Summary: Based on the Parable of the Persistent widow, this sermon encourages people to pray and pray and pray again. We preached these sermons in conjunction with the Pray 21 project that brings youth and adults together to pray for 21 days.
BELIEVE AND PRAY!
Believe and pray! This may sound backwards. Should we not pray believing that God will answer our prayers? Yes, but this simple little exercise of semantics puts the foundation of faith before the act of prayer. Many of us pray but few of us believe that our prayers will be answered. In some cases we leave our time of prayer not having asked anything of God at all. I know I have been conscious of this myself.
If we believe God we know that we can ask him for anything in prayer. That is a better platform for praying than to gamble with the uncertainty of skeptical prayer. Part of our skepticism comes from what we understand the answer to our prayers to be.
A pastor had a five year old daughter. This little girl noticed that every time her dad stood behind the pulpit and was getting ready to preach he would bow his head for a moment before he began his sermon. The very attentive little girl watched her dad do this each Sunday.
One day after the service the little girl went to her dad and asked him, “Why do you bow your head right before you preach your sermon?”
“Well honey,” the preacher answered, “I’m asking the Lord to help me preach a good sermon.”
The little girl looked up at her father and asked, “Then how come he doesn’t do it?”
Now that’s a matter of opinion. The preacher, God bless him, was persistent in praying every Sunday for an effective sermon. What we don’t know is whether he believed God would answer him or if he prayed out of desperation because he only finished his sermon at 8:30 this morning.
Jesus teaches us once again about prayer in the parable of the persistent widow. It is a story that encourages believers to seek God even when he seems far away and the answer we seek unattainable. Keep praying, Jesus says, and he tells us why persistence is important in prayer.
1. The Parable on Persistent Prayer
Couched in the context of the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus makes a link between faithful believers and prayer. We read, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (v. 1).
There is more to that phrase “not give up” than we see. We could add “not grow weary” or “lose heart,” but the phrase means more like “don’t be filled with bad thoughts.” Always pray and don’t let the bad thoughts overwhelm you. Bad thoughts undoubtedly are filled with fear and fear paralyzes us all. “Here a simple piety expressed in trusting prayer is commanded as a simple solution to the fear that robs the believer of his tranquility and the will to endure” (K. Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes).
The widow in Jesus’ story is dealing with a corrupt judge. In fact, Jesus says, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men” (v. 2). This judge may have purchased his seat as the municipal justice. He will have been a man of some wealth who catered to those who could afford his services. It was well known that to gain an audience with the judge you could bribe his assistants to speed the hearing of your case.
This man did not fear God nor did he care what men thought of him. Again we must read deeper and find that this judge, as the story indicates, has no shame. He cannot be persuaded by eloquent speech or by the reprimand of the moral authority. He is without conscience. Money moves him and that is all. Money moves him and the widow has none.
Yet the widow is tenacious. “Grant me justice against my adversary,” she cries from outside the tent where cases are heard. She can’t come nearer because she can’t bribe anyone to let her in. She yells from afar, meets him in the market, finds him at home, and continually pleads for justice.
We know three things in this story: 1) the widow is in the right and is being denied justice; 2) for some reason the judge doesn’t want to serve her, perhaps because she has not paid a bribe; and 3) the judge prefers her adversary, perhaps because he has paid a bribe.
Persistence pays off. This is the main thrust of the story. We find that it worked for the widow: “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’” (vv. 4-5).