly stated at the very start: “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (v. 1). But the point Jesus makes is especially about a particular kind of praying.

Bear in mind the context. This parable is a postscript to the prophetic discourse at the end of Luke 17. The theme of that passage is horrific judgment, “just as it happened in the days of Noah… the same as happened in the days of Lot” (Luke 17:26, 28). “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed (v. 30). Christ will come again with a vengeance. His appearing will create death and devastation. “Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15). Verse 19 says the kings of the earth and their armies will be gathered together to make war against Christ at His return. This will be the final war for all humanity–the battle sometimes called Armageddon…. (pp. 178-183).

Today, at a rapidly accelerating pace worldwide, the Word of God is mocked, vilified, and censured. Christians are routinely maligned, persecuted, and oppressed, even in supposedly advanced Western cultures. In the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia Christians live in constant danger of martyrdom. Even by the most conservative measure, thousands are killed every year for their faith….

The expression “lose heart” in the Greek text… speaks of giving up from exhaustion, or worse, turning coward. Luke 18:1 is the only place the word appears outside the Pauline epistles, but Paul uses it five times: “We do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1, 16). “Let us not grow weary while doing good” (Gal. 6:9). “Do not lose heart at my tribulations for you” (Eph. 3:13). “Do now grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13). The underlying meaning is always the same: don’t give up hope that Jesus is coming.

God, of course, is nothing like the unjust judge. The argument Jesus is making is, again, an argument from the lesser to the greater. If such a depraved and wicked magistrate can be coaxed by sheer perseverance to grant justice to a widow for who he has no regard and no compassion whatsoever, “shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8). When Christ does return, God’s vengeance against the wicked will be swift and complete (p. 185). (Quote source, Parables,” pp. 178-183, 185.)

Prayer and persistence . . . that is what we need today in any and every situation we face. As Jesus told his disciples to do at the start of his parable of the persistent widow, we also need to do, which is to . . .

Always pray . . .

And never, never, never . . .

Give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Prayer Changes Things” by Deitrick Haddon on “Crossroads”:

Photo #1 credit here
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Photo #3 credit here

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