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May 13, 2018

Parables of Persistence

Parables of Persistence

Passage: Luke 18:1-8

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Parables That Change the World

Keywords: justice, perseverance, persistence, prayer, unanswered

Summary:

Perseverance in prayer is, for a number of reasons, vital for the growth, obedience and development of a disciple of Jesus Christ. This parable teaches us why and gives multiple reasons for which we persevere.

Detail:

Parables of Perseverance

Luke 18:1-8; 11:5-12

May 13, 2018

Story:  One of the most moving stories in the history of Christian missions comes from one of the first group of cross-cultural missionaries ever sent from the United States.  His name was Adoniram Judson. He and his wife left our shores in 1812 to join William Carey in seeking to evangelize India…13 days after getting married! 

            When Adoniram and his wife Nancy (Ann Hasseltine) arrived in India after the 3 ½ month ocean journey, they discovered that the English East India Company was extremely hostile to missionaries.  They were forced to leave India, separate from their colleagues and go to neighboring Burma (no Myanmar).  On the voyage there, Nancy delivered their first child…stillborn.  She had to be carried off the ship when they arrived.

            It had taken them 2 years since sailing from America to arrive at a place where they could actually begin ministry.  Unlike India, there was absolutely no European community in Burma.  Poverty was everywhere and the country was run by tyrannical rulers.  Buddhism was the religion of the land and the people had no concept of an eternal God who personally cared about mankind. 

            Their first year was spent studying up to 12 hours a day the very difficult Burmese language.  It was a language written in a continual sequence of letters with no punctuation or capitals, and no divisions between words, sentences or paragraphs. 

            After living in an out-of-the-way Baptist mission house, Adoniram and Nancy moved into teeming city of Rangoon.  Then fire swept through their neighborhood and destroyed their home. 

            Finally, 5 years after arriving in Burma, they were able to acquire a piece of property on a well-traveled thoroughfare where they set up a sort of “friendship shelter” where people could stop and talk in the midst of their day’s journeys. 

            Judson’s saw their first convert through that friendship-shelter.  After 6 years in Burma, there were 10 faithful baptized members of their little church. 

            But a combination of severe health challenges and political instability conspired to bring immense pressure on the Judsons.  Their second child, a son, died of the fever six months after being born.  Nancy had to return to England and America for an extended medical leave in 1822.  In 1824 war broke out between England and Burma, making every English-speaking expatriate automatically suspect as spies.  Adoniram and an English doctor were arrested and confined to a death prison to await execution. 

            Life in prison was appalling.  Judson and his friend were confined with common criminals in a filthy, vermin-infested, dark, dank prison house, with fetters binding their ankles.  At night, prison guards hoisted the ankle fetters to a pole suspended from the ceiling, until only their heads and shoulders rested on the ground.  Each day executions were carried out without any advanced warning. The only bright spot that year was the birth of their 3rd child, a little girl named Maria. 

            As the British advanced on the Burmese army, Adoniram was suddenly forced on a death march farther north.  Having been shackled for a year in prison, it was a march that caused Adoniram to contemplate suicide as they crossed a bridge spanning a dry river bed.  Nancy followed days later, carrying baby Maria, when she was able to find out just where the prisoners had been taken. 

            After one-and-a-half years in prison, Adoniram was released to help interpret the peace negotiations with the British.  He, Nancy and Maria were finally reunited for a short time.  They returned to Rangoon but Adoniram was summoned to return to help wind up negotiations.  Weeks dragged into months. Before he could return, he received the news that Nancy had died of fever.  A few months later baby Maria also died. 

            Adoniram would go on to have a mental breakdown and become a recluse, living alone in the jungle for several years.  He recovered after several years and continued his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Burmese, completing it in 1840.  He remarried in 1834 to Sarah Boardman.  She bore him 8 children in 10 years but died in 1845 on their way to the U.S. for medical leave.  They had left 5 of their 8 children in Burma, 3 of whom would die before Adoniram returned a year later in 1846. 

Before Judson returned, he was married for the 3rd time to Emily Chubbock who was his wife for the remaining 3 years of life.  She gave him a little baby girl and was expecting another when they had to return to the U.S. due to Adoniram’s health.  He died at sea a week after they left.  Ten days later, Emily delivered their 2nd child…stillborn.  Three years later she died in Boston at the age of 36. 

