Michael Youssef - Pray or Faint
Our culture is thoroughly confused about what prayer is and what prayer is not. Prayer is some sort of a magic words that you use in order for a genie to appear. And when a genie appears, you ask what you want from the genie, and the genie would say, "Your wish is my command". That's how confused people have become about prayer in our culture, and even within the churches. I don't have to tell you that many so-called "Evangelical preachers" today are falling like flies. Literally, every week, there's something in the news. They're falling for the world's popularity. They're falling for material successes. They are falling away from the truth of the Word of God. They're falling away from the authority of the Scripture. They're falling away from prayer. But Jesus told us that this is gonna happen in the last days. In fact, that's one of the clearer sign that Jesus is around the corner, is because the church of Jesus Christ is literally become a nominal church. He told us that this will happen toward the end of time.
So, I want you to please turn to the Gospel of Luke chapter 18, verses 1 to 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 for men. And there was a widow in that town and she kept on coming to the judge with a plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor care about men, and yet because this widow keeps on bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her return.' And the Lord said, 'Listen to the unjust judge and what he says. And will not God bring about justice to his chosen ones, who cry to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However,'" said Jesus, "when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth"?
We need to put this passage that I just read to you, that parable of Jesus, in its context right here in Luke chapter 17, the chapter immediately before chapter 18. And in chapter 17, verse 26, here's what Jesus said, talking about the day of his return, the day of judgment, when he comes back to judge the living and the dead, when he's going to judge every human being that ever lived on the face of the earth. Here's what he said, he said: "'As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man.'" Verse 27: "'They were eating and drinking,'" and busy with life, that's what it means, "and they're giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered into the ark, and then the flood came and they were in their predicament". Verse 28: "'Likewise, as it was in the day of Lot, when they were living for self-indulgence, and all of a sudden, sulfur came from heaven and burnt the place down.'"
If you don't believe me, go and visit the Dead Sea. Certainly we are living in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. And certainly, we are experiencing this prophecy of Jesus in our day. And that is the context of what Jesus is saying about this parable here in Luke 18. And when Jesus gives us a word on how the last days are gonna be like the days of Lot and like the days of Noah, he goes on to say, "Let me tell you a parable of what you should do when you see those days, those of you who are living in those days". And he said, "You must always pray and don't faint, don't give up". He said, "When you see these things, you pray". And there are some translations says, actually, "You pray, lest you faint". In other words, "Either you pray or you faint".
The fact is that this is one of only two parables, and you know, there are many parables that Jesus gave in the Gospels. This is one of two parables in which Jesus spelled out the lesson before he told the parable to illustrate it. Often, he told the parable, then he explained it to the disciples. This is one of two times in order to emphasize its importance, in order to emphasize its seriousness. As if he is saying, "When you see apostasy, that is the turning away from the commitment to the faith in Jesus Christ, when you see apostasy, we're turning away from the truth of the gospel, you pray. When you see a wholesale departure from the biblical authority, you pray. When you see churches plunging into defection from biblical faith, you pray. When you see the faith of many grows cold and superficial, you pray. When you see some so-called 'Evangelicals' are beset with self-indulgence, you pray. When you see others ceasing to believe the truth about Jesus, and the promises of Jesus, and the promise of his return, you pray. When you see even those who claim to be Christians are diving into worldliness, you pray".
The time of Noah and the time of Lot. These two events, hundreds of years apart, and one, they perished with a flood. The other one, they perished with sulfur and fire. They were hundreds of years apart, and yet, they have one thing in common between them that Jesus said is going to be in the time before his return, immediately before his return, that they were up to their eyeballs in worldliness. They were up to their eyeballs in the things that make them busy in this life, and they have no thought of the life to come, which is only the life that really matters. They were living in oblivion as to what God sees and what God thinks and what God is about to do. And that is why, when these two catastrophes came at that time, it appeared to the average person that they were sudden, but they were not sudden to Noah and his family, they were not sudden to Lot because they were forewarned from that judgment that is coming.
And when the judgment of God comes upon this world, and it looks like it's sooner than we may think, it is gonna be sudden to a lot of people who are not prepared. But for those who are waiting upon the Lord, they're gonna lift up their heads because they know that's the day of the redemption. In fact, the Apostle Peter warns us about these days, these last days, and he said in 2 Peter chapter 3, verse 3: "In the last days, scoffers will come scoffing, and following in their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it was since the beginning of Creation.'"
