The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16b
A friend of mine was going through a really difficult time. Challenges were mounting left and right. The obstacles refused to relent. Difficulty just kept coming. My friend was not someone easily overwhelmed by trouble. Usually he was the person who downplayed things. The answer to “How are you?” was always, “Oh, I’m doin’ good, how are you?” That night, however, my friend just couldn’t stand up under the weight any longer. You could see it in his eyes. Circumstances were crushing him. We had prayed and prayed and prayed. That night it felt like prayer had stopped working. We wondered what to do. Should we bother to keep at it? Or was prayer no longer a good use of our time?
If you have spent much time around our church you will notice we pray a lot. We talk about prayer a lot too. Prayer is how we speak with God and how He speaks with us. Prayer is primary to our mission in the world. Yet, prayer can be hard. It does not come naturally to us. We have to be purposeful about it. Prayer can be hard even when things are going well. Prayer is even more challenging when God doesn’t seem to be listening. Sometimes we will feel like giving up. Don’t let despair surprise you. Instead prepare your heart to persist in praying no matter how you feel or how it seems. That is what Luke 18:1-8 is all about. Jesus told the parable “to show them (disciples) that they should always pray and not give up.” The parable is an intriguing story about a woman who refuses to give up in her pursuit for justice. It is supposed to be an example of how persistence can pay off even when the odds are stacked against you. In this case the judge was crooked and required bribery in order to make judgments.
In Jesus’ time being a widow put you in a very difficult position socially. A widow was powerless socially, financially and legally. Without a husband or other male family member to protect her, provide for her and to represent her she was particularly vulnerable. The context implies that this widow was probably seeking justice in some kind of financial matter. Since she did not have the means to bribe the judge she could not get justice. This meant that until the judge helped her, her financial situation was getting worse and worse. Now this is not a historical account but just a story to illustrate the power of persistence in prayer. If the widow’s persistence in praying (seeking judicial resolution) resulted in justice for her, how much more would our persistence in prayer result in justice since we pray to the Just Judge (God). God will answer, so we need to never give up in praying to Him.
If we believe that God is just, why would we be discouraged in our praying? The answer is obvious – our world is a MESS!!! My friend felt the weight of that mess in his life. I’m sure you have as well. But it doesn’t stop with the hurt, brokenness, failure and tragedy in our own lives. If God really cares about human beings, why has He let Covid19 infect millions of people and take away so many lives? If God is really concerned with justice please explain why he let those killings happen in Canada the other day? Why won’t God stop the devastating tornado season in the south and midwest? What about the terrifying persecution of Christians in the Middle East? What about the atrocities of war, 9/11, racism, poverty, rape, murder, cancer, heart disease, divorce, child abuse…and many others? Why has God allowed all of these things if He is both just and good? Why should we even bother to pray?
Actually, the dire reality of the brokenness of this world is exactly why we must never give up. It may look like God doesn’t care, but He does. Jesus is the ultimate proof that God so loves this world. You and I, we are also proof. Our God- given calling is to trudge into the mess, filth and horror of this world, feel its sting and turn the pain into prayer. We are to join the groaning of injustice, sin and tragedy, turning it upward to God. We are here to cry for healing, forgiveness and restoration from God. Trusting Him in this mission requires us to cling on to him through prayer. So keep praying. Justice matters to God. Seek it. Life matters to God. Pursue it. Love matters to God. Live it. Healing matters to God. Ask for it. People matter to God. Serve them. The world needs to know that God is just and that God is good. Show it by your persistence in prayer. Fuel your persistence by reading of God’s character, love and action on the pages of scripture.
Justice is important to God, the whole purpose of His BIG PLAN OF REDEMPTION is to put things right again in the world and in our lives. In order to do that God calls us to be part of what He is doing. That requires faith on our part. Whenever I teach on prayer I am always reminded of the line from the movie “Shadowlands” about C.S. Lewis. Lewis, though losing his wife to cancer, continues to pray. Someone challenges him asking if he really thinks his prayer will change God. To this Lewis says, “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.” Never give up. The prayers of God’s people are powerful and effective. So pray and never give up. We pray not merely to ask God to bring the change we long for, but also because prayer aligns us with the purposes, character and plan of God. Pray. Never, ever give up. You were made for this.
Pastor Tim Osborne