How is your prayer life? Sometimes we wonder about the effectiveness of prayer. For instance, a fellow named Randy who tells the story about praying for his mother when she was dying. He asked God to give her eighteen more years of life. He remembered a prayer that King Hezekiah in the Old Testament had prayed when he found out he was dying and asked for more years. The king wept bitterly before the Lord and asked for fifteen more years. And the Lord granted his request.
So Randy began to pray for his mother. “Eighteen more years, Lord.” But God didn’t give her eighteen more years. Not even eighteen more months or even eighteen days. Within eighteen hours his mother had passed away. “I asked myself the question,” Randy said, “Does God not love me? Have I not served him like Hezekiah did? Did he not see my tears when I turned my face to the wall and wept? Why did God come through for Hezekiah, but not for me?”
Many of you may know the story of Gracia and Martin Burnam, missinaries who were held captive by terrorists in the Philippines. A few years ago they were taken captive and, during their rescue, Martin was killed. In her book, In the Presence of My Enemies, Gracia wrote, “Sometimes I wonder, ÔWhy did Martin die when everyone was praying he wouldn’t? Why did the scriptures lead you to believe that if you pray in a certain way, you’ll get what you pray for? People all over the world were praying that we both would get out alive, but we didn’t.'”
Listen to this father as he prayed for his fourteen-year-old son battling leukemia. As he prayed day after day, a song written about his prayer time goes like this: “Can you hear me? Am I getting through tonight? Can you see him? Can you make him feel alright? See, he’s not just anyone; he’s my son.”
Have you ever felt that way? “Can you hear me, God? Am I getting through to you?” That, sometimes, can be very discouraging when we feel that he’s not hearing us. We wonder if we should just give up.
I came across a story about a journalist who was assigned to the Jerusalem bureau and took an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. Everyday, as she looked out her window, she would see an old Jewish man praying vigorously. So one day the journalist introduced herself to the old man. She said, “You come here everyday to the wall, I noticed. How long have you done that, and what are you praying for?”
The old man replied, “I have come here everyday for twenty-five years. In the morning I pray for world peace and the brotherhood of man. I go home, I have lunch, and I come back to pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”
The journalist is amazed. Twenty-five years! “How does it make you feel to come here everyday and pray for these things?”
The old man looked at her sadly and said, “Some days it’s like I’m talk to a wall.”
Sometimes, when we are really honest with ourselves, we walk away from prayer time feeling like we have just been talking to a wall. Have you ever wondered, “Can you hear me, God? Am I getting through?” Questioning, wondering, thinking, Why bother? Maybe I should just give up.
Let me assure you, you are in good company when you feel that way. We have biblical examples of that fact. We look at the Book of Job. Job was a fellow who had lost his health, wealth, family, and everything else any person could possibly lose. He had several prayers throughout the book of Job and one of them has this line, “Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy, God?”
Remember King David. He was a Psalm writer and a man who was called “a man after God’s own heart.” Listen to his prayer in Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me; forever?”
Jesus knew there would be moments like that in the lives of his followers. We all face bumps, glitches, and disappointments in our lives as we await his return. So He told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart. It is the parable of the unfeeling judge and the widow. He told about a judge who had no fear of God, and, therefore, no respect for God’s word of judgment. Because he didn’t fear God, there were no absolutes except his own. He did not care for people and held no accountability to anyone. He was a hard-hearted individual, looking out for number one and what others could do for him. Jesus referred to him as an unjust judge, which meant that he was not fair in his dealings with people. Perhaps he was easily bribed and ruled in whatever way would help him the most.
The widow in this parable was different from widows in modern day United States. This widow was at the bottom of the social ladder back in those days. She had no job, no education, nobody to provide for her unless she had a husband, a son, or a son-in-law. She was fairly helpless, and if she didn’t have any of those three persons in her life, she could possibly end up in the street like a bag lady.
But there is something else we see in her; she was scrappy, and determined. She went to the judge and asked for help. “There’s someone harassing me, and I need your help.” The judge threw her out the door. But she was bound and determined to have the judge rule in her favor, so she began to show up all the time and kept bothering him. “Judge, help me!” she’d cry out to him. She became a real pest in his life.
One day the judge said, “She’s wearing me out. I’m going to give her what she wants.” Jesus used this parable to teach his disciples a study in opposites.
