The Power of Persistence

I don’t need to tell you that 2020 has been a challenging year so far here in America, and to top off everything else that has already occurred and is still ongoing, a very heated and divisive Presidential Election is only 62 days away.

Three words keep coming to mind when I think about all that has already transpired this year. Those three words have very similar meanings, and they are: (1) resilience (the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns); (2) perseverance (continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition); and (3) persistence (the act or fact of stubbornly continuing to do something; the act or fact of continuing to exist longer than usual).

In a word search on Google using these three words, one of the first links I came across was this short devotion published on December 28, 2017 titled, Faith Produces Persistence,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that is the sixth-largest megachurch in the United States (source here). Here is that devotion (note: all three of those words stated above show up in this devotion):

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

Faith unlocks the promises of God, it shows us the power of God, it turns dreams into reality, and it gives us the power to hold on in tough times.

God doesn’t always take you out of the problem. He stretches your faith by taking you through the problem. He doesn’t always take away the pain. He gives you faith-filled ability to handle the pain. And God doesn’t always take you out of the storm because he wants you to trust him in the midst of the storm.

I remember reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom, a young Dutch Christian who helped many Jews escape the Holocaust before being sent to Nazi concentration camps. After World War II ended, she said that the people who lived through those camps were those who had the deepest faith. Why? Because faith gives you the power to hold on in tough times. It produces persistence.

Study after study has shown that probably the most important characteristic you could teach a child (and that you need in your own life) is resilience. It’s the ability to bounce back. It’s the ability to keep going. Nobody goes through life with an unbroken chain of successes. Everybody has failures and mistakes. We all embarrass ourselves. We all have pain. We all have problems. We all have pressures. The people who make it in life have resilience.

Do you know how many times I’ve wanted to resign as pastor at Saddleback Church? Just about every Monday morning! I say, “God, it’s too big. It’s too many people, too much responsibility. I’m not smart enough. What am I supposed to say to that many people? Get somebody else who can do a better job than this.”

Yet God says, “Keep going.”

Where do you get the resilience to keep going? Faith. It’s believing God could do something at any moment that could change the direction of your life, and you don’t want to miss it, so you keep moving forward. It’s believing that God will give you exactly what you need when you need it as you learn to rely on him to accomplish his purpose in you.

This is the testimony of Paul, a great man of faith: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT).

What is God’s purpose of adversity in your life?

How has faith helped you persevere through a difficult time in your life?

Faith doesn’t always take you out of the problem. Faith often takes you through the problem. How will this truth shape the way you respond to the problems you face right now? (Quote source here.)

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should “always pray and never give up” in the form of a parable titled, The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Here is that parable from the NLT:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

GotQuestion.org states the following regarding this parable:

The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8) is part of a series of illustrative lessons Jesus Christ used to teach His disciples about prayer. Luke introduces this lesson as a parable meant to show the disciples “that they should always pray and never give up” (verse 1, NLT).

The parable of the widow and the judge is set in an unnamed town. Over that town presides an unjust judge who has no fear of God and no compassion for the people under his jurisdiction. In the Jewish community, a judge was expected to be impartial, to judge righteously, and to recognize that judgment ultimately belongs to God (Deuteronomy 1:16–17). Thus, the judge in this story is incompetent and unqualified for the job. Justice was not being served.

A needy widow repeatedly comes before the judge to plead her case. According to Jewish law, widows deserve special protection under the justice system (Deuteronomy 10:1824:17–21James 1:27). But this unjust judge ignores her. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up.

Eventually, the judge says to himself, “I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!” (Luke 18:4–5, NLT). The widow gets the justice she was seeking. Then Jesus explains His point: if an uncaring, unfit, ungodly judge answers with justice in the end, how much more will a loving and holy Father give what is right to His children?

We do not always get immediate results when we pray. Our definition of swift justice is not the same as the Lord’s definition. The parable of the persistent widow demonstrates that effective prayer requires tenacity and faithfulness. A genuine disciple must learn that prayer never gives up and is based on absolute trust and faith in God. We can fully count on the Lord to answer when, where, and how He chooses. God expects us to keep on asking, seeking, knocking, and praying until the answers come (Matthew 7:7–8). Disciples of Jesus are people of persistent faith.

The parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge is similar to the parable of the persistent neighbor (Luke 11:5–10), another lesson in Jesus’ teachings on prayer. While both parables teach the importance of persistence in prayer, the story of the widow and the judge adds the message of continued faithfulness in prayer.

Jesus presents a final quiz on the matter at the end of the parable of the persistent widow and unjust judge. He asks, “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8, NLT). Just as Paul stresses in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, continual devotion to prayer should be a way of life. The Lord wants to know if He will find any faithful prayer warriors left on the earth when He returns. Will we be among God’s people still praying at Christ’s second coming, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10)?

Faithful, never-ceasing, persistent prayer is the permanent calling of every true disciple of Christ who is dedicated to living for the Kingdom of God. Like the persistent widow, we are needy, dependent sinners who trust in our gracious, loving, and merciful God alone to supply what we need. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 26, 2020, titled, The Power of Persistent Prayer,” on apastorsview.org by Dr. Jim Denison, co-founder and the CVO of Denison Forum, he writes:

2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.

It started as 1973, with the impeachment proceedings. Then it became 1918 with the coronavirus pandemic. It added 2008 (and maybe 1929) with the recession. Then it added 1968 with racial issues. None of the last three will end any time soon, and we can add the election this fall.

Psychologists distinguish between acute stress, something we experience in the face of immediate but short-term challenges, and chronic stress, which is ongoing and debilitating. Of the two, chronic stress can especially lead to depression and other physical and psychological challenges.

If you’re like me, the chronic nature of our challenges is becoming discouraging and worse. Your congregation probably feels the same way.

In this context, I wanted to share a reminder that has been encouraging me in recent days, one drawn from what is perhaps Jesus’ most misunderstood parable.

A rude neighbor

You know his story in Luke 11 about the persistent neighbor who knocks at a friend’s door at midnight to ask for bread he can serve a guest. The man’s reluctance is understandable: Common homes in Jesus’ day were one room, with one window and a door. The first two-thirds of the room was a dirt floor where the animals slept for the night. The back one-third was a raised wooden platform with a charcoal stove around which the entire family slept. For this man to get up at midnight he must awaken his family and then his animals just to get to the door.

In Jesus’ story, the neighbor gets up despite all this—the rudeness, the inconvenience, the breach of social custom—because of the man’s “impudence.” The Greek word means “shameless refusal to quit.” He simply will not go away until the man gives him what he wants. And so he does.

So Jesus concludes: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 9). The Greek could be translated literally, “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Practice persistence with God.

A loving father

Now, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us? First, let’s dismiss what it doesn’t mean.

Jesus is not teaching that we can wear God out if we ask for something enough. That God is the man inside the house asleep, but if we come and bang on his door loud enough and long enough, he will give us what we want. Even if he doesn’t want to, if we keep asking, eventually we’ll receive what we want.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that very theology preached: if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for. Whether you want to be healed, or be wealthy, or anything at all, just ask in enough faith and it’s yours.

That is absolutely not the point here. Jesus is using a very common rabbinic teaching technique known in the Hebrew as theqal wahomer.” Literally, “from the light to the heavy.” Applied here, the point is this: if a neighbor at midnight would give you what you ask if you ask him, how much more will God answer our requests when we bring them to him.

They must be in his will, for his purposes and glory. This is no guarantee that enough faith will ever obligate God. It is a promise that if this man would hear his neighbor, how much more does God wish to do the same.

Why persistent prayer is so powerful

How does Jesus’ story relate to our need for persistent prayer in these challenging days?

Let’s admit that persistence in prayer is difficult for our fallen culture. Many in our secularized society are convinced that the spiritual is superstitious fiction. To them, praying to God is like praying to Zeus. If it makes you feel better, go ahead. But don’t persist in your prayers as though they make any real difference.

Our materialistic culture is also convinced that the material is what matters. Seeing is believing. You cannot see beyond the immediate, so why would you persist in doing something that doesn’t bring immediate results? If God doesn’t answer your prayer now, why keep praying it?

