Robert Jeffress - Persistent Praying
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Imagine being able to pick up the phone, punch a few numbers and get a direct line to the president of the United States. Well, that's the kind of unrestricted access we have, to our Heavenly Father, and we don't even need a phone. Today we're turning to the parable of the persistent widow, for a practical lesson on the power of prayer. My message is titled, "Persistent Praying", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Shortly after the Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon's forces at Waterloo, somebody asked the Duke to compare the courage of his soldiers with that of Napoleon's. The Duke said, "My soldiers weren't braver than the enemies, they were just raver five minutes longer". You know, persistence is the key to success in every area of life, isn't it? Persistence somebody has said, is the willingness to move forward in your goals in spite of unrelenting hard work, unanticipated obstacles, unexpected setbacks. Yes, persistence is the key to success in every area of life, including our prayer life. And that's the truth we're going to see that Jesus explains today. We're going to talk about the importance of persistent praying.
If you have your Bibles turn to Luke 18. This week, I had a young pastor who came to visit with me from another city. He was just starting out in the ministry and he said, pastor Jeffress, tell me how you prepare your sermons. And so I told him the first thing I do whenever I'm preparing a message like today's. The first thing I do before I open any commentaries and see what anybody else has said is, I read the selected passage that I'm gonna be preaching from, I read it over and over again. Sometimes I'll read it 50 times and only when I can write out in one simple sentence, what that passage is about, do I know, I really understand it and have the ability to communicate it to somebody else. Until I can come up with that big idea, that thesis statement, can I communicate that to somebody else.
Well, I got off easy this week. I didn't have to do that. I didn't have to struggle with coming up with the thesis statement of this passage because Luke gives it to us, in the very first verse. He tells us exactly what Jesus is trying to communicate. Look at chapter 18:1. Now Jesus was telling them a parable, why? To show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. There's the thesis statement. Jesus was teaching people that they ought to pray and pray at all times and not lose heart. Let's take a moment to unpack that for a moment. Jesus said, if you're his disciple, you need to learn to pray. I want you to pray.
Now, that seems simple, doesn't it? We ought to pray, if we're a follower of Christ, surely we pray. I don't know if you're like I am, but that's sometimes easier said than done. I mean the fact is, when I find myself in a difficult situation, prayer is not usually my first thought. If I'm facing a challenge, I'll try to think up a way to get myself out of this predicament. Or I might call somebody to get some advice, and only when I can't figure out any other way to solve my dilemma, do I resort to prayer. Too many times, prayer is the last resort for me. Maybe you're that way as well, but Jesus is saying no.
When you face a difficulty, prayer ought to be your first response. Jesus taught this parable to say, when we face difficulty, we ought to pray. And then he said, we need to pray at all times. Frankly a lot of us, we pray when the answer seems easy. We pray when it really seems painless for God to answer. Have you ever wondered why it is, we don't wanna ask God to do the hard things, the impossible things. I think a lot of times we don't wanna put God into a difficult situation. No Jesus said, we ought to pray at all times. Not just when the answer seems easy and obvious but when the answer seems impossible. And then he says, we ought to pray, pray at all times and not lose heart. That means we shouldn't give up in our praying. If the answer doesn't come the first time or the second time, we need to continue to pray.
Now that's the theme of this parable that Jesus is gonna tell. Now, before we get into it, one other thing, the setting of the parable. To understand Jesus' words, you always have to look at the context. And verse 1 says that he showed them, he told them this parable. Well, the question is who is them? And I answer that question. You have to go back to the passage, we looked at last time in chapter 17:20. Remember it says now having been questioned by the pharisees as to when the Kingdom of God was coming, he answered them. Remember the pharisees, they didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah. And one reason they didn't believe he was the Messiah was well, there was no visible Kingdom of God on earth. They believed when the Messiah came, he would defeat the Romans and free Israel forever.
And so they said to Jesus, what about this kingdom thing? If you're the Messiah, where is the kingdom? As we saw last time, Jesus would have reigned over the world right there. And if the Jews had accepted him, his offer of the kingdom was a legitimate offer. But they had no interest in having Jesus rule over them. They rejected his rulership. Why should they think he would be interested in setting up his kingdom when they were refusing him? So Jesus explained to them, this visible Kingdom of God hasn't been canceled because of your rejection, but it has been postponed. And Jesus told them, remember in verse 24, he said for the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Jesus was going to be crucified. He was gonna be resurrected from the dead. He would ascend to heaven, but one day he is coming back to establish his kingdom.
