Sermons

January 5, 2020

We Should Always Pray and Not Lose Heart

David Livingston | Luke 18:1-8

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?”—Luke 18:1–8

Introduction

Today is the first of the two Sundays of Prayer Week. For decades, the sermons that start the New Year have been about Scripture (God’s voice to us) and Prayer (our voices back to him). Scripture and prayer, and more specifically, God’s promises to us in Scripture and God’s Spirit in us prompting and perfecting our praying. These are Gad’s ordained way for his supernatural grace to flow into our lives so that we may be distinguished in this world as his children. 

And so, this morning we begin on our knees before God in prayer, asking in particular that God would give us a greater heart for prayer in 2020—souls/inner beings, as Jesus intended, that always pray and do not lose heart. Let’s bow your heads and ask for His help to be this kind of persistent pray-ers, 

“Father for …

  • My own and others’ personal needs
  • More power for godly living in the Holy Spirit
  • Greater progress in the spread of the gospel here at home and toward the world’s unreached and unengaged peoples
  • Doing all for the greater glory of Your Holy Name! Amen.”

Perseverance Described ...  

To persevere at something implies, on the one hand, an admirable character quality, namely, it connotes a person who simply refuses to be discouraged. Persistent failure, doubts, and difficulties do not conquer such an individual, but rather, there is in such men and women what amounts to a steadfast, dogged pursuit of whatever the prize, the goal, the objective may be. Such persevering souls in this admirable sense are the kind of patient and courageous people who can rise to heroic stature. There is nothing of the coward in them ... they stand to their post in obedience to their duty! 

On the other hand, such die-hard, hold-out people can just as easily seem to us (and actually be) quite disagreeable and downright annoying pests. They aren’t heroic ... instead, they’re stubborn and immoveable and obstinate. They bother us like ...

  • a pestering neighbor who comes knocking at your door at midnight, asking for a favor, long after you’ve gone to bed, or
  • a irritating woman who won’t leave us alone with how she is being victimized, harping on having been cheated, demanding her “day in court,” and fraying our nerves with her constant insistence that we look at the compelling evidence she presents in pleading for justice!

Perseverance Personified ...  

But speaking of compelling evidence, Jesus used exactly those two unlikely characters to persuade us that they are in fact role models to become like in our praying.

Jesus introduced them in two parables in Luke’s Gospel. Both parables have the same interpretation, which the Lord made explicit in this morning’s text: Luke 18:1.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lost heart.

To reinforce this intended effect on his disciples (and on us) Jesus made his stories more easily memorable by creating a set of hypothetical people in each parable. In each, there is a clash between just two characters: 

  1. The Aggravating Friend & His Put-Upon Next Door Neighbor
  2. The Heartless Judge & the Helpless Widow

Good stories have tension and conflict in them, and Jesus is the best storyteller. So, both stories are a battle of wills. Since they are about prayer, you’d expect that one person is asking for something and the other is holding out. 

The Neighborly Tug-of-War 

Turn to chapter 11 for a look at the parable about a “neighborly tug-of-war” where we’re introduced to our first prayer model. Observe ... 

  • In v. 1, Jesus’ own personal example of praying provoked a request that produced one of the great teaching texts on prayer in the whole Bible:

    Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of the disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John [the Baptist] taught his disciples.”
  • In vv. 2–4, here is Jesus’ template or model for praying: The six-petition “staple prayer” that the Christian church has memorized and recited now for two millennia! Can you count the six desires? God’s name, kingdom, will ... and our bread, forgiveness and guidance. Then …
  • In vv. 5­–8, here he is, Jesus’ parabolic “point-man” for persevering prayer:

    And he said to them, Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything?’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [i.e., his rudeness, presumption, disrespect, nerve, boldness] he will rise and give him whatever he needs.’”

