A Persistent Widow
15/09/2002 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Redfearn
In v1 of Luke 18 we are told the point of this parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. Look at v1:
'Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.'Christians should always pray and not give up. That is my one heading in this sermon
CHRISTIANS SHOULD ALWAYS PRAY AND NOT GIVE UP
And since this comes straight after Jesus' solemn words about his second coming in chapter 17 and since he refers to his return again in v8, Jesus is urging his disciples to always pray and not give up during the time between his first and second comings, during the time the Bible calls the last days. We are living in those days. So we too need to listen to what Jesus is saying here.
Christians should always pray and not give up. I say it again to allow it to sink in and to give you time to note it down.
Why does Jesus urge us to always pray and not to give up?
Why don't we always pray? Why do we give up so often?
Just think about those questions for a moment in silence.
Well one reason why we give up is that when we see no sign of the answer we long for, it's easy for us to be discouraged. But Jesus tells this parable to show us that we must pray on and not give up or lose heart.
I'll always remember my youth group leader telling me that his grandmother prayed for him to become a Christian for 18 years before he professed faith in Christ. She persisted in prayer as my grandmother did for me and all her grandchildren are now believers.
A family man called George McCluskey also decided to always pray and not give up for his family. He committed to praying one hour a day for them because he wanted his children to follow Christ. After a while, he expanded the scope of his prayers to include his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Every day between 11am and noon, he prayed for the next three generations. As the years went by, his two daughters committed their lives to Christ and married men who went into full time Christian ministry. The two couples produced four girls and one boy. Each of the girls married a minister, and the boy became a pastor. The first two children born to this generation were both boys. After leaving high school the two cousins chose the same university and became roommates. One of them felt called to be a pastor. The other didn't and chose instead to pursue his interest in psychology. He gained a doctorate and eventually wrote books for parents that became bestsellers. He started a radio programme heard on many stations throughout the world each day. His name is James Dobson who runs Focus on the Family. Through his prayers, George McCluskey affected far more than one family.
Are we always praying for our family? Or have we given up?
George Mueller, the well known Christian from the 19th century chronicled his persistence in prayer for 5 of his friends to turn to Christ. He wrote:
"In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller's friends, were still not converted. He wrote, 'But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.' In 1897, fifty- two years after he began to pray for those two men, they were finally converted after Mueller died. Mueller always prayed and did not give up.'"
Who are we always praying for? Have we given up already? Have we lost heart? Our God is a great God who hears and answers prayer. Do you have faith in a great God for whom nothing is impossible? as Jesus goes on to say in v27 of Luke 18. (Do also look up Luke 1:37 and Matthew 17:20.) In v8 of Luke 18 Jesus says that God will answer his chosen ones who cry to him day and night quickly, remembering that to God a thousand years is only a day (2 Peter 3:8).
With your service sheet you should have a green prayer card to help you to pray for the 40 Days of Purpose which begin here at JPC in October. Do keep it in your Bible at home and use it. It reminds us to always pray and not give up for people to accept Christ as their Saviour and Lord. The student leaflet reminds us to always pray and not give up for new and returning UK and international students. If you're in a home group you should have been given a leaflet encouraging you to be in a prayer doublet or triplet as we often need the encouragement of others to always pray and not give up. On non home group Wednesday evenings we meet centrally as a church to hear from God's Word and to pray for JPC and our missionary links, which again encourages us to pray and not give up as we hear about answers to prayer and as we hear much to inform our praying. That meeting is vital to the life of JPC. Do be there if you can. There we also pray for the wider church and world. We are to pray and not give up for world leaders. I'm praying and not giving up for the Archbishop of Canterbury designate, Dr Rowan Williams, to not become the next Archbishop. We're to pray and not give up for God's name to be honoured, for his will to be done and for his Kingdom to come. Also in your service papers you've got details of the next Day of Prayer here at JPC on Wednesday 2nd October do put that date in your diary.
Another reason why we don't always pray and not give up is that we have a wrong view of God. We can think that he doesn't want to hear about our problems and needs.
Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willowcreek Community Church in Chicago, has written a little book on prayer, which I recommend, called 'Too Busy Not to Pray' published by IVP. At the start of chapter 2 he writes this:
"God is busy keeping the cosmos in order. He doesn't want to hear about my little problems. God would think I was selfish if I prayed for my own needs. If I really love him, I'll put myself in last place. I know that 'the cattle on a thousand hills' belong to God, but that's just a figure of speech. He's not in the business of taking care of me, and I won't ask him to do it. Have you ever made any statements like these? If so you're not alone, but you're tragically mistaken. Those statements are all based on a lie straight from the devil the lie that God doesn't care about his children."