But until he does, so Jesus outlines in verses 25 to 37, the difficulties people on the earth are going to experience. There's gonna be a time of tribulation. So the question is, how should we, who are living in that period of time between the resurrection and the return of Jesus Christ, how should we be living? And what Jesus is saying in verse 1 is, no matter how difficult things get in the world at large or in your world specifically, I wanna show you why you ought to keep on praying and not lose heart.
Now, with that setting, let's look at the story itself, beginning in verse 2. This simple story has two characters in it. The first character is an unrighteous judge. Look at verse 2. "Now there was in a certain city, a judge who did not fear God, and he did not respect man". And then we're introduced to the second character in verse 3. "And there was a widow in that city. And she kept going coming to the judge saying, 'give me legal protection from my opponent'". Now widows in Jesus' day were the most helpless group in all of society. Think about it. They had no one to protect them, no advocate, their husband was gone. They usually had no income. They had no assets. And because of that, widows were easy targets of those who would like to take advantage of them. And that's what would happen often. And many of the perpetrators of evil against widows were the pharisees.
Now that's ironic because the pharisees prided themselves on keeping the Old Testament law, yet the Old Testament law said very carefully, don't take advantage of widows. God will protect the widows. The pharisees didn't understand that, instead of caring for the widows homes they stole and devoured the widow's houses. That's what Jesus said in Matthew 23:14, woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites because you devour, the widows homes. Even while for a pretense, you make long prayers, therefore you shall receive greater condemnation. Here's the way it would work. And probably what Jesus was referring to here. Many times the pharisees would bring a frivolous lawsuit against a widow for no reason whatsoever, just trying to gain an advantage. And then they would pay off the judge, the judge would issue a judgment against the widow, having nothing to pay with, they would take her house and give it to the pharisee.
Now that's what was probably going on right here. The pharisee or somebody was trying to take this widow's house from her. And so what does she do? She goes to this unrighteous judge. Now, even though the law of God clearly says, you're not to do that, remember this judge, he didn't respect God, he didn't fear God and he didn't care about people either. So she was in quite a predicament. And the fact is the deck was stacked against her, but that didn't he keep her from continuing to go and beg this unrighteous judge to act on her behalf. Look at verse 4, and for a while, the judge was unwilling to act on her behalf. Here was a widow who had a need but she had a judge who was unwilling to meet that need, but then the story takes an unexpected turn. The judge does something completely unexpected.
Look at verses 4 and 5, but afterward he said to himself, even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection less by continually coming, she wears me out. How's that for a great motive of caring for the widows. This lady is nagging me to death. He was tired of being pestered by this woman. And so he said, I'm gonna do what you want me to do, just to get rid of you. Now remember Jesus said, I'm telling you this parable to show you why you ought to pray at all times and not lose heart. Had Jesus stopped the story right here, you know, the point is listeners would have walked away with.
If we stopped reading right here, would say the same thing. We'd say, okay, I understand what Jesus is saying. God is like the unrighteous judge, we're like the widow, so what we need to do, is keep on hammering God to give us what he really doesn't want to give us until we wear him out and make him do what he really doesn't want to do, that's what prayer is. Now that would be a logical conclusion. But that's not the point of this parable. Then stay with me on this, this parable is not a parable of comparison. It's a parable of contrasts. And that's what Jesus says, beginning in verses 6-8, look at this.
And the Lord said, hear what the unrighteous judge said. Now shall not God bring about justice for his elect, who cried to him day and night, and will he delay long over them? I tell you that God will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Jesus concludes this short story with three contrasts and one challenge for all of us. Notice first of all, the three contrasts.
First of all between God and the unrighteous judge, and Jesus isn't comparing God to the unrighteous judge. He's contrasting God to the unrighteous judge. What Jesus is saying is if this unrighteous, unholy judge who doesn't fear God or respect man, if he can be motivated to do the right thing, how much more, how much more will our loving, perfectly righteous Heavenly Father do on our behalf as well? See, it's a contrast, not a comparison. Jesus made a similar contrast in the passage we read just a moment ago from Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus said, "Or what man is there among you when his son shall ask him for a loaf will give him a stone. Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake will he"? And here's the contrast. "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more show your father who is in heaven, give what is good to those who ask him"?