            While perhaps not stacked up one upon the other as with Adoniram, some of you here have persevered through significant trials and tribulations.  You’ve persevered through…

  • chronic illness.
  • the sadness of death.
  • the loss of a marriage
  • a difficult job
  • a tough home life
  • poverty
  • friends/family hostile to Christ
  • unrealized dreams and desires

I’ve chosen to change slightly the title I gave Menesia to print in the bulletin earlier this week.  You’ll see that it reads, “Parables of Persistence.”  But I want to change it to “Parables of PERSEVERANCE.”  Hopefully you will understand shortly. 

            As I began to think more deeply about today’s parables, I realized that there is a subtle but important difference between persistence and perseverance. 

  • A cough from pneumonia can be “persistent” but… we have to “persevere” with treatment if we are to beat it rather than let it kill us.
  • Children who want to snack just before mealtime can be “persistent” in their pestering…but good parents have to “persevere” in daily training their children about good eating habits.

It is possible to both “persist” and “persevere” in things that are evil OR things that are good. Satan is persistent about doing and fomenting evil.  God is persistent about fighting for righteousness and love. 

So what sets off persistence from perseverance in our thinking? 

  • Perseverance is almost always thought of as a positive quality—doing something that is good despite obstacles and difficulties.
  • Persistence seems to tilt more to the negative side though not always—doing something despite the reluctance of others.

Let’s think about it this way:

Q:  What is the opposite/alternative to perseverance?

  • Unreliability
  • Lack of follow-through
  • Being a push-over
  • Being a quitter
  • Being flighty

Q:  When is perseverance important in life?

  • With things that really matter and are important…like success in marriages, parenting, employment, academics, hobbies, developing talents, sports, etc.
  • When things are difficult, painful, hard, unrewarding (but ‘right’), don’t come easily, when evil abounds, etc.

Q:  WHY is perseverance important in…

  • A business?
  • A marriage?
  • Parenting?
  • Friendship?
  • Church?

Q:  So WHY is perseverance so important to our conversations with God/our payers?

While you chew on that question for a moment, I’d like us to read the two parables of perseverance that we’re looking at today.  They are both found in Luke’s Gospel

One is about a man, the other a woman. 

One involves a judge, the other a neighbor. 

One takes place at night, the other during the day.

One happens over a long period of time, the other over a few minutes. 

One concerns getting justice that changes the person’s whole life; the other is about getting bread that changes one evening.

 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?”

The first verse of this chapter lays out exactly WHY Jesus told this parable:  “…to show them [the disciples] that they should always pray and not give up.”  Jesus thought it important that his followers, his disciples, be people always praying. 

Q:  Do we think it is important for us, Jesus’ disciples today, to be praying, to make prayer an important part of our day and life??? 

Most of us shake our heads, “Yes!  Of course it’s important for God’s people to be praying people…people communicating with their heavenly Father…people in frequent conversation with God.”     But I question whether we really believe that or whether we’ve just been trained to say we believe that disciples of Jesus should really be praying people.  Several things in my 40 years of ministry have lead me to that conclusion.

1.)  What I know about PASTORS:  I’ve been a part of hundreds of prayer gatherings, meetings, conferences, summits, etc. for the past 40 years.  I find that less than 5% of pastors by their actions truly consider prayer important enough to do a.) in a group, b.) outside their own church congregation with others in the community of believers, c.) consistently weekly or monthly, or d.) for more than a few minutes at a time. 

            A study done 13 years ago found that the median amount of time spent praying by pastors per day is 30 minutes. That time is typically divided up by 12 minutes praying for specific prayer requests, 8 minutes in quiet time praying, 7 minutes giving thanks, 7 minutes more in praise, and 5 minutes confessing sin. [Ellis Research survey for Facts & Trends 5/6/05]   

2.)  What I know about prayer meetings:  Before I talk about that, can I “put the pig on the table”?  One of the 10 Cultural Commandments of religion in America is, “Thou shalt not make anyone feel guilty or uncomfortable about anything…especially their lifestyle.”  So we’ve developed a culture where pastors have stopped saying just about anything that might offend or make anyone in their congregations feel less than “good.”  People choose churches based on how good they feel after going to church. 