In the face of such skepticism, why do what Jesus taught us to do? Because persistent prayer positions us to experience God’s best.

Praying to God does not inform him of our need or change his character. Rather, it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.

Persistent prayer does something else as well: it keeps us connected to God so his Spirit can mold us into the image of Christ. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives in ways he cannot otherwise. The more we pray, continuing to trust our problems and needs to the Lord, the more he makes us the people he intends us to be and empowers us for the challenges we face.

An invitation from God

Jesus’ story invites us to define our greatest challenge as a pastor in these days. Name it before your Father. Continue to pray about it, knowing that persistent prayer connects you with his power and wisdom. Know that as you knock, the door will be opened, by the grace of God.

I walk in our Dallas neighborhood early each morning. This week, I came across a yard sign that impressed me greatly. It proclaimed: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” The first is true because the second is true.

There is hope for our past because Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and then rose from our grave. There is hope for our present because the living Christ is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). There is hope for our future because Jesus will come for us one day and is building our home in paradise right now (John 14:1–3).

Hope is alive because Jesus is alive. Why do you need to practice persistent prayer to him today?

It is always too soon to give up on God. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples (and that includes his followers today) in Luke 18:1

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Good Fight” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Persistent Prayer

Very recently (April 28, 2018), I published a blog post on the topic of prayer titled, Prayer Changes Things.” In that post I started off by stating that there is really no formal setting or position that is required to pray, and that praying can be done at any time, any place, anywhere, and under any circumstances. It’s doesn’t have to be prayed out loud, or even with your eyes closed. It can be done in a crowd, while walking through a mall, while sitting at a desk in a workplace, and while driving your car (and you definitely don’t want your eyes closed while driving a car). It can be done anywhere and nobody around you even has to know you are doing it.

There is something else I want to add to this list for us to think about when it comes to prayer. I read it last night in a book titled, The Red Letter Life: 17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living (2014) by Bob Hostetler, an ordained minister, writer, editor, speaker, and literary agent who had written over 50 books (and eleven of them co-authored with Josh McDowell, who has been at the forefront of cultural trends and ministry for more than 50 years–see Josh McDowell Ministry). He also has a daily prayer blog titled, One Prayer a Day,” at this link.

Bob Hostetler addresses the subject of prayer in his book, The Red Letter Life,” in Chapter 7 titled, “The Word That Opens Heaven.” It’s easy to relate to the opening paragraphs in this chapter:

There are seven billion people in the world. Seven billion.

You might think that, out of all those people, there might be someone–just one–who thinks or feels the way you do, someone who understands, who “gets” you, whose heart beats in the tune with your heart, whose mind anticipates your thoughts, whose expressions mirror your emotions.

Maybe you’ve met that person. Maybe not.

Either way, you probably still feel sometimes as if no one really knows. . .or cares. . .or understands. It’s part of the human condition.

You may be surrounded by thousands of people every day. You may live in a city of millions. You may sometimes feel awash in a sea of people, and yet it’s as if no one really knows you, no one really understands you, not even your friends, not even your family.

It’s not about romance or finding the love of your life. It’s not about friendship or family. It’s about our common human longing to connect with someone on a level we seldom–if ever–seem to touch. It’s about a nagging sense of aloneness and alienation that all our gadgets and games won’t relieve.

I say that not only because there are many who harbor those kinds of feelings, but also because it is not God’s desire for you to feel that way. He has created you with a great and wonderful capacity for connection and communion–not only with other people, but with him as well. And the sense of emptiness and estrangement you often feel is a symptom, not a disease. It is an indication that your heart and soul are not getting what you long for–and what God longs to give you.

The means to meet that desire and fill that emptiness is prayer.

Don’t freak out. Don’t turn the page. Don’t give up just yet.

You’ve heard it all, of course, You’ve listened to sermons on prayer. You’ve read books about prayer. You’ve tried. You’ve failed. Just like the rest of us.

But there’s no escaping the fact that Jesus said, “Pray.” When he said “pray,” however, he was saying something new. He was revising. He was revolutionizing. Because he commanded and modeled a kind of prayer that was different. Unique. A kind of prayer that opens heaven and fills the human heart.

