Persistent Prayer Provides Hope
Part 1 of 4 in the series "A Time for Hope! Real Issues, Real Hope, Real Help!"
We’re beginning a new series today that deals with hope.
Hope is one of life’s most important possessions. Every one of us needs hope. Hope is what motivates us to get out of bed in the morning. Have you found yourself needing more motivation lately? Then hope is exactly what you need! Hope enables you to put one foot in front of another in the rough times and in the routine times of life.
The problem is, we don’t always find the hope we need because we’re often looking in the wrong places. We look to other people for hope or we look to material things for hope. Sometimes we think that if we can just arrive at a certain level of enjoyment in life then we’ll have hope. Some people believe that with more involvement in politics and social reform there will be more hope. Others believe that if they work hard enough in life they can manufacture their own hope.
But this month we’re going to see where real hope comes from and how we can gain access to it.
Today we begin our journey of hope with one of the primary resources of hope – persistent prayer. Not the weak, inconsistent, “every so often” kind of praying that we often practice. Not the kind of prayer life that “uses” God – where you just call on Him when you get in trouble, (and we’ve all probably been guilty of that) but a prayer pattern that exhibits an ongoing conversation with God as with your closest friend.
We’re talking about a prayer life where you don’t stop talking to God because you get too busy or because you give up praying due to your impatience or your discouragement.
The idea of persistent prayer providing hope comes from Jesus’ teaching to His disciples. The Bible says,
1-3Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. (Circle that phrase, “pray consistently and never quit.” That is the theme of this story.) He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ’My rights are being violated. Protect me!’
4-5"He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on (Circle that phrase “on and on.”) he said to himself, ’I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’"
6-8Then the Master said, "Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?" Luke 18:1-8 (Msg)
What a great story! No one can tell a story like Jesus! And this story ought to really hit home with each of us.
Sooner or later life gets you down. Life is rough like a boxing match. It’s not a question of you getting hit hard or even getting knocked down. The question is “are you going to stay down?”
I remember Mike Tyson’s first fight after he got out of prison. It was with a little-known boxer named Peter McNeeley. That fight was like Rocky Balboa stepping into the ring with Apollo Creed – the proven champion vs. the underdog.
As usual, before this big boxing event the two opponents promoted the fight by staring each other down eyeball to eyeball and it looked like McNeeley was saying to Tyson, “I’m going to let everyone see how tough I am.” But only 1 minute and 44 seconds into the first round McNeeley was knocked out by a punch he didn’t see coming and the fight was quickly over.
That’s the way life is sometimes. It might not be like Mike Tyson’s left, but it has a lot of similarities. 1) You don’t know what hit you. 2) You can’t believe how much it hurts. 3) And you don’t know if you are ever going to be able to get up again.
That’s why Jesus tells a story to all who might be rubbing their jaw today, to all who might be finding it very difficult to figure out whether they want to keep going.
The woman in Jesus’ parable apparently had taken one on the chin. We don’t know what her problem was. We are not given the details. But that’s because it’s not important what her exact problem was. What is important is Christ’s encouragement to pray consistently and never quit.
This parable teaches through the example of a person that could have stayed down, could have thrown in the towel, could have given up, but chose not to – that there is hope for us too if we will pray consistently and never quit.
Persistent prayer knocks out despair! Persistent prayer may not immediately solve the particular problem that has floored you, but it will knock out the despair surrounding it and it will eventually bring God’s solution to your problem!
Do you believe this? I mean really believe it?
This Scripture begins, “Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit.”
Do you believe that? Do you believe persistent prayer works or do you believe this is just some sort of psychological trick that is being played on us to fool us into feeling better? Is prayer just an escapist tool or does it really work? Does persistent prayer really put me in touch with the power and provision of God?
We say we believe this but by our actions we show that we don’t really believe it.
In one small town, a rowdy bar opened up right next to the church. And the church folks said, "Let’s have an all night-prayer meeting." And they prayed. And they prayed, "Lord, burn down that rowdy bar!" Well, that night lightning came and struck the roof of the bar and it burned down. The owner of the bar sued the church. And the church denied responsibility! They came before the judge. And the judge said, "Well, regardless of what the facts are here, one thing is plainly clear, the bar owner believes in the power of prayer and the church doesn’t."