    So, here’s the strange comparison Jesus was willing to make: He is willing to risk us momentarily seeing God as the “put-upon, justifiably aggravated neighbor” who is being imposed upon, and you and I need to become God’s “aggravating midnight trouble-makers”! Our prayers need to give God no rest. According to ...
  • 9–10 they are to become a non-stop i) asking till we receive, ii) seeking till we find, and iii) keep on knocking till God gets up, opens the door, and gives us what we refuse to be denied. But then, the picture shifts totally from neighbors to family in …
  • 11–13 Now, God is no longer our neighbor; he’s our Father, and the best of fathers, far better than any and all human dads. Jesus reminds us that even bad dads give good things to their children when they ask. But God is not a bad dad. Jesus wants us to feel hopeful when we pray, to overcome our skepticism about prayer or our impatient inclination to give up. Look at the last half of v. 13: “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
  1. He is our great, “How much more God,” He is our ...
  2. “Heavenly Father,” and he alone has what only God can give. Namely, he will give us the ...
  • Holy Spirit ... Jesus is portraying his Father as saying, “Please children, ask me, even risk pestering me—give me no rest till I give you what you most need from me. So much more than bread to set before an unexpected guest or a fish or an egg to feed a hungry child ... indeed, “how much more,” the Holy Spirit in all his varied counseling, comforting, convicting, companioning presence in your heart, your home, all along your pathway ... in all your days and for the whole of your lifetime of conscious experience! Come to me even like that desperate neighbor in the night! You’ve got my fatherly promise: I don’t ignore my children. I will give you what you ask for, or something better, though not necessarily easier, if you will keep on trusting me.”

But what if the stakes we are facing in prayer are higher than the story of this late-night ruckus in the neighborhood? What if the issue isn’t a matter of simple hospitality, but one of life and death, and the tension isn’t whether or not we’ll get something to feed an unexpected guest, but whether I and my household will survive?

Such is the seriousness of persevering prayer as we meet with ...

A Heartless Judge and the Helpless Widow (Luke 18:2–3) 

In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused ... ”

With this economy of words, Jesus painted at once a desperate and despicable picture. On the one hand, here is a judge who is this widow’s only hope. Yet, he’s the last sort of man who should ever sit in judgment of others because he’s neither godly nor kind, with no time for anyone but himself. And on the other hand, repeatedly irritating him is a woman—already second-class, no doubt, to him—and a defenseless widow at that, with no husband to protect her against an adversary who has unjustly victimized her. 

What does she having going for her? Nothing but her persistence; yet what she has, she uses, not apparently a bitter or vindictive person, crying for vengeance, but only for justice. So that, (v. 4) …

“Afterward he [the judge] said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

And see how v. 6 begins: Jesus again breaks into the story to make unmistakable what he was driving at from the start: the immense value, power and necessity of prayer that is insistent and persistent, pestering and clamoring, unrelenting and forceful, avid and only a hair’s breath just short of demanding ... “importunate” (as the KJV rendered it) until God answers.

Hear what [even this godless, heartless] unrighteous judge says. And [learn by infinite comparison from the One who is absolutely nothing like that little judge] will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night. Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” 

Like Parable #1, this is another “how much more” persuasive argument. If this disreputable, unjust judge could be worn down by the tenacious, tireless, stubborn, dogged, determined pleadings of this helpless woman whom he cares nothing for, how much more will God, who, by comparison, is perfect in character and who elected us in love before the foundation of the world to be his children ... will he not speedily give us what we need, IF AND WHEN we call on him “day and night,” like the widow did with the heartless judge? 

The Relation of Prayer to Faith

One needed point to make about these parables before turning to some applications: It is the relationship of our prayers to our faith—and particularly this kind of prayer—namely, persistent prayer, and the crucial question of whether our faith, like persistent prayer, is itself persistent. Is it the kind that lasts, that endures, that perseveres and therefore, ultimately the kind that saves? It is only that kind of faith that will matter when Jesus comes back. When Jesus returns, will he find us—you and me—exercising saving, enduring faith toward him? Jesus asked that very question of his disciples as he finished telling them this parable about persistent prayer; see the second half of v. 8: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

That question in fact is the main point of a discussion about Jesus’ Second Coming that ends a discussion that began in Luke 17:20–21 when the Pharisees asked ...

