A little boy wanted $100 very badly. He prayed for weeks, but nothing happened. So, he decided to write a letter to God requesting $100.
When the postal authorities received the letter to "God, Australia", they decided to send it to the Federal Treasurer. The Federal Treasurer was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5 note. The Federal Treasurer thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy.
The little boy was delighted with the $5 note and sat down to write a thank-you note to God. The postal authorities forwarded this letter on to the Federal Treasurer, too. It read: "Dear God, Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through Canberra, and the government deducted $95 in taxes!"
Well, I don’t know whether any of you have decided to resort to writing a letter to God when your prayers don’t seem to be getting a response, but I do suspect that many of us have at times wondered whether our prayer is being heard. Sometimes we are tempted to give up praying because we just don’t seem to be getting the response that we want.
However, Jesus said that it is precisely to encourage us not to give up praying that he told us the Parable of the Unjust Judge in Luke 18:1-8. He encourages us, ‘to pray always and not lose heart’ (v.1). And there are two reasons given here why we should be persistent in our prayer:
I. Because God cares for us.
To make this point, Jesus drew a comparison between an unjust judge and God.
Jesus always drew upon everyday experiences of his listeners to make his points. The judge was probably a Roman judge, who apparently was open to bribes. To set the scene, I might quote from a book, written by a fellow called Tristram, on Eastern Customs in Bible Lands which shows that this story that Jesus told was in fact the kind of thing that could quite well happen. Tristram wrote:
‘It was in the ancient city of Nisibis in Mesopotamia. Immediately on entering the city on one side there stood … a large open hall, the court of justice of the place. On a slightly raised dais at the far end sat the judge, half buried in cushions. Round him squatted various secretaries and notables. The people crowded into the rest of the hall, a dozen voices clamouring at once that his cause should be heard first. The more prudent litigants did not join in the fray but held whispered communications with the secretaries, passing bribes, euphemistically called fees, into the hands of one or the other. When the greed of the judge’s secretaries was satisfied one of them would whisper to the judge who would promptly call such and such a case. It seemed to be taken for granted that ordinarily justice would go to the litigant who had bid the highest.
Now in Jesus’ story, there was a widow on the edge of the crowd - a poor woman who would not have had the means to pay a bribe. So she constantly interrupted the proceedings with cries for justice. Eventually, the judge became tired of her persistent calls to be heard and decided to ‘get her off his back’ by giving her what she wanted.
Jesus then drew a comparison between the judge and God. The judge had no real interest in the woman or her welfare, and yet he was prepared to give her what she wanted to get her off his back. The judge’s motive was concern for his own comfort. On the other hand, God does have concern for us – he has a great love and compassion for us. And God has no self-centred selfish motives.
So, Jesus concludes that if even an unjust judge is prepared to reward persistence, will not God do far more for his children whom he loves?
A similar conclusion is drawn by Jesus following the telling of a similar parable back in Luke 11:5-8. Commentators usually link this parable, called the Parable of the Friend at Midnight, with the Parable of the Unjust Judge. Again, Jesus’ conclusion in Luke 11:9f is,
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to 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.’ ‘…how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
Now I would just like to add a word of clarification here. This does not mean that all that we have to do is ask for our desires and we will get it from this loving, generous God. We must recognise that God’s provision will be determined by these facts:
1. God knows far better than we do what is for our good;
2. God alone sees all history and all time;
3. Prayer must be absolutely sincere – and perhaps persistence in prayer is required to demonstrate our sincerity;
4. Our cooperation with God is essential – it is not a case of asking God to lavish upon us every blessing while we just lie back and do nothing ourselves; and
5. Our prayer requests must be consistent with God’s will for us – as Jesus prayed, ‘not my will but yours be done’.
Nevertheless, we can have confidence that God cares for us and therefore we should not give up praying to him.
Now the second reason why we should not give up praying is …
II. Because it expresses our faith in God.
This is faith that God will hear our prayer, that he will answer our prayer and that he is working out his purpose in the world. Not always is it easy to continue to have faith when we do not seem to be getting answers to our prayer. But maybe we are getting an answer – it is just that we do not recognise the answer.
(Sometimes, the answer to our prayer seems like this automatically generated message received from someone who called the telephone company the other day. It said, "You have been connected to the correct department on the first try. This is against company policy. Please hang up and redial.")
Sometimes our impression of not getting a response to our prayer is just that we cannot see the bigger picture that God sees:
We might consider it to be like looking at the Ring Nebula, in the constellation Lyra, through binoculars. Through the binoculars it appears like a smoke ring. It is a star in the process of exploding. Light from its explosion first reached the earth in 1054; it was a supernova then, and so bright it shone in the daytime. Now it is not so bright, but it is still exploding. It expands at the rate of seventy million miles a day.
It is interesting to look through binoculars at something expanding seventy million miles a day. It does not appear to change at all. Its apparent size does not increase. Photographs of the Ring Nebula taken fifteen years ago seem identical to photographs of it taken yesterday.
Huge happenings are not always visible to the naked eye—especially in the spiritual realm. In many ways this nebula resembles the process of prayer. Sometimes we pray and pray and seemingly see no change in the situation. But maybe that's only true from our perspective. If we could see from God’s viewpoint, we would know all that God is doing and intending to do in our lives. We would see God working in lives in ways we cannot know. We would see God orchestrating circumstances that we know nothing about. We would see a galaxy of details being set in place for the moment when God brings the answer to fulfilment.
One of the things that I particularly like in reading the Old Testament is being able to look back over history to see how God was always working out his purpose for the world. I am quite sure that the people back then would not have understood why certain things were happening, but now we can see how God was directing world developments.
On a more personal level, I remember while I was living in the UK in 1996 praying about a decision on whether I should leave the Navy at that point and put my skills to use in some high paying position in private enterprise. It was one of those decision points built into a Naval career where one has to decide whether to sign on for a minimum of another five years, or pay-off to take up another career in civilian life.
I did not think that I was getting any answer from God, so I took the easiest decision – that of staying with the status quo with no change. I had absolutely no idea at that stage that the ADF would introduce an in-Service Chaplaincy Training Scheme, that I would be accepted into that scheme and that I would be ordained a priest in the Anglican Church. Now I can see that God had it all in hand and had in fact given me an answer – the right answer was not to resign my commission because God had something far better for me than to go and try to recreate my life in the civilian world -working in some stressful high-powered secular job in private enterprise.
If you are concerned that God may not be answering your prayers, it may be that you are just not getting the answer that you want. In the book, Too busy not to pray, the author gives this outline:
· If the request is wrong, God says: No
· If the timing is wrong, God says: Slow
· If you are wrong, God says: Grow
· But if the request is right, the timing is right, and you are right, God says: Go!
So, like the widow in the parable told by Jesus, we should not give up taking our intercessions, praise and thanksgiving to God. We should always be persistent in prayer for two reasons – firstly because we have a God who loves us dearly and desires to care for us; and secondly, because persistent prayer expresses our faith in God.
Perhaps you might like to join Linda and myself as we pray for the parish at 8.30 am on most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in Holy Trinity. Or perhaps you might like to team up with one or two others to pray while you walk, or as you meet together in your homes. In whatever form and whenever you pray, the important thing is that we must be a faithful praying church – and even more so as we consider our future and the likelihood of some very significant restructuring for the Anglican church in the Nambucca Valley. Amen.