Do you believe in what Jesus is saying about the impact of persistent prayer?
Jesus knew life would knock us down and so he teaches the parable of persistent prayer versus not losing hope.
The words “never quit” in the original Greek mean “to not grow weary, to not despair, to not grow fearful.” It is used in other New Testament literature to describe childbirth. Now I can’t relate to that personally, but I can tell you I have seen it the weariness of watching Deb in labor. And that is what this text is saying about not growing weary. Jesus said, "pray; don’t give up. Don’t lose hope!”
And he selected a woman who powerfully illustrates that if anyone would have had the right to give up, it would have been her.
Consider three potential knockout punches that might have caused her to quit but didn’t.
THREE REASONS WE MUST PRAY PERSISTENTLY TO MAINTAIN HOPE.
First, we’re weak. We need to pray persistently to counteract our weakness.
The woman in this story of Jesus was a widow. She was one of the weakest, most vulnerable members of society. There was no Social Security in those days. There was no welfare, no Medicare. Her husband died and she no longer had the benefit of his provision and protection.
Interestingly Jesus doesn’t mention the widow first. He begins by saying, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. " Then he says there was a widow who came to the judge.
Jesus is indicating she has a big problem. Not only is she one of the most vulnerable members of society, not only does she have someone violating her rights in some way, but she has now come to a person who is not willing to help her. If anyone could have quit, she could have, but she didn’t. Jesus said, “this went on and on.” She refused to be victimized by her status or by her problem.
What problem or problems has you knocked off balance today? Do you have a financial need that is too great for you to even comprehend meeting? Is there someone you’ve been trying to reach with the Good News about Jesus and they continue to show no interest? Is there a weakness in your thought life or conversation or relationships that keeps attacking you? Is the stress of raising kids wearing you down? You feel like giving up. What’s the use?
Whatever it is, notice that the widow did not ask, "Why?" She just kept seeking a solution. She was not made hopeless by her problem.
The determination to not allow a problem to control us is one of the greatest lessons to be learned in life.
On display in the French Academy of Science is a simple shoemaker’s awl. (An awl is a sharp pointed tool with a wooden handle, used to punch holes in leather.)
The reason an old awl is on display in the French Academy of Science is because it was that awl that a little nine-year-old boy was playing with when he accidentally poked himself in the eye. The awl had belonged to his father who worked with leather.
Because of the accident he lost his sight in that eye, and worse still, shortly thereafter, because of infection in his injured eye, the boy also lost sight in his other eye. So he was sent to a school for the blind, and when he arrived he asked his teacher if the school had books for blind persons to read. Louis found that the school did have books for the blind to read.
These books had large letters that were raised up off the page. Since the letters were so big, the books themselves were large and bulky. And an even greater challenge, the books were expensive to buy. The school had exactly fourteen of them.
Louis set about reading all fourteen books in the school library. He could feel each letter, but it took him a long time to read a sentence. It took a few seconds to reach each word and by the time he reached the end of a sentence, he almost forgot what the beginning of the sentence was about. Louis knew there must be a better way.
So Louis Braille created a way of helping those who could not see to read by creating the Braille system. If you’ve ever seen a book written in Braille you’ll remember that each page has a series of holes punched in it to represent the various letters of the alphabet.
The fascinating part of the story is that Braille used the same awl that put out his eye to punch the dots to create this new easier system of reading for the blind!
You and I are weak and there will be in each of our lives problems that knock us down - difficulties that stretch our hope to the point of despair. We can ask one of two questions when this happens: "Why did God do this?" or, "How will God use this?"
The woman in Christ’s parable took the, “How will God use this?" route. She knew she was weak but she also determined she wasn’t going to stop trying. She wasn’t detered by the fact that the odds were stacked against her. She was persistent in asking for help. She wasn’t going to give up or let up until her problem was solved!
We’re weak. Persistent prayer will keep us hopeful.
We must not only practice persistent prayer because we’re weak, but secondly because…
Others are weak too.
