How to Maintain Your Spiritual Health

Luke 18:1-8

I recently read a wonderful novel entitled, “Ordinary Grace.” In a scene in the story, Nathan, who is a pastor, says to his friend and congregant, Emil who has just made a failed attempt at suicide, that he would be praying for him. Emil responds, “That’s about as useful as throwing a penny down a wishing well.”

I fear there are many Emils in the world with the same attitude about prayer. People struggle with prayer – starting with it and staying with it. I’ve seen it in my years of shepherding people in my church and sometimes even in my own life. There are a variety of reasons for these obstacles and struggles.

Unanswered prayer, for instance, causes one to give up on it and on God. A pastor friend of mine, who I have always admired, admitted to me in a conversation, “Prayer really is a mystery and a struggle for me to understand. I have more questions than answers about it, so I struggle with keeping at it myself.”

Personal pride enters into the picture. I can take care of things myself. Many Christians think they can run the race of faith on their own power. Someone said, “When we don’t pray, it is primarily because we don’t sense our need for God.” What is it about us that we think we don’t need God? Oftentimes it is pride.

Prayer is seen as a last resort in many people’s lives. When all else fails, pray. So, of course, we don’t develop the habit of praying regularly.

Some of us don’t pray because we’re not really sure how to pray. Therefore, we never do it.

All this carries a danger with it. It can hurt one’s spiritual health and cause us to lose our focus on God. We miss out on getting to know Him better. A personal relationship with God brings peace and power as we learn of His faithfulness in all circumstances. Not praying is actually deadly to our faith. Jesus knew this so He told His disciples a parable about the importance of praying.

We find this parable attached to a conversation Jesus was having with His disciples about the rough times ahead for them and for all disciples in the future as we wait for Christ’s second coming. Luke tells us that Jesus told this parable to encourage them to pray always and not lose heart. It’s been entitled, The Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge.

“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.”

He was shameless, had no respect for anyone, was crooked, and gave his attention only to those who could offer him something under the table. Otherwise, he ignored people who came to him for help.

In the city was a widow who was been taken advantage of by someone – an adversary perhaps, a landlord – who knows? She needed justice. She needed help. Widows in those days were vulnerable and high on the to-be-protected-in-society list in the Old Testament. She had the courage to approach the judge in his court, which was male-dominated, and plead for justice but he ignored her, for she had nothing to offer him.

For a while, he refused but she kept after him. Finally he changed his mind. “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

Jesus then gave a commentary on the parable.

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?”

Jesus is asking a rhetorical question of us, and He is using a teaching method that’s called, “How much more?”  If this corrupt, uncaring, atheistic judge can be convinced to do something for the widow, then imagine how much more your God, who is the complete opposite – who is good and just and loves you – will respond to His chosen ones when they come to Him in prayer.

Notice how Jesus describes the kind of praying we do: “crying day and night,” fervently, passionately, showing absolute dependence on God. He is not some dour, ungracious deity who needs to be badgered into compliance to do things our way. He is the complete opposite of the unjust judge in the parable.

We must keep in mind, by the way, that Jesus had already taught the disciples how to pray the Lord’s Prayer back in Luke 11. This prayer begins, “Our Father who art in heaven.” He’s taught that God is a loving, powerful Father. He is to be approached with confidence as little children come to a loving father.

This parable is meant to encourage His followers to always pray and not lose heart, in all circumstances, trusting that our heavenly Father loves us and will answer. Maybe He will not always answer in the way we expect and maybe not in our time line, but He does always answer. Unlike the judge in the parable, your Father cares about you.

Jesus’ whole life shows us the importance of prayer. He constantly leaned upon His heavenly Father. It is a testimony. He believed in the power and necessity of prayer in His own life because He knew the kind of being the Great Hearer of Prayer is: loving and kind, all-powerful, wise, and very faithful. Jesus wants you to live the same kind of life He lived – one of prayer – constantly, heavily, leaning on God in prayer.

And remember, as Jesus talks about God’s chosen ones who call upon Him day and night, He Himself is also described as God’s “Chosen One.” Jesus is talking about Himself here as well. He will soon prove the truth of this statement, “He will quickly grant them justice.” He will go to the cross to pay for our sins. But He will be vindicated. God’s will shall be done. He will be justified quickly on Easter when God raises Him from the dead.

Finally, Jesus finishes His teaching with an interesting question.

“Yet when the Son of Man comes . . .”

That was the title Jesus liked to use for Himself.

“When the Son of Man comes again . . .”

He’s coming again, you know.

“ . . . will he find faith on earth?”

