Prayer: continuous and fervent

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 1:1-18; Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8

As we continue our series in prayer, we will today talk about, as you may have guessed, prayer – continuous and fervent in nature.

You know, one of the largest organizations in America today is the Quitters Club. Now, the reason you may have never heard of the Quitters Club is because they never meet. The members quit coming. There are no dues, because the members quit paying.

The Quitters Club is comprised of people who face  a tough job, a tough marriage, a tough failure, and then they quit. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When the going gets tough, the quitters get going as well – away.

What we need in American and here in the church are people who will exhibit good old-fashioned sticktoitiveness, if that is such a word. Perhaps if it’s not, it needs to be. Put it in the wiki dictionary or something.

Hannah showed such perseverance over time. It was a terrible thing for her womb to have been closed, much as it was for Sarah, or Elizabeth – the mother of John the Baptist. For the Jew, children were such a blessing, and it was considered a curse by God if you were barren. So she kept praying and persevering in prayer, until one day her prayer was answered.

Jesus, speaking to the disciples, rather after giving the Lord’s Prayer, spoke also of the need to pray in a persistent manner. I like the words that Carole’s translation used, in terms of “shameless audacity.” That was a wonderful little phrase.

We need to be open and bold in our asking God for His blessings. Now, we may not get them exactly when we want; we may not get exactly what we ask for. Part of our asking, as has been mentioned previously, is understanding the will of God, getting that guidance ahead of time, so that we know what to ask for. But having sought that, then we ask with boldness and confidence. James talks about, if we’re double-minded, meaning that if we doubt ourselves, then why should we expect an answer?

In chapter 18, Jesus talks about the persistent widow. In verse 1, Jesus said we ought always to pray and not give up. The New American Standard Version, which is the version I like to use, says “pray and do not lose heart.” The Greek word that was translated “give up” is egkakeō, and it literally means “to be filled with bad thoughts.” “Pray and do not be filled with bad thoughts. Do not lose heart.”

Now, when we read this story, this parable of the widow, we should note a couple of things. Jesus doesn’t tell us the widow was literally knocking on the door. But he does tell us she kept coming around with a plea, saying, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”

This woman is a widow, and very likely lived in poverty. In the male-dominated culture of that day, she had no social standing of her own and no right to file a complaint in court, unless a man did it for her. The law of Israel said that judges were to take special pains to hear the complaints of people like the widow.

The Scriptures are very compassionate when it comes to the likes of her. The first chapter of Isaiah upholds this high ideal of justice. “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” It doesn’t appear though, that this judge has read the Good Book, at least not recently – if he’s even Jewish.

This judge – this judge is a tough customer. Some theologians speculate that he would have been a crook, a charlatan, a thoroughly corrupt person who was out to make a buck, and this woman had no money to pay him.

You see, judges – they didn’t have courts like we do. There was no courthouse, where you were called in and you went, and you come before the judge, and you present your case, etc. Rather, it was a circuit court in the true sense of the word, where the judge would go from town to town to town, and he would have a tent and he would have it set up, and then people would come with their petitions.

But he would only hear as much as he chose to listen to. I mean, if it had been a hard day, or he was really cranky, he might have a really short court time. And people that got to present their cases usually paid a fee, whether it went to the bailiff or eventually to the judge directly, he listened to those that got his attention. That was the way of the world.

You still see that today. If you look at South America and some of the other countries that are there, they’re well known for their graft and corruption. You get a judge’s attention by paying for it.

This woman, this widow would have had no money to even bring her case to court, even if she had a man who was willing to present it. It’s also possible that the judge is a bureaucrat. His desk is piled high with paperwork, and the paperwork requires his stamp of approval. You know, sometimes it can be tough to be heard through a lot of paperwork.

There’s a story that says Mother Teresa signed into a California hospital for heart tests. After signing her name to the umpteenth legal release form, she put down her pen, shook her head, and said softly, “So many signatures for such a small life.” Perhaps you’ve been there and can understand that.

The widow’s continuous appeals did not only take place at the judge’s home, most likely. Yes, we have the story of how he would be in bed and she would be calling up to him, and keeping him awake. But chances are, she’s accosting him everywhere, wherever he went. And you know, judges had a certain social circle they had to go in, they had a decorum that had to be maintained an image to the public that had to be maintained.

Can you imagine, if you were the judge, and you’re going to a party, being put on by one of the Herodians – people that work with the king? It’s a dinner party, and you’re out there mingling with your little glass of wine, and this woman, this little old widow comes up, and starts yelling at the top of her voice, that she wants justice, she wants justice, she wants justice, and she won’t shut up. Finally a couple of guards have to take her off. They all know it’s directed at you.

So then, you go into the marketplace, you’re going to buy some stuff, and you decide you’re going to put on a party in order to be able to kind of smooth things over with some of the people, and this widow shows up again and says, “I want justice! I want justice!” She just makes a spectacle of herself. But also, she completely makes you look heartless and silly at the same time.

She was embarrassing him. And being unable to simply get rid of her because of the public nature of her appeals – she could just disappear – he finally admits that he’s beaten. “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 she will not eventually wear me out with her coming.”

