Precious and Important

Isaiah 43:1-7

Grace mercy and peace are always for you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

What or who is so valuable in your life, you would give your own life away – sacrifice yourself – to protect them or to achieve your overriding goal? Isaiah 43 shows us a profound truth from the heart of the eternal Almighty God: each person on the face of the earth is precious and important to God. You are precious and important to God.

You are precious and important to God, first because you have been created by Him, gifted and beautiful for His purposes.

Recently our daughter Heather and her husband Greg had a new baby boy, Louie Robert Wencl. It was fascinating that in the aftermath of the arrival of this little boy, our daughter Heather felt compelled to apologize to the nurse in the delivery room. “I just want to say I’m sorry for the things I might’ve said during the intensity of the pain of labor and delivery,” she said. It seems that in the middle of her contractions she said, “I can’t do it. Just pull him out. Just pull him out.” And at another time she said, “I’m not sure how this baby is going to come out, but he’s not coming come out this way!”

We might laugh at what her pain-induced comments would bring, especially you ladies who have had the joy and privilege of giving birth to a child. But the truth is, this little child born to them resonates with the profound truth for the birth of every child – life is precious and important. It is God’s gift.

You are precious and important. The day you arrived, God sang in the heavens because you were born! You have a distinct and important purpose in the overall eternal plan of God. You are gifted for God’s purpose. You are as unique as the fingerprints on your hands. You are precious and important because God created you and gave you life.

Second, you are precious and important to God because He has redeemed you. If someone were to kidnap your child, your grandchild, or a dear friend, what would you give to get them back? What would you be willing to pay? We talk about redeeming a pop bottle or a pop can. That is, the original manufacturer of the bottle or can now wishes to redeem it back. God paid the cost to redeem you so you would be brought back to Him.

Implicit in the word “redemption” is the cost of being delivered from that which holds you back, from being reconciled. It also means a release from bondage. In the word, we understand what it means to be restored to our original intended purpose.

God has redeemed us, but at what cost? How precious, important, and valuable are you to God? He was willing to give His very own Son. Jesus, who was as all-powerful as God, willingly gave up His divine power, authority, and privilege to humble Himself. He came to where we are to sacrifice His life so we might be redeemed. Our sins and rebellion have been atoned at the cost of Jesus’ life. He bought our freedom.

Wouldn’t it be a paradox if someone paid the price for a person who is in prison to go free, yet the prisoner chose to remain imprisoned in the jail cell? God says you are precious and important by the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross. You’ve been redeemed. However, you are also free from the power of sin to live a new life and be restored to your original purpose.

The third reason you are precious and important to God is He has called you by name and declares you belong to Him. “You are mine,” He says.

Now the overarching truth of Jesus reconciling the world to Himself becomes specifically personal when God comes to us through the Holy Spirit. He whispers our name as He calls us to His love, into a relationship where, by faith, we share our journey of life with God day by day. We are not only redeemed, but we also are called by God the Father to belong to His family and live the journey of life belonging to God every day.

The fourth reason we are precious and important to God is He promises that through the turmoil of life, through the challenges of life when the water feels like it is going to drown us, or the fire of the intensity of suffering is most difficult, God says I will see you through, and I will be with you.

It’s critical to remember this fundamental principle of faith – we are precious and important to God – because the enemy of our soul – Satan – tells us the opposite. Satan tells us we are worthless and are of no significance to anyone. We are beyond love. But God reaffirms you as precious and important to Him. I have created you for my purposes and my glory. I have redeemed you at the cost of my Son Jesus Christ, and I have called you by name into a relationship of love in my family. You belong to me.

The fifth reason all people are precious and important to God in this passage is it reveals a big vision of God gathering us back to Himself in love. We can understand the application of this promise in many ways.

For the people of God who were living in exile after their defeat at the hands of Babylon, they were living in a foreign country under the control of a foreign nation, wondering if they would ever know what it is to come home again. They don’t know if they will ever have a relationship with God like they used to have the privilege of knowing.

God says definitively in a promise, “I am going to gather you back to myself from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west. All my precious people will be gathered back to myself.”