When Jesus returns in power at His second coming, will He find anyone with faith left on earth?

Prayer is important to our faith life. It has been said that prayer is our lifeline to the unseen world, which lies over and above the curtain of our senses. The sense of God will quickly fade from the heart of a person who gives up praying. Martin Luther prayed, “Dear Lord, although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without you. Help me, or I am lost.”

In this parable, Jesus points out to us the importance of prayer for kingdom workers who trust in Christ. It is vital that we keep on praying for the sake of our faith in all circumstances. Jesus is implying that we cannot make this faith journey without prayer, without God. Prayer is the hospital for the soul. It is the tool that enables a person to know God better – more personally and intimately. It’s the gift, given by God, to carry us through the roughest of times and keep us strong in the Lord.

In his book, “Prayer,” Tim Keller testifies to this.

“In the second half of my adult life, I discovered prayer. I had to.

“In the fall of 1999, I taught a Bible study course on the Psalms. It became clear to me that I was barely scratching the surface of what the Bible commanded and promised regarding prayer. Then came the dark weeks in New York after 9/11, when our whole city sank into a kind of corporate clinical depression, even as it rallied. For my family the shadow was intensified as my wife, Kathy, struggled with the effects of Crohn’s disease. Finally, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“At one point during all this, my wife urged me to do something with her we had never been able to muster the self-discipline to do regularly. She asked me to pray with her every night. Every night. She used an illustration that crystallized her feelings very well. As we remember it, she said something like this:

“‘Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.’”

They prayed. God showed up.

This parable is meant to encourage Jesus’ followers to always pray and trust Him. Prayer is the only way to have the necessary power to carry out the mission Christ has given us as the Church. Look at the beginning of the book of Acts, if you don’t believe me. The Church was not born in a clever sermon, but at a prayer meeting. The people were praying when the Holy Spirit came.

These days the church has many organizers, but few agonizers.
Many who pay, but few who pray.
Many resters, but few wrestlers.
Many who are enterprising, but few who are interceding.

Pastor Jim Cymbala, in his book, “Breakthrough Prayer,” writes on the importance of the blessing the church needs, which will come with fervent, passionate prayer.

“When it comes to de-emphasizing prayer and the prayer meeting in churches across the land, where are the spiritual results that prove we have found a better way? I understand all the warnings about emotionalism and the importance of sound biblical exposition. But show me any place where the blessing of God is resting on churches in such fullness that large numbers of people are coming under conviction of sin and turning to the Lord in repentance and faith. Isn’t that what we all want to see? Isn’t that the blessing of God we so sorely need?”

Prayer is the source of that blessing. When Dr. Billy Graham was asked what lay behind the success of his evangelistic outreach around the world, he responded, “Prayer, prayer, prayer.”

Finally, consider this fact: It is so important for us to thrive in our praying that God gave us Jesus to be our mediator in prayer. He gave us His Holy Spirit to intercede for us as we pray. Why? Because our prayers are a big deal to God. We need prayer!

Bottom line: Keep praying!

When life is good, keep on praying.
When life is bad, keep on praying.
When you are glad, keep on praying.
When you are sad, keep on praying.
When you are on a mountaintop of joy, keep on praying.
When you are in the valley – O BOY! – keep on praying.
When you are in the light, keep on praying.
And when you’re in the night, keep on praying.

Which brings us to you. How is your faith, your spiritual health these days? Is it cooling off? Is it humdrum? Is it boring? Or is it on fire, exciting, filled with vitality?! If it is lacking power and cooling off, maybe you need to look at what place prayer is playing in your life.

Is it a steering wheel, or a spare tire in your life?
Is it a fire extinguisher only used when there is an emergency or when all else fails, or is it a constant hose of water refreshing you?
Do you pray just when you feel like it, or do you have a standing daily appointment with your heavenly Father?

Dear friends, the message from the risen Jesus Christ is clear today: Pray, Pray, and Pray some more. Be constantly in prayer. If you’re wondering how to get started, don’t just go out, buy a book, and study it. Instead pray – now! Set a time today. Put it on your daily calendar. Keep your appointment with your Father just as you keep your appointment with a doctor. And then pray.

What do you say? Prayer is a conversation. No special language is necessary. Simply talk with your heavenly Father. When you are finished talking, take time to be quiet, for He might have something to say to you.

My dear friends, your Father who loves you, who gave His Son to die for you on a cross and raised Him from the grave to rescue you from sin and death and give you life, is available. He is waiting to hear from you. Jesus has made that clear today. So PRAY as if your life depended on it. Because it does. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer