It Changes You

Mar 1, 2020 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: Prayer 2020
Scripture: Luke 18:1–8

We are wrapping up our sermon series about Prayer.  What we’ve been saying over the past couple of weeks is that prayer is simply talking to God. It’s about relationship.  And like any good relationship, you talk to one another; you talk about your thoughts, feelings, emotions, or ideas.  It doesn’t have to be formal. It doesn’t have to be long and dry.  It doesn’t haven’t to be weird.

Prayer is simply talking to God, anytime you want.

Now, I recognize that when it comes to prayer some of us get frustrated, perhaps even angry because when we pray, we believe that it changes things . . . Otherwise, why are you going to pray? 

But some of us have been praying for years, and nothing has changed.  It’s like God just isn’t listening. So, what’s the point?

This is what I want to talk about today . . . does pray change anything?

Here’s what I know about us.  When we pray, we tend to pray about things that we can’t change.  “God, here’s what’s wrong with the world.  I am overwhelmed with what’s going on . . . so please fix it.”

I believe that praying for things we can’t change is important.  If something shows up on your radar that’s important, you should pray about it.

But as much as we need to pray about the things we can’t change, what if in our prayers we began to focus on the things we can change, the things that you are responsible for.  What if you begin to pray for God to change you?

Soren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”  You see, if you start to focus on the things you could change, if you start to pray that God will change you, you might feel like you are hearing more clearly from God.

That’s our big idea for today . . . let’s listen to our text Luke 18:1-8

I just love it when the underdog wins . . . maybe that’s why I find myself rooting for the woman in this parable because she is facing some pretty tough odds.

But she’s not just an underdog . . .  she’s a bulldog as well.  She grabs hold of what she wants and she’s not gonna let go as she says to the ruthless judge who has refused to listen to her, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”

We don’t know exactly what she needs justice for . . . but we do know that she is a widow and widows in this first century context had no rights so as a result they were often times taken advantage of and this widows only recourse is to seek justice through the courts. 

Unfortunately, she has come up against a judge who, “neither feared God nor had respect for people”.

In other words he is not a torah abiding judge.  And the Torah is very clear in describing the responsibility of judges when it came to protecting the rights of widows and orphans. 

He is without compassion and he really doesn’t care if this widow, or any other widow, for that matter, receives justice.  He is interested in one person and one person only . . . Himself.

But in this case, he’s up against someone who is stronger than he is.  She may be the underdog, but she is as tough as nails and she just kept coming to him. 

  • He walks out of his house in the morning to go to work, there she is. “Good morning, Judge.  I’d like to walk with you to work and talk about my case.”
  • He takes a lunch break and there she is again, “Hey judge, let’s pick up that conversation about my case.”
  • And on the way home, she following him step for step “Hey judge, good to see you again, let’s talk about my case”.

And she’s talking to him in front of his family, friends, coworkers, and colleagues . . . “You know, you haven’t gotten me justice.  You know it’s wrong.  How come you haven’t done anything about it yet?  You’re supposed to be a judge.”

And finally, realizing that she isn’t going to leave him alone until he settles her case, he begrudgingly grants her justice . . . “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming”. 

Now that may be what Jesus means by this statement, but that isn’t exactly what he says . . . the judge says, “If I don’t do something, this woman is going to attack me” . . . or as some translations put it . . . “give me a black eye”.   Now that may be literally or figuratively but either way I have this image of a cage fighting granny who gets the judge in a clinch until he taps out. 

Now on the surface of this story . . . the moral seems to be that we’re supposed to aggressively bother God with our prayers until God finally gives us what we want . . .  if only to just shut us up.

But, as you might expect, you get into trouble when you deal with scripture only on the surface . . . particularly when you are dealing with parables.  You have to dig deeply sometimes, to find its true meaning.  And I think this is one of those times.

And to deal with scripture seriously, you have to consider its context.

Just prior to this, the religious guys had asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming . . . they wanted to know when God would bring justice and wrath upon the wicked people of this world . . . And Jesus responded by saying, “the kingdom of God is in your midst” 

And then he begins to talk to his disciples about the end of times, saying some pretty scary things.  

  • “There will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.”
  • The disciples are freaking out and asked Jesus, “Where, Lord?”
  • And his answer . . . “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Somehow, I don’t think that made them feel better.  

And what exactly does that mean?  I’m not absolutely sure; but the point is that they won’t know it is happening until the moment it occurs.  

It is right on the heels of that strange remark, Jesus tells them this parable.

But unlike many other parables which allow us to draw our own conclusions, this one begins by telling us what it means . . .