We can also understand this promise of God gathering us to Himself as the overarching continual call of God. By the work of the Holy Spirit, we believe our sins are forgiven and come back to God as our creator and Father.

Ultimately, of course, we would believe God has promised to gather us to our eternal home. Like Jesus said, “Don’t be troubled, I will come and receive you to Myself that where I am, you may be also” (John 14:3). God wants to bring us back so we would revel in His love and live life in the confidence that we are God’s people in this world.

In his book, Rebel With a Cause, Franklin Graham tells what it was like growing up as the eldest son of the world’s most famous preacher since Jesus. The expectations for Franklin were great. Rules were rigid, and by his admission, Franklin Graham was a rebel. Franklin rejected every value and virtue his parents stood for – including the Christian faith – in his youth. He ran from God and rebelled to the extent that he did almost every expression of immorality you can think of.

No scene in his book is more poignant than the day Franklin was kicked out of his conservative college in Texas for taking a coed off-campus for a week, piloting a rented plane, and journeying to Florida. Upon his return, he was expelled and had to go home to his parents. Here’s what Franklin writes in the book:

The drive home from Texas was dreary. Maybe by driving slow I was prolonging the inevitable; I would have to face my parents. I knew they had to be disappointed in me – I was! They had invested a lot of money in my education, and now I had messed up.

I drove through the gate and started up the road to our home imagining the lecture my parents would give me. So many other times when I’d come home I could hardly wait to say hello to everyone. But no joy this time. I felt so bad when I finally reached home. Then I saw mama standing on the front porch, and I wanted to run and hide in the nearest hole. It was one of the few times I can remember not wanting to look her in the eye.

When I walked up to her, my body felt limp. I barely have the nerve to lift my head or extend my arms for a hug. But I didn’t need to. Mama wrapped her arms around me and, with a smile, she said, “Welcome home, Franklin.”

Hear these words again from Isaiah 43:

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, who formed you, I have called you by name. Don’t be afraid. I have redeemed you. You are mine. You are precious in my sight and honored and I love you.”

The love of God is a truth far exceeding understanding. Who can fully fathom God’s love for rebels? God says you and I are always precious and important to Him. We are so precious He was willing to give Jesus Christ, His Son, to die so we might be reconciled into a relationship with Him.

So today, God in the name of Jesus again says to you, Welcome home. God finds us wherever we are, wherever we have wandered, whatever we have done, however, we might have fallen, whatever state of brokenness or struggle or rebellion we are in. In the love that persists to invite, God offers you grace, the forgiveness of all your mistakes, failures, and sins. God offers you mercy and the joy of embracing the truth that you are precious and important to Him.

How will you respond? To not respond is to respond. Wouldn’t it be better if we all said again, Lord Jesus, I gladly receive what I don’t deserve? I gladly receive your forgiveness. Thank you for dying on the cross. I gratefully accept your mercy, and I ask you to come into my life and make me new. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

The Search

Luke 15:1-10

I recently watched the rerun of a movie entitled Saving Private Ryan. It was quite a hit in the theaters years ago. I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it again.

The movie is about a platoon of soldiers during World War II who have been given the assignment of finding a certain Private in the war zone shortly after D-day. The reason was his other two brothers had been killed in battle, and Private Ryan was now the one remaining son. The military powers that be felt it was necessary to get the last surviving son home safely to the family farm.

The entire movie is about the search for Private Ryan – the obstacles this platoon of soldiers faced and overcame, and the philosophical discussions and arguments between them about the value of one person. Was this mission really worth risking their lives? It took great sacrifice to find him, but they finally did. This movie has a powerful theme regarding the value of life.

Jesus paints for us a saving-Private-Ryan type of picture in today’s parables. He told these stories to His critics to explain God’s purposes and the depths of His love. The religious elite of the day had been criticizing Jesus. They didn’t like that He associated with crooked tax collectors, traders, and notorious sinners of the community – people who are considered real scum of the day. (I imagine if Jesus were to appear today, we would find Him among drug dealers, thieves, pimps, and other despicable types, and we would scratch our heads.)