It was different from the type of prayer his contemporaries knew. If was different from what his closest friends and followers practiced. So much so, in fact, that it piqued their curiosity: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples'” (Luke 11:1).

It was different, too, from the prayers a lot of us have heard in church–you know, the kind that are filled with a lot of “thees” and “thous,” a bunch of fancy words and impressive Bible phrases thrown in. When Jesus said, “Pray,” he wasn’t talking about repeating the right phrases, or reciting something so many times, or reaching a certain level of consciousness–or unconsciousness!

He had a different idea. he revolutionized prayer. he changed the rules. He did to prayer what Michael Jackson did to dancing, what Picasso did to painting, what Apple did to cell phones.

When Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they weren’t saying, “We don’t know how to pray.” They had been praying all their lives–a minimum of three times a day, in fact. They were saying, “We’ve been watching you. We watch you go off by yourself. Sometimes we follow you and spy on you a little. And we listen to you pray. But you don’t pray like we do. You don’t pray like other rabbis. You don’t pray like anyone we’ve ever known. To us prayer is boring and tedious. It doesn’t seem to do much for us. But you–when you pray, it seems like heaven opens and touches you and everything around you. It’s like it fills you and fuels you. Like it refreshes and recharges you. So. . .teach us to do what you do! Teach us to pray. . .like you”

That’s what they were asking. And so Jesus answer their plea. But he didn’t respond with a seminar or a formula. He said, in effect, “Watch.”

“Pray like this,” he said.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever.
Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13, NKJV)

You may know it as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. You may have recited it or heard it recited in church. It is a masterpiece of beauty and concision–which is what we could expect from the Son of God himself. It is not primarily a prayer to be recited and repeated; it is a pattern to guide our praying. It contains the main things Jesus wanted to teach his closest friends and followers about prayer. It encapsulates the ways he wanted them to pray (“The Red Letter Life,”pp.91-93). . . .

Pray, Jesus says. But he does not insist that we memorize the pattern he provided (though many have). And he does not require us to pray it word for work (though there is nothing wrong with that) or every day (though some have found great blessing in doing so). Instead he has modeled for us prayer for us–what it can be like, how it can sound, what it can do, and how it can bless.

He says, “Pray communally. Pray relationally. Pray confidently. Pray respectfully. Cooperatively. Specifically and practically. Contritely and graciously. Submissively. Purposefully. And worshipfully.” That’s the way he prayed. That’s the way he teaches us to pray.

There are many versions of the Lord’s Prayer–formal and informal, poetic and prosaic, simple and profound. The final word in this chapter is simply to choose a version that works for you and pray it once each day for the next week. You may wish to used your favorite Bible version (you’ll find the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). You may want to GoogleThe Lord’s Prayerand find a favorite version online. You may want to write your own paraphrase (“The Red Letter Life,”p. 106).

So, why pray? GotQuestions.org states the following:

For the Christian, praying is supposed to be like breathing, easier to do than to not do. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35Acts 1:142:423:14:23-316:413:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also. If He needed to pray to remain in the Father’s will, how much more do we need to pray?

Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19).

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray.

A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer. (Quote source here.)

One of the most well known parables that Jesus taught us on prayer is found in Luke 18:1-8, known as The Parable of the Persistent Widow”:

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?”

In a devotion on Ligioner.org regarding this parable, the devotion states:

Take the parable of the unjust judge, also known as the parable of the persistent widow, in Luke 18:1–8. Clearly, the unjust judge does not represent anything beyond himself. He is not a symbol for God, or the devil, or anyone else. Instead, he is a character that Jesus invents in order to develop a comparison that stresses the Lord’s willingness to hear and respond to the prayers of His people. This judge, who in defiance of Deuteronomy 27:19 was not at all concerned to execute justice for widows, finally gives in to the widow’s demands because she refuses to leave him alone until he does. He finally acts justly, not out of a concern to do what is right but simply so that he can have some peace.

If evil judges will act justly in such circumstances, how much more will God, who never tires of hearing the pleas of His people, do what is right? The Lord, who can do no injustice, will move quickly to help when His children cry out to Him (Luke 18:7).