            While I don’t think I’m a “spiritual masochist” who either enjoys pain or enjoys inflicting pain on anyone else, I think that “cultural commandment” has produced a very weak American church in many respects.  For the record, I think guilt is a very poor motivator. So I try and stay away from it as much as possible. I grew up in a family often motivated by guilt and shame. On the other hand, our “no-fault” culture has produced a society where far too many people seem to have lost the capacity to feel legitimate shame for personal sins, injustices, abuse and failures.  We’re got lots of people feeling pretty good about themselves when they should be feeling something else at least occasionally.  But back to “prayer meetings.” 

            Gatherings purely to spend time in God’s presence praying have almost disappeared from most church calendars.  When I was a kid, mid-week/Wed. night services were “prayer meetings.”  Most of those have disappeared and not been replaced by anything in churches.  Those churches who do have some kind of “prayer group” consistently have less than a handful of people showing up regularly, week after week, month after month, year after year. 

            Let’s get specific about our own Fellowship, Mosaic.  We have 2 prayer meeting/groups a week.  On Wed. night, we consistently have 4-7 people.  On Thursday morning we consistently have from 3-6 (half usually from Mosaic and half from other churches—all meeting here!). 

            Now if I compare that to some of the large churches in Spokane, proportionally, that’s not bad…but only because they are doing even worse!  1-3% of the church praying together once a week is really not a statistic I want to brag about.  But if we were to apply that to a church of 1,000, they would have 10-30 people in a prayer meeting.  And from what I’ve heard and seen of other churches that size and larger, that’s just about what they have. 

            Now Jesus is not talking about “prayer meetings” in this passage.  He’s talking about praying.  People can do a lot of praying apart from prayer meetings.  Here’s what one study found out about who prays for what, when and where:

  • 75% percent of people in America who say they pray self-identify as Christian. 
  • 64% of those who pray say they pray more than once a day.
  • 56% say they most often pray for family members, with
  • 3% saying that they pray for strangers.
  • A little over 38% say that the most important purpose of prayer is intimacy with God.
  • 41% say that their prayers are answered often.
  • 5% say that their prayers are never answered. (Pretty low considering ¼ of people who pray don’t aren’t apparently praying as Christ-followers)
  • Over 73% say when their prayers are not answered, the most important reason is because they did not fit God’s plan.

The point is, Jesus clearly wanted to motivate His followers to PRAY!  AND…He wanted us to “always pray and not give up.” 

Q:  What are the alternatives to praying without giving up? 

  • Not praying at all.
  • Praying only occasionally—in a crisis, when we feel like it, at meals or in church only, etc.
  • Praying for something in passing and then dropping/forgetting about it.
  • ???

But Jesus wanted to be sure that His followers know that prayer is to be a constant, ongoing, life-long, consuming sort of thing.  He wanted His followers to have the charge leveled against them, “These Christians are always praying!  They pray about everything…all the time…day after day…night after night.  Those Christ-ones are crazy about this prayer thing!” 

            So before we get to the meaning of this parable, can we really fix in our hearts and minds WHY Jesus wanted this parable understood by centuries of his followers?  GOD wants US to be constantly and continually praying rather than being majoratively or usually NOT praying. 

            So, in which camp do you and I tend to spend most of our time?  The “It’s hard to keep me from praying” camp…OR “It’s hard to catch me praying regularly, consistently and continually” camp?  Regardless of which camp you spend most of your time in, this parable is meant to move you and me to more persistent, persevering, “I-won’t-give-up” praying.  And if we are true children of God, true disciples of Jesus, God’s Spirit in us isn’t going to be content with anything less than dedicated “I-won’t-give-up-until-God-answers” praying.  Either we have no desire to pray because we are not really disciples of Jesus OR we have learned to grieve the Holy Spirit who is constantly interceding for us with “groanings too deep for words” (Rm. 8:26). 

            So Jesus unfolds the story.  He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  Sounds like most unelected bureaucrats, doesn’t it!  It’s a real pain living under those kind of “public servants.”  They are neither “public” nor “servants.”  We could make whole lists of people in government positions in all 3 branches of the U.S. system of government who “neither fear God nor care what people think.”

            Do we like those kind of people?  Do we admire them?  NO, we despise them.  They are in it for themselves—their power, their egos, their reputations and their paychecks.  Jesus is setting up a huge contrast with this parable.  He’s making the divide as big as possible between selfish, godless, greedy, unjust government workers…and Himself—generous, caring, kind, timely and attentive. 

