Friday, October 29, 2010

Pester God with Persistent Prayer (A sermon based on Luke 18:1-8a)

Can you annoy God by bugging him with too many prayers? On the contrary, we annoy God when we DON'T come to him in bold, persistent, and confident prayer. Through Jesus and the forgiveness he won on the cross, God invites us to even pester him with our persistent prayers. Read (or listen to: this sermon based on Luke 18:1-8a…

Pester God with Persistent Prayer
A sermon based on Luke 18:1-8a
Sunday, October 24, 2010 

"Dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad..." the boy kept tugging at his father's sleeve, apparently oblivious to the fact that dad was deeply entrenched in a conversation with another grown up. "Dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad... dad..."

Finally, the father couldn't take it anymore. "Excuse me for a second," he said to his conversation partner and turned to his son, "What do you want?!"

"Dad, can I have a piece of candy?"

"Yes. Fine. Go!" dad replied without much patience. 

While I don't think is great parenting, rewarding the rude behavior with the attention (and the candy) that the kid is seeking, at the same time, I have to admit (to my shame) that too often I have given my kids what they ask me for, not because it was best for them, but simply to get them to quit annoying me.

In a sense, God tells us to be like that little boy. No, kids, he doesn't say to be rude and interrupt your parents. So don't go home and try it on mom and dad and say I told you to do it. But God does say we should be persistent in our prayers to him. In fact, he invites us to pester him with persistent prayer, just like a kid will do to his dad. Listen again to the first eight verses of Luke 18... 

1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

 4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet 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!' "

 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly." 

The poor woman. Her husband had just died. She was all alone with no one to support her, no one to provide for her, no one to defend her. Now, some predator had swooped in and was ready to take even more. The "adversary" was engaged in a lawsuit against her and by false charges and deceit, by twisting the law, it seems, he was ready to take what little she had left. So, she does the only thing she can and goes to the courts. The judge is the only one who can help her. But the pompous judge on the other side of the bench laughs. "What do I care about some stupid widow? Someone's bound to take your stuff one way or another anyway. I rule in favor of the adversary. Case dismissed."

But there's one thing the godless, heartless judge didn't count on: the widow's persistence. "Judge, give me justice!" she cried. "Give me justice. Do what's right. Help me. Don't look the other way. Have a heart! Give me justice! Send this adversary away empty-handed. Do what you've been called to do. Protect me. Defend me. Grant me a fair hearing. Give me justice!" And day after day, she harassed the judge. She refused to leave him alone until justice was granted.

And because she kept hounding him, the corrupt judge finally gave in, not to help the woman, but to help himself, literally in the Greek, "lest by he pummelling, she give me a black eye." Wow! Persistence pays off!

So... how do you compare to the widow? Do you pray to God like this? Do you pester him relentlessly? Do you knock on his door with prayer every now and then (knock... knock...) or do you pound on the door pleading for your case to be heard (knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock)? Do you pester God?

The truth is you and I do pester God and annoy him.. when we don't go to him in prayer! We sometimes think that the only way to break the second commandment ("You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.") is when we curse or swear or use God's name in vain. But the greatest misuse of God's name is to not use it! "Call upon me in the day of the trouble, and I will deliver you" he promises (Psalm 50:15), but unfortunately, that's sometimes the only time we do call upon him in prayer -- when we're in trouble! We treat prayer like spare tire and only pull it out in emergencies.

But Jesus tells us to "always pray and not give up... [to] cry out to him day and night..." And when we don't, we show unlike the widow we are and how much like the godless judge we are: We're arrogant to think we don't need any help. We can handle things on our own. We don't really need God. If we thought we did, we'd pray to him a whole lot more.

Be careful then, when you pray to God for justice. For you and I wouldn't like it very much if justice were served, because "just" means hell for you and me for our arrogance and for our misuse and neglect of God's name. Instead we ought to pray, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

And what's so amazing is that he does! We would expect punishment for our arrogance that subtly says, "I don't need you go." But we don't get justice for Jesus sake. Remember Jesus' prayers to God the Father? "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done," he prayed in Luke 22:42, as he was ready to go to the cross to carry our sin on himself. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he prayed in Matthew 27:46 as took hell -- the full brunt of the Father's wrath -- in our place on that cross. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," he prayed in Luke 23:34. And by his grace, we are forgiven!

And not only that, but he chose us to be his own. He chose to soften our hard and arrogant hearts, to lead  us recognize our sinful corruption, and to trust in his justice dished out to Jesus instead of us. He created the very faith in our hearts.

And now the barrier of sin that stood between us and God preventing him from hearing our prayers is gone! So pray to God! Ask him for forgiveness. He is sure to grant justice. You see Jesus has been punished for our sin. Our crimes cannot be brought before the court again. It would not be just. He promises then, in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." So pray to him, confessing your sin. Pray to him trusting in his mercy. And "he will see that [you] get justice, and quickly."

 What's Jesus saying in this parable? That God's like a selfish judge and unless you nag him, don't expect him to hear or answer your prayer. No! The widow got what she wanted from an arrogant, godless, heartless and selfish judge. But God is as different from the judge as night from day. Jesus was not likening the two, but was contrasting them. If a selfish, arrogant, unfeeling, uncaring judge can help if you ask, then how much more won't a God who loves you so intensely help you when you ask.

Or as Paul put it in Romans 8:32: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"

 There was no relationship between the judge and the widow. But there is marvelous fellowship between God and his elect. Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."

It's as if Jesus says to us in this parable today, "Pester me! Continue to look to me and rely on me and ask of me. Don't get discouraged when it seems I'm not answering. I hear you and will bring about good for you. Don't lose heart! It's all going to be okay."And so we do pray to God like a dear child asks her dear Father: boldly, persistently, even pestering God to do what's best for us.

Pray to God with this "handy" mnemonic: Put your hand out in front of you like this (hand down with thumb closest to you) Pray with your thumb for those closest to you. Pray with your pointer finger for those who point you and others to the Word. (After all, it's been said that if you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have.) Pray with your highest finger for those in highest authority, presidents, and senators, and kings. (Or use that finger to pray for your enemies. -- I'll let you figure that one out.) Pray with your ring finger for married couples and for families, that God would keep the basic building block of society strong. Pray with your pinky finger for those like this widow, who are weak and without help.

Or here's another challenge: In the next few weeks, you'll get a new church directory. Don't just put it by the phone ignored until you need to make a call. But put on your nightstand and pray through that directory. Pick one or two names or families each morning, or each night, and pray for them. We'll leave a few pages in the back to write in names of family and friends for whom you want to pray.

But no matter how and when you pray, be persistent with God. Like an annoying little old lady. Like a pesky kid who won't stop bugging dad. Persist in asking and pleading and looking to him for blessing – because he promises, that for Christ's sake, he will hear us and he will grant it! So pray to God, "Dad... dad... dad... dad... dad..." and pester God with persistent prayer, in Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.

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