We should not think that our infinite God gets tired of hearing our pleas for justice. The Lord does not forget when injustice has been done, and He will certainly rectify it, though sometimes He waits until we have persistently called upon His name before He acts. But whether God intervenes immediately or seems to delay His response, we can be sure that He will do what is right. (Quote source here.)

The key to prayer is persistence. Jesus taught us that we should always pray and not give up, so let us pray… Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name . . . 

Your kingdom come . . .

Your will be done . . .

On earth as it is in heaven. . . .

YouTube Video: “Our Father” by Hillsong Worship:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Prayer Changes Things

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
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Never Giving Up

ready-for-defenseBack on November 3, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, The Woman, the Judge, Justice and God,” and I reblogged it again last year on April 23, 2015, adding a few words and titled it, Always Pray and Don’t Give Up.” It’s regarding a parable that Jesus taught on one of the most important topics we need to remember when we are in the midst of an ongoing trial (sometimes lasting for years) that just never seems to let up and, in fact, over time the pressure intensifies in order to try and make us finally give up. It tests our mettle to the max, and too often we give up when the going just keeps on going and getting harder instead of better, and the obstacles get tougher and more numerous and the pressure seems unbearable at times. And it’s at that very point that the message of the parable is so vitally important for us to remember. If we rely on ourselves and our own understanding, we will fall. 

As a preface to the parable, Jesus states, “Always pray and don’t give up.” And he is our example to follow. After all, he never gave up, either (see Hebrews 12:1-3). The power to move forward when all hell comes against us is found only in God, and not is us. This parable is about persistence and how important it is to have it, and to keep it, and keep going on and to not give up, no matter how long it takes and no matter hard it gets, and no matter who may mock us or how many are against us in the process. The parable is found in Luke 18.1-8:

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

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?”

JusticeThere are a lot of people in this world who don’t fear God or care what people think. The judge in this case was such a person. However, what eventually got to him was this widow’s persistence in coming to him to get justice from her adversary. We are not given the details of her particular problem with her adversary, but it was clear she needed justice from the harassment she was under and the judge was the only person who could give it to her. But he refused to help her “for some time.” It could have been several years, but she never stopped coming to him for help, and she never gave up seeking help from him as he was the only one who could get justice for her from her adversary who just never gave up harassing her. Finally, the judge was so tired of hearing from her that he decided to finally give her the justice she needed so that she would stop bothering him about it, but it took a very long time for it to happen. In fact, the judge’s response states that he would finally see that she got justice so that she wouldn’t eventually come and attack him. He was wearing out under her continual pressure of asking for justice, and it was her persistence that paid off for her in the end. While we don’t know what happened to her adversary, we do know the harassment finally stopped and she was finally free from her adversary.

Of course, the ending of the parable states, “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?”

It is interesting that Jesus asks that question at the end of this parable–“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The faith he is speaking about is the kind of faith portrayed by the widow’s continual persistence and the fact that she never gave up seeking justice from her adversary (see James 1:2-4). And that included the widow having to live through years of whatever her adversary was doing to her (Trial #1), and also the reluctance of the judge to help her for a very long time (Trial #2). And it paid off with the judge finally giving her justice from her adversary.

It has been seven years and seven months now since I started that job in Houston that has left me unemployed for all of this time. That job lasted barely seven months, but the consequences from it have lasted seven years so far. The punishment hardly fits the crime, and my only crime was accepting that job in the first place as I did nothing wrong while I worked there that warranted me being fired from it, and certainly nothing that warranted me not being able to find another job in all of this time. And I was employed in my profession for twenty years before I showed up on their door step. I suppose in a way it could be compared to a David and Goliath” story. I hadn’t thought of that comparison before, but the corporation that owns the company I worked for is definitely a “Goliath” in size and power, owning and managing over one hundred for-profit institutions of higher education (colleges and graduate schools), of which my former employer was one of them.

What happened to me there wasn’t right . . .

It wasn’t fair, and it certainly wasn’t just . . .

And I’m still looking for some justice. . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here