The widow had a helper who was supposed to help but he wouldn’t help. Her source of help was a selfish maverick, a sorry excuse for a judge. People are placed in positions of authority all the time who should never have been put there. We have to accept this as a fact of life.
The ironic thing about this story is that judges in Israel were constantly reminded to protect the helpless. Israel had been helpless as a nation. In ancient Egypt they were in bondage and in ancient Babylon they were a nation of refugees. So Hebrew judges were particularly cautioned to guard the rights of the weak and oppressed. The Hebrews had been on the receiving end of exploitation so they were supposed to guard against oppressing others.
If anyone should have gotten immediate attention in a Jewish court this widow qualified.
But this judge cared little about what God said and cared even less about what people thought.
Ever had to deal with people like this before?
You call customer service only to hear, “I’m sorry but the warranty has expired.”
I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but I’ve given up on warranties. You don’t need them until after they expire. What they do at the auto factories and the appliance factories and electronics factories is figure out how long their product lasts and then they offer you a warranty for that period of time. They know full well that you aren’t going to have any trouble during the warranty period. It’s after the warranty expires that you need it.
Or you call on a Friday and they say, "I am sorry, you will have to call again Monday," and you have a “can’t-wait-till-Monday problem.” Like the church bulletins I ordered for Mother’s Day last month. The company called and told me on the Friday before Mother’s Day that they had sent me the wrong thing and the right thing would be here on Monday. I kindly said, “Stop and think about it. Mother’s Day is Sunday. I won’t need the Mother’s Day worship folders on Monday.”
The lady from Outreach Marketing could then have said, “It’s not my problem.” But instead she said, “Pastor Atwood, we’ll overnight them to you at our expense.” I was blessed and impressed! But a lot of people are like the judge in Christ’s story. They simply don’t care about your problems. Your problems are not their problems.
Sometimes we’re even weak with our own family members. We don’t always give the level of love and respect we ought to one another.
One mother with several children had put up with their dog Danny for 2 years. She had reached the end of her rope. She announced to the children that she was going to get rid of Danny. They looked at her and they said "okay". She was really surprised because she thought she was going to have a fight on her hands.
The next day she grabbed Danny and she put him under her arm and she starts to take him to the pound and the kids look at her and they say, "Mom, what are you doing?" She said, "I told you yesterday, I am going to take Danny to the pound. I am fed up with this dog." They said, "What? We can’t believe it," and they all started crying. She said, "Why didn’t you say something yesterday?" And they said, "But we thought you said ’Daddy’."
Sometimes the people we work with are weak and they don’t always help us like we want - even our employers can fail to meet our expectations.
There’s a new product on the market called the "Boss Tear-Apart Stress Doll"- Only $19.95. The ad for the doll reads, "Because its appendages are attached by Velcro, you can rip the head, arms and legs right off this beady-eyed captain of industry."
The widow in Christ’s story would not have bought one of those dolls. She did not disrespect others. That was not her avenue of achieving satisfaction.
She simply kept coming to the judge so much that he described her actions as bothersome, as wearing him out.
And the irony of the story is this man does not fear God. This man does not fear people. But he fears the weakest member of the culture – why? Because she kept asking – persistence – she wouldn’t quit asking!
The third thing that could have kept her from fulfilling her goal or could have caused her to quit was time.
We don’t always maintain hope because we don’t want to give up our time.
Look in verse 4. It says her cries for help “went on and on.” She went on petitioning the judge for a long time. And there is nothing that will make us quit quicker than thinking about the fact that the thing that we have to deal with is going to take a long time to work itself out. But this woman was willing to invest her time.
This woman got on the judges nerves like a balloon when you barely open its tip and let a little air out at a time and it makes that piercing sound. She nagged him until he relented. And this is not a Bible story that promotes nagging because when Jesus applies the parable He tells us that God is not like this judge at all! We don’t have to nag God to get His attention. Our problems are already on His heart.
But we do need to be willing to invest our time in persistent praying.
Time is the greatest resource we are given. And when we get impatient with God it is like saying, “God, I don’t want to invest my most cherished possession with You. I don’t want to spend my time with You!”