See the contrast. He's saying, if an unrighteous judge can be motivated to do the right thing how much more will the holy and perfect God do for us? And that leads to the second contrast between the widow and God's elect. He's not saying, that we're like the widow, he's contrasting us to the widow. You see the widow had no standing before the judge. She had no relationship with the judge. She was a stranger to the judge. And yet this unrighteous judge acted on her behalf, a stranger. If a judge is willing to do that for somebody, he doesn't know, how much more will our loving Heavenly Father do for us who are not strangers, we are his children.
See the contrast. If you are not a Christian yet, you are a stranger to God. You're an alien to God, you're outside the circle. But notice what Paul says in Ephesians 2:19, the moment you become a Christian, your status changes from stranger of God, to a child of God. Paul writes, so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and you are of God's household. If you're a Christian today, you come to God, not as some distant deity but as your Heavenly Father, knowing he's listening to you and wants to give you good gifts.
Now the third contrast here, is one that's a little more difficult to see. And that is between the judge's timing in answering the request and God's timing in answering our requests. Look at verses 7 and 8, now shall not God bring about justice for his elect, who cried to him day and night. And will he delay long over them? I tell you that he will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Apparently this unrighteous judge delayed in giving the widow what she wanted. But Jesus seems to be saying here, God is not that way. God does not delay in answering our prayers.
Now unfortunately, this is one of the few times Jesus got it wrong. I know that's a shock to you. He was right most of the time, but occasionally he made some mistakes and here's one of them. No, I'm speaking tongue in cheek. Of course Jesus is not wrong. But it does bring up the question then what does he mean? When he says, God will not delay in answering our prayers and that he will answer our prayers speedily, what is he talking about? Not from your perspective, God says, but from my perspective. Remember the words in 2 Peter 3, Peter said in the last days before the second coming scoffers will come, in their scoffing saying, where is the promise of his coming?
I've had people say that to me in debates on television, all you Christians you've been talking about the second coming for thousands of years. Where is it? Where is it? Peter says that's the way it will be in the last days. Where is the promise of his coming for all has been the same since the fathers fell asleep? Remember how Peter answers that objection? Verses 8 and 9 of 2 Peter 3, but do not let this one fact escape your notice beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. From God's perspective, God's time table, the second coming of Christ is just around the corner. It's going to happen quickly. It's going to happen speedily.
So Jesus closes with this challenge. Look at verse 8 again. However, when the Son of man does come, you see that's the reference, the second coming of Christ. However, when the Son of man does come, will he find faith on the earth? Here's the question you and I need to answer when Christ does come will he find us continuing in obedience and working for him and will he find us, continuing in prayer? As one commentator says God, isn't like the judge, but are we like the widow? We can trust God to answer, but can God trust us to keep on asking? Jesus said, we are to keep on praying, and not lose heart.
Now I realized whenever I preach a message on prayer, there's a question at the back of everybody's mind. And that is why I'm continuing to pray. But God hasn't answered my prayer. Why doesn't God answer those deep longings that I continually pour out before him? I think scripture gives two reasons, two answers to that question. Why doesn't God answer my prayers? The first reason is very simply. Some of our prayers are outside of God's will for our life. And that's why the apostle John wrote in first John 5:14, and this is the confidence which we have before him, that if we ask anything, according to his will he hears us.
That is not a blanket promise to answer anything we ask, it's anything we ask according to his will. But there's a second reason for unanswered prayer. And that is our timetable is many times different from God's timetable, have you discovered that? When God says, no, he may be just saying not now. He's not saying no forever. He's saying no for now. Some of you are thinking, why isn't God answering my prayer? What you and I can't see is behind the scenes, God is working in circumstances we're unaware of. He's working in the lives of people, you and I may not even know, to bring about his perfect plan for us. And at just the right time, at a time you don't expect it, God is gonna answer your request powerfully and decisively.
Until that time, until the answer comes, Jesus says, keep on praying and don't give up. Keep on praying, not just when the answer seems easy, but when the answer seems impossible. When your car breaks down in the middle of the toll way, you're in rush hour, pray. When the notice of the job layoff comes, pray. When the doctor's report comes back much worse than you expected, pray. When that husband or wife tells you he or she is no longer interested in staying married, pray. When that child or grandchild persist in his rebellion against God, keep on praying. And know that your loving Heavenly Father hears that request and will answer that request according to his perfect and loving will for you.