Keep in mind that this story is a parable and not an allegory. God is not the unjust judge in this story; we are not the widow. Jesus had been teaching his disciples for many chapters before you get to Luke 18 that God who is a Heavenly Father to whom we can turn and know he cares for us. We don’t have to pester him like an obnoxious person in order to get his attention. We are not that widow in God’s sight. Jesus said, “You are his chosen ones, his children.” God loves his children. So, of course, Jesus says we can expect that our Heavenly Father will answer our cries. Unlike the judge, He loves us and wants us to call upon him. Sometimes, though, we learn his answers are not always what we expect or what we want. Sometimes God says no, or bad idea, wrong request.
Think about it. If you are a parent, what if you gave your child everything that child ever asked for? What kind of parent would you be? There are some things that your child just should not have or that would be bad for people around your child.
Sometimes God says, Let’s take it slow; not yet, not yet; you’re not ready for the answer you’re looking for. Perhaps the petition needs some shaping in order to more reflect the mind of Christ instead of the mind of a human being, which is very self-centered. Sometimes God says, Grow. I’m not going to answer this prayer the way you want me to answer it, because you’re not in a right place right now with me or with the right people around you ,and you need to do some growing. Maybe we first need an attitude change or to ask for forgiveness. God says, You need to grow.
Sometimes God says Go! He answers the prayer the way we ask.
But the truth is in all of this is that God hears our prayers. God loves it when we turn to him. We don’t have to pester him in order to get his attention; God answers our cries. We can trust that, Jesus said.
Jesus goes on to say then, “When the Son of Man returns (talking about himself), at the Day of Judgment, will he find faith?” Prayer is a faith exercise. Will he find faith in this world?
Let’s get back to the original question: How is your prayer life these days? Maybe you are losing heart and starting to shut down your time in prayer. It’s becoming less and less a priority, because, perhaps, you are discouraged. Maybe you’ve shut down your prayer life altogether and you think, If it’s to be, it’s up to me. I’m going to run my own life and take care of myself.
This story that Jesus told is a word of encouragement for you. Keep on praying. Keep the faith. Be constant in prayer, for when you’re constant in prayer, there are wonderful surprises in store for you. One of the most wonderful surprises that is in store for us as we live a life of prayer is a promise that Jesus gives in Luke 11. He’s telling his disciples to, ask, seek, and knock. He says that the end of his little talk, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” What’s the surprise he’s promising? God himself, the Holy Spirit! You soon learn that your relationship is growing, and you experience His presence in your life.
I’m reminded of a little story I heard a few years ago about a little boy who won a raffle to go into a local toy store and pick out any toy he wanted. As he walked around the aisles of the store that day, the owner of the store tagged along side of him saying, “Do you want this, do you want this?” The boy each time would shake his head. Finally, when it appeared he’d looked the whole store over, he took the owner by the hand and said, “I want you.”
The owner said, “What?”
“I want you,” the little boy said, “Because if I get you, I’ve got everything.”
It’s the same way in our relationship with the Lord. When we’ve got Him, we get the ultimate, we get everything.
As you are constant in prayer, you discover in looking back, that, though you may not have felt it, you never were alone. God was there to carry you all along. It’s like that old story about the footprints in the sand. Looking back, we see only one set of prints. But God reminds us, “Those were the days when you weren’t alone; I was carrying you.”
Sometimes, when we are constantly in prayer, God not only can change things, but change us in some wonderful ways. Mother Theresa said one time, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.”
Keep on praying. Keep on praying.
Maybe you are wondering if you can trust God on this. Let me fast forward us to the cross. Jesus is nailed to it. He’s suffering and dying. Hear his prayer: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Who is praying that prayer?
Jesus the Son of God! He’s carrying out his Father’s plan of salvation. He came to die for your sins and mine so that we could come home to the loving care of our Father who cares for each of us and desires to have a personal relationship with us.
Dear friend, if you are struggling, wondering, and feeling tempted to quit bringing yourself and your cares to God, the Word of God is appealing to you today: Don’t quit!
And if you have already given up, there is good news. The door is still open. He is waiting for you to turn around and come home. He loves you, he hears you, and he sees you. He is ready to spend some quiet time with you.