            Enter a widow—completely powerless, completely needy, consistently being denied “justice” (whatever the exact situation was, we don’t know) and amazingly committed to getting what was due her.

 And 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.”  “Some time”?  Weeks?  Months?  Decades?  We don’t know.  But it was a loooonnngggg time!

Vs. 4--“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!’”

            Here is one wimpy, messed-up judge…or one very terrifying widow!  J  He’s afraid of getting worn out or even mugged by this woman.  The word indicates that he’s afraid of being “beat down” over time by her incessant, never ending, Chinese water torture, endless pestering of him. 

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.” 

What did he say?  “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice….” 

ILL:  Sandy and I have been taking care of a couple of our preschool grandchildren most of this week while their parents were traveling on business.  I forgot how amazingly adept little people are at wearing down mature, logically-thinking, disciplined adults.  It’s like a “gift” God gives them during those adorable preschool years.  After about the 8,496th time of asking if they can have a cookie…in the same hour, I’m ready to hand over the whole 10-pound bag of sugar in the cupboard!  “Sure, go ahead!  Have the whole tin of cookies.  Here’s a funnel for the sugar!  Call me if you need anything.  I’ll be in the padded cell at the end of the hall!” 

            I think that is the kind of incessant insistence that God is actually calling for.  Kids never tire of asking for something they really want.  When it comes to prayer, we need to be MORE like preschoolers!  So why do we as adults let go of the desires the Holy Spirit puts in us and the things we know are the will of God?  We clearly give up too easily and too early.      

But the main contrast Jesus is making here is not between adults and preschoolers; it’s between a corrupt judge and our caring God. It’s all about the nature of the one to whom we are going.  It’s all about His justice instead of human corruption.  It’s all about His loving kindness, His mercy, His grace, His generosity, etc., etc. compared to human beings who don’t want to give us things because we’re selfish, greedy, unjust and self-absorbed.    

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.” 

I’m sorry but I’m a natural skeptic.  I read this and my mind automatically goes to the worst-case scenario…like some poor Christian sister in a North Korean concentration camp…or some brother in Christ in Syria who has lost most of his family to war and persecution.  I’m sure they pray more and more fervently than I ever do for God’s deliverance.  I’m sure they cry out “night and day” for relief from their persecutors while I sleep at night and daydream by day.

            And what about the promise, “He will see that they get justice, and quickly!” 

All I can say is that God’s estimation of “quickly” is very different from mine!  The prophet Zephaniah, who wrote about 2,600 years ago, said in 1:14, “The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly.” Really???  He’s talking about the end of the world…2,600 years ago…and it’s still not there yet!  Clearly time measured in months or years are not what Jesus had in mind when he talked about “quickly.” 

Just like parents who say, in response to the pestering of their child to do something with them, “Just a minute…I’ll be right with you” or “We’ll have time to do that tonight!”  TONIGHT?  That seems like forever for preschoolers who live everything in the moment of NOW! 

I think Jesus wants to adjust our field of vision.  Notice what Jesus is promising: “justice,” not every whim or fanciful idea we have.  And we know that ultimate justice will not come to any of us until that “day of the Lord” when God calls everyone to account, saints and sinners, and gives eternal and perfect justice to those who have robbed it from others and those who have been denied it by others. 

But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking for immediate needs and near-term justice.  Just don’t chuck your faith out of disappointment that God doesn’t always answer in our time frame.

ILL:  So many millions of God’s people have been praying for the persecuted church in Korea.  They are still persecuted and still in great distress.  But imagine what God could do to deliver them quickly.  In just a few weeks, we’ve seen the despot Kim Jong Un do an about face (hopefully) about nuclear weapons. His last nuclear weapons test imploded the mountain where the test was being conducted, bringing a rather major setback to his plans.  We must keep praying “day and night” for these persecuted brethren!

1.)        So this is the first great reason to pray:  the nature of God is to answer prayer!

2.)        Secondly, God’s “delays” are intended to build faith in us.

            Before we switch gears and actually prepare ourselves to be able to DO what Jesus is wanting every disciple to DO about prayer, let’s just remind ourselves of some of the other reasons for WHY we pray.   