Now the Greek word translated here as “wear me out” is an old sports term that comes from the world of boxing, and it means to give somebody a black eye. Jesus is painting a bit of a comical picture for, if you can imagine, this poor widow has just popped the judge with a right hook, and in response he’s thrown in the towel, as he said, “All right, I’ll give her justice, just so that she won’t give me another black eye.”

By the way, I can kind of relate to that – a personal story, not with a little old lady, but my younger sister. I tickled her, and I tickled her, and she asked me to stop tickling her, and I tickled her again, and she gave me a left hook that broke my glasses. And you know what? I quit tickling her, and never did it again.

Now this imagery that Jesus created of this little widow and this judge and the right hook would have brought a smile to the face of Jesus’ audience. I mean, I’m sure that they had their own horror stories about the dreaded bureaucracy, and the corruption of the judges.

So finally, the judge is moved to help her, not out of a sense of justice really, or compassion, but one of self-preservation. And Jesus goes on to say, “Look, if he would do this, won’t you expect God your Father to do more?”

You must expect God to answer your prayers. If you doubt that you’ll receive an answer, chances are you won’t. Learn to pray positively without doubting. You know, sadly, many Christians pray but we don’t expect an answer. Sometimes, it’s just venting. We don’t really expect a response.

I heard about a Sunday School teacher who had her children write letters to a missionary they had been praying for. The teacher explained that the missionary was very busy, and wouldn’t have time to send a reply to every child, so they should probably not expect to hear back from him. One little boy wrote this letter: “Dear Mr. Smith, I am praying for you. I am not expecting an answer.” Are you like that? Do you pray, but you aren’t really expecting an answer?

You know, Jesus used the word “quickly” in verse 8 to describe how God answers prayers. The word that Jesus used means “suddenly.” Suddenly. Your prayers may seem to be unanswered for months, and then, Boom! God answers the prayer. It doesn’t necessarily mean, as we take it in our culture today of instant gratification and vending machine prayers that you pop your prayer up to the Lord, you pull the handle, and poof, you got your answer. It means suddenly, without a lot of warning, God will answer prayer. He does it in His own time, and we’re going to be discussing that in a later sermon on prayer.

But while you’re praying, you need to be like the widow, persistent in your prayer, in every walk of life, and every time of day, wherever you go and wherever you are. Try not to worry – I know that’s a hard thing to say, I’m a chronic worrier myself. Worry is filling your mind with those bad thoughts of the worst thing that can happen – the very thing that Jesus warned us against. Pray, and do not be filled with bad thoughts.

Worry is like water – it begins as a trickle of doubt that creeps into your mind, and if it isn’t stopped it soon becomes a stream of fear, which creates a pond of paranoia, which overflows into a river of distress, which develops into a raging torrent of tension. As one author put it, before you know it, the flood of worry has carved a Grand Canyon of anxiety in the mind.

You need to set aside that worry and be persistent in your prayer and positive in your attitude. Persistence is an important factor in prayer. Let me also suggest to you that persistence is a valuable commodity in every area of your Christian life. God blesses those who persist. So whatever you may be facing right now, don’t give up. If you’re ever tempted to give up, remember for instance the compose Brahms. It took him seven years to write his famous lullaby, the Brahm’s Lullaby. As one person put it, “I guess he kept falling asleep at the piano.”

There was a famous preacher, John Wesley. You might have heard of him – he founded the Methodists. And Tyndale, in one of their books of sermon illustrations, wrote this. It says that John Wesley’s diary reads as follows:

Sunday morning, May 5, preached in St. Ann’s, was asked not to come back anymore. Sunday p.m., May 5, preached at St. John’s, deacons said, “Get out and stay out.” Sunday a.m., May 12, preached at St. Jude’s, can’t go back there either. Sunday p.m., May 12, preached at St. George’s, kicked out again. Sunday a.m., May 19, preached at St. somebody else’s, deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return. Sunday p.m., May 19, preached on the street, kicked off the street.

(And by the way, I was reading some of his journal in an attempt to find this myself, and there were times when riots would form around him, so it’s not surprising. For whatever message that he was giving, the power of it, it would trigger reactions, and there was one time, I know, where the mayor actually, when he was invited to preach at a church, the mayor said no, and closed the town to him.)

Sunday a.m., May 26, preached in meadow, chased out of meadow as a bull was turned loose during the services. Sunday a.m., June 2, preached out at the edge of town, kicked off the highway. Sunday p.m., June 2, afternoon service, preached in a pasture, 10,000 people came to hear me.

Persistence. Persistence in prayer, persistence in your Christian walk. God expects us to continually come to Him with our requests and our desires. And then God expects us to continually act upon His answers. If there’s one thing that you should know about our prayer, it’s this: if prayer is a measure of our faith, as I said way back in the very first sermon, if it’s a measure of our relationship with God, relationship takes persistence.

Prayer is our communication with Him. So always, every day, I encourage you to pray. Keep those lines of communication going. Work at maintaining the relationship you have with God. And having prayed, continuously and fervently, give thanks to God because He will answer. And your life will be changed.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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