Right in the context of the end times, Jesus said, and please don't miss this. Don't miss this. Don't miss it. He said, "Right in the midst of all this is going on, you pray". When everyone appears defecting from the faith, as we're seeing, almost on a weekly basis, some mega-church pastor literally turning away from the faith, we hear them, "What is the use holding onto biblical morality? What is the use swimming up against the stream? What is the use standing up against the avalanche? Let's join together in this new morality. Let's join in this sexual revolution". Here Jesus said, "Don't you do that. You pray, you pray. You keep on being faithful to me. You keep on clinging to me and clinging to one another in faith and in prayer".
Pray or faint, it's a choice. It's your choice. You pray or the faint. If unite in prayer, we are not gonna faint. But if we faint, it's because we dumped prayer as the number one priority in our Christian life. These two ideas here are mutually exclusive. Either you pray, or you spiritually faint. But don't miss the meaning of the word "ought". Jesus said, "You ought". The word "ought" in the Greek here, it means that "there's something we owe". It means that "it is a debt that has to be paid". It means that "there's something due that it must be paid". And Jesus basically is saying that "in the midst of this wholesale departure from biblical truth, we owe it to God, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our family members, and we owe it to one another as believers to pray always". Two distinct words, two words.
Now, those of you in the building industry, I can tell you those two words are the columns or the piers on which this parable is built. For those of you who are more artistically inclined, those two words that Jesus used painted an indelible picture, a picture that must never leave our minds. What are these two words? Listen carefully because I believe when Jesus spoke those two words in that parable, the people who were listening to him in Judea and in Israel, they immediately knew what he was talking about because it's part and parcel of their culture. But for us, I've got to explain it to you. What are these two words? First, there's a corrupt judge and a poor widow. Two words upon which this parable rests. The judge admits to himself that he does not fear God nor he fear man. This judge was neither religious nor humanitarian. He wasn't even moral. And here comes the widow.
Back then, life dealt a terrible blow to widows. Trust me, if you read history, widows back then, they were the most defenseless people in society. Widows back then were oppressed. They were harassed. They were taken advantage of. And for a widow to get redress and get some justice, it's nearly impossible at that time, and everybody understood what Jesus is saying. But this widow kept on coming back to this godless judge and says, "Do me justice, do me justice". She was not asking for a favor. She was asking him to do the right thing. "Do me justice". And for a period of time, he took no notice of her, but she kept on wearing him down, wearing him down. The word literally could mean, "She's punching him in the eye". Not literally, that's figuratively speaking. In fact, the judge affirms, verse 4, if you're following with me, he affirms what Jesus said about him, that he fears no God nor man.
Verse 5, he said: "Because this woman keeps on harassing me, I better do something just to get rid of her". Again, the word could mean, "Give me a black eye". "So she does not give me a black eye, I'm gonna get rid of her". This judge responded to the widow's need for justice out of selfish motives. That's why I don't want you to miss this parable. This is very important because that is where most Christians misunderstand this parable. I even heard preachers who mess up this parable. They think that what Jesus is saying is that you must badger God until he gives you what you ask him for. Truthfully, that's how they think. It could not be further from the truth. They say that troublesome persistence in prayer will make God give you want, make him respond just to get rid of you.
Don't miss what I'm going to tell you because that's important. If you miss it, you miss the blessing. The unequivocal lesson of this parable is this: God is not, he is not, he is not, he is not, can you say that with me, is not like that judge. For God is good. He is gracious. He is merciful, and he is just, and he is righteous. Everything that the judge is, God is not. And everything that God is, the judge is not. But that's not all. We are not like this widow who is helpless and nameless. We're his beloved children. He died on a cross for us. We are his chosen elect, beloved children. Please let that contrast sink deep into your heart and mind because the contrast that Jesus is trying to draw here couldn't be more clearer. It couldn't be more vivid.
Now, I need to stop and just tell you, don't misunderstand me. I am not speaking against importunity. There are other parts of the Bible where importunity is expressed, but it's not in this parable. That's all I need to tell you. The judge was unloving. He was evil. He was merciless. He was unjust. But God is loving, and he's caring, he's gracious, he's merciful. And he gives you more and more opportunities and time to repent and turn to him. Furthermore, this widow, in the eyes of society back then, is an insignificant nobody, but we are not. We're not only created in his own image, we are dear and near to him. We are beloved children. We are the inheritors of his estate. We are redeemed by the precious blood of his Son. We have been chosen by God before all the foundation of the earth. And because of who God is and who we are, and whose we are, therefore, therefore, we do not need to frantically assault God's door.