It’s the persistence of this woman that Jesus was commending. Because when he talked about prayer in this text, he wasn’t just talking about casual praying! He’s teaching us that persistent prayer will knock out despair because you never know, even though it takes a long period of time, what God is doing in the hearts of those who you never imagined he could work in.
Bill Hybels tells that one Sunday after baptisms at his church he bumped into a woman in the stairwell who was crying. He asked if she was all right and she said, “My mom was baptized today. I prayed for her every day for almost 20 years. The reason I’m crying is because I came so close to giving up on her. After five years of praying I said, ‘Who needs this? God isn’t listening. After ten years of praying I said, ‘Why am I wasting my breath?” At the 15-year-mark I said, ‘This is absurd.’ At the 19-year-mark I said, ‘I’m just a fool.’ But I kept praying. Even with weak faith I kept praying. Then she gave her life to Christ and she was baptized today. I will never doubt the power of prayer again.”
This unrighteous judge did not give the widow what she wanted. But through her persistent appeal over time she was expressing hope – hope not in the judge – but hope in God!
Jesus taught this all to drive home a point. If this judge will give what is necessary to this woman, how much more will God who cares so deeply about us answer our persistent prayers?
Don’t give up. Don’t stop hoping. Don’t stop praying. Because there is One who is on your side who will respond to your sincerity and your persistence.
Perhaps you can identify with the woman Jesus used as a character in His story.
And I wonder - is anyone identifying with the judge? Is anybody identifying at least in part with that part of us that has stopped fearing God and has stopped caring about people? We’ve stopped hoping.
The surest sign of lost hope is that you don’t care anymore.
The good news is that Jesus told this story, and He said and did many other things, to prove to you and me that we don’t need to lose hope! We don’t have to give up – no matter what difficult circumstances we face.
One day a woman came to see a plastic surgeon. She told the doctor that her husband had been injured while attempting to save his parents from their burning home. He was not successful at saving his parents and furthermore, he was seriously burned all over his face. He had given up on life. He had gone into hiding. He would not even let his wife see him.
The woman came to the plastic surgeon and she told the story. And she told the surgeon that her husband also believed that God had punished him because he was not successful in saving his parents.
And then, she made a shocking request. She said, "I want you to disfigure my face so that I can be like him. If I can share his pain, then maybe he will let me back into his life because I love him so much. I want him to hear me and if that’s what it takes, then that’s what I will do." The plastic surgeon couldn’t believe it and, of course, didn’t comply with her request but did obtain her permission to go and talk to the husband.
And on the other side of a door, he said to the husband, "I am a plastic surgeon and I want you to know that I can restore your face." There was no response. Again, he shouted louder and he said, "Please come out, I can restore your face." Still no answer.
Continuing to speak through the door, the doctor then told the husband what the wife had told him: "She wants me to disfigure her face so that you will talk to her."
There was a brief moment of silence. Then, the doorknob turned and the husband came out and began a new life.
You say, “Man, that was some love that wife had for her husband!” Yes, it was. But I want to tell you about someone who loves you more than that! I want to tell you about Jesus - He was disfigured to prove to you that you are loved and that He cares and that he wants you to come to Him and let Him restore your hope!
If you have never made a faith commitment to Jesus to make Him your friend you can do that today. He has already taken the initiative to be your friend. He left heaven and became a human being just like you. He lived on this earth and faced all kinds of seemingly hopeless situations just like you face – but He never quit! He went all the way to Skull Hill and died on a cross in your place – He died to pay for all your sins. So that all the wrong things you’ve ever done could be forgiven. Then they placed Him in a grave. But He conquered death for you.
You see, the Bible says the wages of our sin is death. Jesus paid that price for you. If you will ask Him, He will become your friend. But you must ask. He won’t force Himself upon you.
Jesus says, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3:20 (NLT)
You must open the door to your heart and life in order to accept Jesus as your friend. You can do that today in just a few moments when we pray.
If you’ve already made a faith commitment to accept Jesus as your friend the today He wants you to pray persistently, to always trust God. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. If you’ve been tempted to lose hope in some area of your life you may want to get up today and start over. Christ is willing to help you if you will recommit your life to consistent friendship with Him and to a persistent lifestyle of prayer.