3.)  Prayer promotes HEALING:

ILL:  A group of physicians used a double-blind “drug” study format to test the efficacy of Christian prayer on healing. In this study, patients from the San Francisco General Medical Center were randomly divided into two groups—a placebo and a test group. Patients in the test group were prayed for by Christians; the placebo group received no prayer.

Before prayer was initiated, there were no statistical differences between the placebo and the prayer groups. But once the study period was concluded, the results demonstrated that patients who were prayed for suffered “less congestive heart failure, required less diuretic and antibiotic therapy, had fewer episodes of pneumonia, had fewer cardiac arrests, and were less frequently intubated and ventilated.”  [Rich Deem, GodandScience.org]

In a George Barna study in 2011, he found that 79% of people who pray said God answers prayer for healing someone with an incurable disease.

73% answered that prayers for help in finding a job are answered.

On the lighter side, 51% agreed that God doesn’t answer prayers to win sporting events (that number rose to 99% of Cougar football fans…just kidding!).   

4.)  God's Word Calls Us to Pray

If we are to be obedient to His will, then prayer must be part of our life in Him.

  • "Pray for those who persecute you" –Matthew 5:44 (NIV)
  • "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." –Romans 12:12
  • "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." –Ephesians 6:18
  • "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." –Colossians 4:2
  • "Pray continually" -1 Thessalonians 5:17

5.)  Prayer is simply how we communicate with God

Without communication, relationships fall apart. So, too, our relationship with God suffers when we do not communicate with Him.

6.)  Prayer Allows us to Participate in God's Works

Prayer is the means God has ordained for some things to happen. Prayer, for instance, helps others know the love of Jesus. Prayer can clear human and demonic obstacles out of the way in order for God to work.

7.)  Prayer Gives us Power Over Evil

"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." – Matthew 26:41

8.)  Prayer is a Gift that is Always Available to enjoy.

Nothing can keep us from approaching God in prayer except our own choices (Psalm 139:7; Romans 8:38-39).

9.)  Prayer can produce humility before God

Humility is a virtue God desires in us (Proverbs 11:2; 22:4; Micah 6:8; Ephesians 4:2; James 4:10) and prayer reminds us that we are not in control. God is.

10.)  Prayer enables us to experience God

Through prayer we obtain an experiential basis for our faith. We do not ignore the intellect or reasons for faith, but prayer makes our experience of God real on an emotional level.

11.)  Answered Prayer is a Witness to others of God

If our prayer is answered, it can serve as a potential witness for those who doubt.

12.)  Prayer Strengthens the Bonds Between Believers

Prayer not only strengthens our relationship with God, but when we pray with other believers, prayer also strengthens the bonds between fellow Christians.  [Note to couples both pre and post-marriage:  it will bind you emotionally.  That is why it is statistically true that “couples who pray together stay together.”

13.)   Prayer Succeeds Where Other Means Have Failed

Prayer should not be a last resort, but our first response. But there are times when sincere prayer must be offered in order to accomplish something.

14.)  Prayer Fulfills Emotional Needs:  We were made to function best, emotionally, in a prayerful relationship with God. As C.S. Lewis put it, "God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other."

So, let’s ask one last question:  WHY do we, God’s children, so often lack perseverance in prayer?

  • False ideas about life: it should be easy; it should come quickly; whatever feels good is to be preferred to whatever feels less “good”; life it hopeless; I’m a victim;
  • Lack of character development: not outgrowing childish reactions; not growing up emotionally (addictions STOP emotional maturity); missed or rejected incremental development of skills and attitudes about things like discipline, work, pain, success, maturity, etc.
  • Worldly values/desires rather than Spirit-driven values:

APPLICATION: 

  • Hand out “Prayer Journals”.
  • Talk over “Four Components of Healthy Interaction with God” (S.T.I.L.)
    • Scripture
    • Thanksgiving
    • Intercession
    • Listening
  • Walk through “Intercession” sheets
    • See suggested “categories,” bottom p. 1.
    • Take time to write out at least 5 requests you want to persevere in for someone/something over this next year.

Excess pages available on grid and table.

Mother’s Day Roses: How many of us have/had praying mothers?  We will only know how much that blessed us when we get to heaven and see from eternity’s vantage point what those prayers produced.  THANK YOU MOMS for all you do through your hard work, love and prayers!