That's what he's telling us here. We don't need to, here's a word, nag God. There are some people who really think that. We do not need to mindlessly beg and plead. No, no, no, no, no, a million nos. This is what the prophets of Baal were doing on the Mount Carmel. Some of you remember, when Elijah confronted the prophets on Mount Carmel and he said to them, he said, "Whatever God that sends fires is the true God. If Baal is God, worship him. If Yahweh is God, worship him". And so the prophets of Baal stood there on the mountain and they began to call upon Baal and said, "Oh, Baal, hear us. Oh, Baal, listen to us. Oh, Baal, answer us". And they were yelled, they screamed all day. They were even cutting themselves with knives, hoping to get Baal's sympathy, but nothing happened. At the end of the day, Elijah gets up and he makes the wood to be wet, and then he call upon Jehovah, and God sends fire from heaven that licked everything in sight. Yahweh is God. Yahweh is God, amen, amen, and amen.
While Jesus exhorting us to never give up praying, never give up, never throw in the towel, never throw away the mantle of prayer, that it ought to be like the food you eat and the air you breathe. You cannot say, "Well, I breathed yesterday. I'm not gonna breathe today". Or, "I ate yesterday, I'm not gonna eat today". He is saying, "Prayer ought to be part and parcel of your relationship with Jesus Christ". Yet, we pray in confidence as beloved children, speaking to a loving parent. That's what he's trying to tell us here.
Now, don't miss the contrast. Don't miss the contrast here. Nor do I want you to miss the importance that Jesus places on persistence in prayer and consistency in prayer. Even when you receive no immediate answer to your prayers, it does not mean that God is like that unjust judge. No, sir, no, a billion nos. When you have not received immediate answer to your prayers, it is not because God is reluctant. No, just as a parent delight in hearing the voice of their children when they begin to speak, God delights in hearing our voices. And just as a parent thrilled to hear their kids asking for something, even if it's something they're not gonna give them because they know it's gonna harm them, they will say, "Say that again, speak again". That's how God delights in hearing the voices of his children.
In fact, Paul was engaged in such a prayer in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, he said: "I prayed three times, pleading with the Lord to remove this thorn in the flesh," whatever that was. And so his persistence in prayer was not because he didn't have faith. You know, some people come to God, "Oh, God, I'm sorry, I'm back again. And I'm sorry I don't have enough faith, and I'll do better this time". That's not how you talk to a loving Father who loves you dearly and longs for you to come to him and spend time with him. In fact, none of that was in Paul's mind when he prayed. In fact, while God did not answer specific prayer, he gave him something far better that made him thrilled. He gave him more grace. Look with me at verses 7 and 8 of Luke 18. Coming toward the end here, don't miss this. Here's what the Lord is saying: When you are waiting in prayer, don't despair. Don't let despair set in. Why? Because God is working all things together. He's working all fronts. He's working all angles for your best. Even when you don't know what your best is, he does.
Now, beloved, let me testify to you, as God my witness, there was some 46, 47 years ago, I prayed for something, and I prayed with importunity, and I begged God to answer my prayer. I was young in the faith, and I really haven't understood the Scripture very well, and I begged God to answer my prayer, and God didn't. Do you know what? Now, as I look back, every single day, as I remember that time, I thank God that he did not answer my prayer. Had he answered that prayer, probably, I wouldn't be here today. Probably I would be dead.
Beloved, listen to me. Sometimes God does not answer immediately because he knows how soon we will forget. He knows what we're made of. He knows how prone we are to soon return to self-sufficiency. He knows how prone we are to return to pride. He knows how prone we are to return to independence, and God's deepest longing for his children is for us to learn to cultivate dependence on him. He longs for us to learn to persist in prayer with confidence, with assurance, that he only gives us what is best. Sometimes God's delay is done so that our prayer might mature. Sometimes the delay in answered prayer helps us to examine our motives. That's why he concluded of this parable, he said, "When the Son of Man returns, when Jesus comes back, will he find faith on the earth"?
Oh, that always gets to me. Will he find faith? He's gonna find it in those who would say with Job, "Though he slays me, yet I'll trust him". He will find it in those who are gonna hang on to him, regardless of the circumstances. He's gonna find it among those who are having faith, regardless of how many others have lost theirs. But unfortunately, it's not gonna be very common. It's gonna be a tiny minority. The Bible always talks about the remnant. In the Old Testament, it was only a remnant who was waiting for the coming of the Messiah and they believed in Jesus. In the New Testament, there's gonna be a remnant who is trusting in Jesus, waiting for Jesus. What about you? Only you know you. Are you a religious person but have no relationship with Jesus Christ? Let me assure you, your denomination cannot save you. Priests cannot save you. Churches cannot save you. No one can save you. Only the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on Calvary and a personal relationship with him as your Savior and Lord, that's the only thing that will save you.