Yes God will not always answer our prayers in the way that we want or expect. Sometimes the answer will be yes, sometimes no and sometimes wait. But he will answer in the way that is best for us, for his will is good, pleasing and perfect says Romans 12:2. He wants us to bring our needs to him. Jesus taught us in the Lord's prayer to ask God to give us our daily bread, to forgive us our sins and to lead us not into temptation.
Two weeks ago we heard these words of Jesus from Luke 11:9-13:
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"Remember too what James 4:2 says:
'You do not have because you do not ask God.'Yes we're to ask with right motives we're to want God's will to be done and for his name to be honoured and glorified. That's why it's good to pray with an open Bible, or after having read Scripture so that we're guided by his Word. James 4:3 says that:
'When you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures you will not receive.'But so often we do not have because we do not ask God. A God who cares for his people and who longs to answer. Listen to the words of the Apostle John in his first letter (1 John 5:14-15):
We are to ask our heavenly Father and to persist in asking him to always pray and not give up - not because he's deaf but precisely because he does hear us and loves to hear us.
Which brings us to the actual parable here in v2-5 of Luke 18, a parable which has been misunderstood by some in the past. So let's look at it now keeping in mind that Jesus told it to show us that we should always pray and not give up. Jesus said, v2-5:
"In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 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 about men, yet 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!'"The answer to the widow's request for justice against her adversary is eventually obtained through her persistence. The judge neither feared God nor cared about people. For a time he refused to grant the widow justice against her adversary. Only because the widow kept on bothering him did he make sure that she did get justice in the end, so that he wouldn't be worn out by her! He did not give it out of the goodness of his heart or because he wanted to see justice done but because of the widow's persistence or 'importunity' which means to harass and insist persistently.
Now Jesus, of course, is not likening God to the unjust judge. Rather Jesus intends a contrast. The judge is crooked, unrighteous, uncaring and selfish. God is righteous and just, holy and tender, responsive and sympathetic. Jesus says, v4, that the unjust judge refused the widow justice for some time despite her initial persistence. But, v7&8, God won't keep putting his chosen ones off who cry to him day and night he will see that they get justice and quickly." Look at v6-8:
'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."'The unjust judge says that he doesn't care about God or his fellow man, yet because the widow kept bothering him he would see that she got justice, so that she wouldn't wear him out. So if the callous judge can give out justice purely as a result of being worn down by a widow's persistence how much more will God, the righteous Judge, bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?
JC Ryle, the well-known 19th century Evangelical, put it like this:
"If importunity [if insisting persistently] gains so much from a wicked judge, how much more will it gain for the children of God from the righteous Judge, their Father in heaven?"
There is also a contrast between those who follow Christ and the widow.
She, as a widow in Jesus' day, is powerless, forgotten and abandoned. She has no relationship with the judge. But if we are in Christ, if we have put our faith in him, if God has brought us out of darkness into his wonderful light, then we are not abandoned; we are God's adopted children. We are God's chosen ones says Jesus in v7. If we are sons of God through faith in Christ then we are in God's family, and we matter to him. So we can approach him with confidence in prayer and keep on doing so. He is listening and answering.
Who this morning is in desperate need of God's help? 1 Peter 5 says:
'Cast all your cares on God, because he cares for you.'We are to always pray and not give up.
Who here this morning is not yet a Christian but you know God is speaking to you and calling you to himself. Then why not put your trust in Christ this morning, in his death on the cross to pay for your sins and in his resurrection? Through faith in Christ we have peace or friendship with God, a personal relationship with him as one of his chosen ones and he wants us to talk to him and to bring our requests to him.
So if the widow, who had no claim that the judge would recognise, succeeded in the end in getting what she wanted through sheer importunity, how much more shall God's people, who are his chosen, have our prayers answered by a God who is willing to see we get justice and quickly. When Christ returns everything will be put right forever. We are to pray as the Apostle John does at the end of Revelation:
'Amen. Come Lord Jesus.'One important mark of disciples of Jesus is that we have constant contact with the God who we know always hears our prayer. His chosen ones cry to him day and night. His answer may not always be what we hope for; it may sometimes be 'No', it may often be 'Wait'. But we learn that as often as we pray, so often we will be answered speedily. We cry to him day and night as I said earlier, not because he does not listen, but precisely because he does. Look at v6-8.
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."So in conclusion: since even an unjust judge can sometimes do justice how much more must we expect that the righteous God will bring about justice for his chosen ones. His chosen ones or his elect cry to him day and night. They pray with unwearied persistence. They realise that they are in great need and they recognise that their one hope is in God. They realise that earthly resource will not do.
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