  • “When is the kingdom of God coming?” Jesus’ answer: “It’s here in your midst ... (by implication, “I’m the King, if only you had eyes to see”).
  • (vv. 22–24) But when I, the Son of Man, come it will be no hidden secret, but instead like lightning flashing across the sky.
  • (vv. 26–30) And what will the days be like leading up to the cataclysm? Like the days Noah and of Lot before the flood and before the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah: “Business as usual” and utterly ordinary: “eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. ... buying and selling, planting and building.” But the day Noah entered the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all!
  • Verses 31–37 are a solemn warning to avoid perhaps the most terrible threat of all—not the danger of being persecuted or the risk of succumbing to some obvious sinful temptation, but something much more pervasive and seemingly innocent, namely, being like Lot’s wife. And what killed her? The spiritual suicide of over-attachment to her home, to life as it is here and now, the ordinary, routine, distracting things that she just had to have just one last look at. Somehow what she could see had blunted her heart to the prize of the unseen God. She had lost the daily battle to remain distinctive as a follower of the God of Israel. She was no longer a sojourner in this world; she had settled in as a citizen of the city of Sodom.

So, what remedy did Jesus positively prescribe to endure to the end, what therapy for being found with faith and love, and what “fire drill” did he lay out to alert and awaken us against becoming like Lot’s wife and left behind in judgment? His prescription for persevering faith was persevering prayer. The two stand and fall together: Daily, earnest, expectant, hopeful, persevering prayer—we cannot be saved without it.

Perseverance in Practical Application 

And now I have three applications aimed at the beginning, the middle, and the end of our lives as a journey of persistent prayer, from first bud to fruit-bearing maturity. In fact, it is possible that I’ve been given the privilege of the pulpit this morning just because, at least by age, I’m one of your third-stage elders who has lived long enough to belong to the senior class, a supposed prayer-veteran with transferrable experiences from my prayer life’s starting, its middle stages ... and now, eight days shy of my 74th birthday, hastening on toward graduation where all of this life’s prayer sessions of faith will come to an end, and my conversations with God will be face-to-face.

Among the many biblical pictures God gives us for grasping our status and our calling with him (as sheep, trees, grass, and a vapor), here are three such images roughly corresponding to the start, middle and end of a typical earthly life, and to which the calling to persistently pray can easily be connected? We belong to God as i) his children, we’ve been enlisted as ii) his soldiers and we run to the finish line as iii) his marathon-running followers. So, at the start, you must begin as ... 

1. A Child of God

None of us is born a “child of God” in any true spiritual sense. To become a child of God (or a “Christian”) in this world you must intentionally become one, like becoming an engineer or a nurse. 

You must reckon with the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ, be aware of his living presence in your life, not just accompanying you, but confronting you; you must thank him for dying for your sins and stop disobeying and even defying his claims on you. You must trust him as your Savior and Lord, and embrace him as your friend and guide and guardian. It will mean giving up whatever keeps you from him because you realize he is God’s greatest Gift to you, he alone can meet your greatest needs, and therefore he is your greatest Treasure.

Whether all this happens in a memorable experience of crisis and decision, or it happens by a gradual process over a period of time, or perhaps even as a combination of both crises and gradual development, God means for you to know that it certainly has happened and that now you are a different person on the inside than what you once were. 

Children, from the first time you were taught to recite them till now, they serve as Jesus’ model for your daily prayers, the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer have been designed by Jesus to center your minds and hearts on God’s greatness and on his goodness. [Children, of all ages, but especially the young children, will you repeat them after me? Let’s start with the first three, one at a time ... and you grown-up children, don’t drown out the little ones]. Here we go, on his greatness! [Repeat them after me ... ]

  1. Our Father who art in heaven/hallowed be Thy name,
  2. Thy kingdom come,
  3. Thy will be done,

And now the second three, no less about his greatness, but also to bring home to your hearts that we can trust in God’s goodness to us [using “sins” & “sinned against” …]

  1. Give us this day our daily bread,
  2. And forgive us our sins/ as we forgive those/ who have sinned against us,
  3. And lead us not into temptation/ but deliver us from evil.