Luke says, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” 

So, the flow of this story is this

  • When is the kingdom of God coming? . . . It’s in your midst
  • When is the end of time? . . . No one knows but some will be taken and others will be left
  • Disciples are freaking out
  • And Jesus tells them a story to remind them to pray and not lose heart.

The kind of prayer that Jesus is talking about is the kind that begs persistently for God’s justice; not just justice for us but justice for our world. 

And this is the kind of prayer that can cause you to lose heart if you’re not careful . . . why?  Because even if we were to persistently and fervently pray about justice . . . it always seems to yield nothing but silence . . . every day we read in the newspaper that things are getting worse, not better.

And let’s admit it.  We wear out from prayer that lends itself only to silence. 

After awhile, we get tired of getting no response.  Sometimes, the only thing we get from prayer is wondering if there really is anyone out there listening to us. 

Well, Jesus doesn’t want this to happen to his disciples.  He doesn’t want them to lose heart and he doesn’t want us to lose heart . . . And this was Luke’s concern.  He’s telling this story, and providing his interpretation of it, so his church, won’t lose heart.   

Here they are... they’ve been praying and praying, asking that the kingdom would come and what do they have to show for it?  Persecution, hardship, difficulties and injustice.

All these things, added together, can erode faith... not to mention enthusiasm. It can be hard to wait on God when you’re taking a real honest-to-goodness beating, over and over and over.

Why doesn’t God intervene? That’s what the first century church wants to know.  Maybe you’re asking the same question.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could catch just a glimpse of God’s activity in it all?

To be honest . . . Sometimes, it’s hard not to lose heart.

So Jesus tells a story and the point is that, if a ruthless, insensitive and hardened judge will finally hear the persistent petitions of a widow, how much more can we believe and trust that God, who cares for us and has our best interest at heart, will hear the prayers of those who are willing to “pray always”?

But before we wrap this story up in a nice little bow and walk away with, “if we just pray really hard and annoy God then everything is going to be ok”. . .  I want us to take a closer look at the judge.

What do we know about this judge?

He is without compassion and he really doesn’t care if this widow, or any other widow, for that matter, receives justice.  He is interested in one person and one person only . . . Himself. 

Do we know anyone who matches that description? Sure we do!  All of us fit that description sometimes . . . and some of us may make a career of doing so. 

So, I was wondering what would happen if we turned this parable upside down and interpret it a little different.

  • What if we are the unjust judge who neither fear God nor respect people? We are the ones dominated by our egos and generally looking for what is in it for us. 
  • And what if God is the widow, the one who wears us down, by persistently pursuing us.
  • And we’re the ones who are faced with the choice to either let God enter our lives and guide us to do the right thing . . . or not.
  • I much prefer this interpretation because I think it gives us a better picture of who God is.

He is the one who takes the initiative and lovingly pursues us.  He is the one who sent his only Son into this world in order to bring hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, and justice to all injustices. 

The religious leaders, the disciples, and the first century church all want to know . . . where is God’s kingdom?  Why doesn’t God intervene?

And Jesus is saying . . . the kingdom of God is in your midst and the demands for justice will be met by my redeeming work on the cross.

And that judge is inside each of us . . . and the purpose of our prayer is to wear him down, to wear him out, and to force him to do justice.  Prayer is the widow's voice, insisting that things be different.

And the primary effect of prayer is not on God but on us.

God's love is already unconditional, his justice perfect, his compassion without limit. He recognizes our needs even before we do.

It's not God who needs to change . . . it’s us and prayer is a large part of how that comes about.

Prayer opens us up and allows God to show us that glimpse of his kingdom among us and where he is at work in this world.

By bothering God, little by little the power of God’s Spirit begins to trickle through and penetrate our hearts so that we don’t lose heart.  And little by little we open up our heart even more to receive him.  It is like chipping away at the sealed door of our hearts until God is given full admittance.

But let me warn you about what’s going to happen . . . as you begin to see God’s kingdom at work, you’ll begin to see the world a little bit different and you’ll feel compelled to get involved in the work of God. 

  • No longer will that new mom we’re helping through the Lullaby Ministry be some random woman we give stuff to . . . she becomes a child of God who is struggling right now and needs you to love her back to her feet. And in doing so showing God’s relentless compassion.
  • No longer will that homeless person standing on the corner just be some homeless person . . . they become a child of God who perhaps made some poor decisions or got a raw deal in life and needs you to love them back to society. And in doing so showing God’s relentless compassion.
  • No longer is Logos Dei just a church but an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in this city and around the world.

To pray continually and to never lose heart is just to be in an attitude of openness.  It is having no predetermined demands to make on God but to be continually ready, alert, and listening to the demands that God may be making on us.

May each of us long to pray, and learn to pray, and persist in our prayer--not so that we can change God, but so that God can change us, and help us enjoy that fullness of life he intends for us.

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