Children, are you a “child of God”? Have you begun to be saved? If you are not yet, you can be. Jesus in fact wonderfully promised this:

Let the little children come to me ... [and] Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 19: 14, 18:4

You can be at peace with God. Your childlike dependence is the foundation for a lifetime of praying—praying that begins and ever grows in confidence and power. In secret you can confide in him as your heavenly Father who will reward you openly. You can pour out your heart to him and no longer be anxious or doubtful about him or his willingness to help because you know he is lavishly generous. He is the “how much more” heavenly Father, the God who speedily gives justice to his elect children” whom Jesus’ parables have revealed to you!

Soon enough, but particularly in ...

2. Mid-Life: A Kingdom Soldier

By becoming Christians you have walked into a war, and the sooner your realize it the better. And while we have peace with God through his Son, Jesus, and a life of safety and protection in the almighty arms and the lavish heart of our heavenly Father, God’s children also live a long, drawn-out fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. You need grace as God’s power in your struggle against ...

  1. The Flesh: Our own inner satanic “second self” of self-serving pride and foolish inclinations is still there, dragging us down at least in thought and all too often in actual misbehavior.
  2. The World: With all its multiplying and ever-deepening satanic systems of injustice, two of which we’ve consciously set ourselves to fight as a church for years: the injustices and blatant idolatries of ...
  3. taking innocent human life while it is still in the womb
  4. de-humanizing individuals, families and whole societies of God’s image-bearers into inferior classes on the basis of skin-color, culture, gender, religion, or economic status.
  5. The Devil: That powerful and evil intelligence who is always at work orchestrating attacks against us both through the circumstances and conditions around us (the world), and the pride and prejudice within us (the flesh).

So, when God adopted as his children into his family, he simultaneously equipped us for service as soldiers and has sent us to war. And a critical piece of our equipment for the fight is prayer—lifelong prayer. My friend and pastoral comrade, John Piper, memorably wrote that the purpose of prayer is “to accomplish a mission, a mission of love: “This I command you, to love one another.” He went on to elaborate …

It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the general’s headquarters, and said, ‘Comrades, the general has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitters, to give tactical advice and to send in air cover when you need it. (From Desiring God, p. 146)

Further:

  • “Life is war .... We see repeatedly in Scripture that prayer is a walkie-talkie for warfare, not a domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences. The point of prayer is empowering for missions.
  • “No amount of getting can satisfy the soul until it overflows in giving. And no sacrifice will destroy the soul-delight of an obedient people on a mission of love from God, for which prayer is his strategic provision.
  • “What will be the final joy of God’s people? ... Will it not be the day when our mission is completed and the children of God are gathered in from every people and tongue and tribe and nation—when all causes of sin and all evildoers are taken out of Christ’s kingdom and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father?” (pp. 147–48)

Soldier on, you are on active duty, and for to those who conquer, according to the now 93-year-old J.I. Packer ...

There will be (a) an effectual elimination of evil, (b) an endless extrapolation of good, (c) and ecstatic extension of fellowship with the glorified Christ and glorified Christians, and (d) an eternal enjoyment of God’s glory and beauty in ways that we cannot at present begin to conceive.” (From Finishing Our Course With Joy, p. 81–82) 

3. At the End: Runners

Listen to the author of Hebrews:

Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.—Hebrews 12:1–2

And to the apostle Paul, to the Corinthians church:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.—1 Corinthians 9:24

And finally as his end-of-life testimony to Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.—2 Timothy 4:7

Why these recurrent images of long-distance running?

Because of the danger of drifting and backsliding and quitting, giving up, becoming lackadaisical, and failing to finish—and because of reward lying just so near at hand the moment we cross the finish line: 

Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.—2 Timothy 4:8

Let’s be found growing old “gracefully,” i.e., fully in the grip of God’s grace and resisting a particular temptation, namely, as we experience the irreversible slowing down of all things bodily and mental that we not allow our discipleship to Christ to also slow down. 

Persistently pray for the grace to press on in your worship and service to God and in your care of others, up to the limit of what you can handle as you decline, while remaining lifelong learners and leaders:

  • Learners: Beyond your own personal devotions, learn in groups and engage in doctrinal Bible study.
  • Leaders: All of you are “influencers,” having the relational force whereby you are always shaping other people’s lives ... either for good or not. Wisdom makes plain that those we’re closest to we’ll influence (lead) the most.

Let this church—let alone our broken world—know us as ...

  • good fathers and father figures,
  • good mothers and mother figures ...
  • good brothers and sisters and friends
  • good support for those WORLD Magazine editor Marvin Olasky calls “the ‘uns’: the unborn, the uneducated, the unemployed, the unsafe, unchurched, and the unfashionable” (WORLD Magazine, Dec 7, 2019).

May our senior prayer be with the psalmist:

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. Even so to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.—Psalm 71:17–18

Conclusion

Pray and keep praying: You are a little child” who can run happily into the joy of your heavenly Father’s embrace.

Pray and keep praying: You have the supernatural power to fight and win the good fight of faith with Christ in the war of love against all our enemies, and ...

Pray and keep praying: Your Christian life is a race of persevering faith all the way to the end, and if 2020 is the year of his return, that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on earth.
_________ 

Appendix: Books to Read

First, read this year’s little Prayer Week Guide devotional booklet. Read the incentives, one a day, individually as well as with the family for persevering prayer. With the incentives of ...

  1. Seeing God’s beauty
  2. Engaging in faith’s first and enduring act
  3. Following God’s path to maturity
  4. Experiencing that God is always near
  5. Realizing that God never fails to answer our prayers positively
  6. Persistent praying will reorder our priorities
  7. Communing with our Almighty Father

It is really an amazing thing that God has ordained to include us in running the universe. He really responds to our prayers, weaving them into the fabric of causes that he himself wills to be moved by. We do not pray in vain. He is hearing and responding. He is our Father, our Good Father!

Second, get Pastor Sam Crabtree’s, Parenting With Loving Correction: Practical Help for Raising Young Children. Here are a couple of key quotes:

“Most importantly, pray for your children. Ask God to make your children receptive to correction. Pray for them by name. Ask God to bind the Enemy of your children. Ask God to put a hedge of protection around them. Point with thanksgiving to the good work of God in your children already. They’re made in his image, and he’s at work in them ... Aim for your child’s peace and righteousness. Under God’s fatherly care, confirm to your children their belongingness and acceptance in your family. Lay down a robust foundation of affirmation, consistently commending each child for the good things he or she does ... [and a few pages later] Pray with your child. God will help you pray with myriad texts off the front burner of your devotional life. So keep your devotional life up to date as you press forward in the honor and awesome responsibility of parenting” (pp. 90, 106).

Third, J.I. Packer’s Finishing Our Course With Joy.

And finally, fourth, go get and read this year’s featured book for Prayer Week by Scottish Pastor Alistair Begg, titled PRAY BIG: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle. Here’s his pastoral exhortation on the very last two pages; he writes …

When a church is gripped by God’s grace—when its members focus their heart-eyes on Jesus and on eternity; when the buffeting of circumstances don’t shake their hope, and they live for the riches of knowing God rather than the fleeting treasures of this world; when they look to and live out of a power greater than themselves—then the glory of God is revealed in the Bride, just as it is in the Bridegroom. When that grace takes hold of a church community, then the world looks on and says, “That is at least worth investigating.” And then we’re able to tell them this Lord Jesus Christ is a king who will reign forever and ever. And then God’s name is praised.

Texts

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.Romans 12:12

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.—Ephesians 6:17–18 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.—Philippians 4:6

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.—1 Thessalonians 5:15–18

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.—Colossians 4:2–4

 

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