People in Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to come, of course, but not this! Certainly, the Messiah would never hang out with such unclean and undesirable types of people. Jesus seemed to almost be attracted to the morally corrupt. He ate dinner with them, which was a symbol of acceptance. His attitude mystified those highly religious Pharisees and scribes. They questioned the legitimacy of His ministry and complained about His actions. So Jesus responded with a couple of stories.

The first story was about a shepherd with a hundred sheep. At the end of the day, he counted the sheep and found one was missing. So he left the ninety-nine with an associate and went out to search for the one missing sheep. When he found it, he rejoiced, placed it upon his shoulders, and carried the sheep all the way home. Once he got home, he called the neighbors and had a celebration party. Jesus said This is what happens in heaven when a lost person is found, when he repents and comes home to the heavenly Father. God celebrates.

Then Jesus went on to tell another story of a woman who had ten coins and lost one. She turned the house upside down looking for that one coin. Finally, she found it. She was so thrilled that she called everyone around the neighborhood to come celebrate with her. Jesus said This is what happens whenever a lost person comes home. Heaven celebrates!

With these parables, Jesus justified His actions to those who had been criticizing Him. He was, in essence, saying, Lost people matter to God. In fact, everyone matters to God! God loves each and every one of us and wants us for a relationship. The God who sent us Jesus is the heavenly Father who longs to have His children back home again. He created us for Himself, and He loves us.

Someone once said these parables don’t set out to present the Gospel but to vindicate it. Jesus is defending His association with lost sinners by saying they matter to God.

A common thread runs throughout these two parables. First, something very valuable is missing. Then an all-out search is made to find the missing item. Finally, when it is found, there is great joy and celebration.

Likewise, our Father in heaven looks at us as very valuable individuals. To the world, you may be just a name on a computer, or a printout, or a number in a phonebook. But to God, you are valuable. You are His creation and precious in His sight. God has great plans for your life – to bring you to Himself, to change you and transform you. But He values you now, even as you are.

Because the sheep and coin were of great value, they needed to be found when they were lost. How do we become lost from God?

A person is lost when they have no relationship with God. They don’t know or trust in Jesus Christ. The Bible says they are eternally lost if they die without Jesus in their life. They will go to hell and be eternally lost. Scripture is clear on this.

An individual who has had a relationship with God, but then decides to go it on their own without God is lost. When a person tries to run their own life, they get lost. I can tell you from personal experience. There was a time in my life when I was really lost from God. Fortunately, God in His mercy sent someone to lead me back to Him.

Some of us are led astray by distractions as sheep do. They don’t just suddenly decide to leave the shepherd but nibble themselves lost. They move from one green area to the next until finally they look up and realize they don’t know where they are. They are out of sight of the shepherd.

I was reminded of this image again in the park the other day when I was with my grandchildren. Little Johnny, distracted by music, ran off to get close to the musicians in the band. We had to go fetch him back. This is often what happens to many of us. We get so wrapped up in the busyness of life as we pursue things that we think really matter. Then we look up and suddenly realize God seems a million miles away. We’ve nibbled ourselves lost, you could say.

Jesus made a point to the Pharisees that there is a loss more tragic than any other. It is the lostness of not knowing you’re lost. The evidence is when you become callous and quit caring about the spiritual health of people around you. You become arrogant and self-righteous. You count on yourself to have a right relationship with God.

These religious officials were lost and didn’t even know it. The Bible tells us “We all like sheep have scattered and gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). We are lost sheep and lost coins who are valued, need to be found and brought back to our heavenly Father on a regular basis. The good news is God wants you. You matter to Him, no matter what you’ve done with your life. When you are found by Him and come back to Him, He rejoices and throws a party with the angels. Can’t you just see it – your name on a banner in heaven?

Is God looking for you these days, because He wants you? You are valuable and precious in His sight. He gave His Son Jesus Christ to die on a cross so you might have a relationship with Him. You matter.

Something else here needs to be taken seriously as well. After His resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Just as lost people matter to Jesus, so they matter to us as His Church, no matter how messy their lives may be. It is much easier to write people off and let them go. However, Jesus invites us into the mess, for each individual really does matter to God. As God’s representative, you are being sent to find lost sheep to bring home to the Father.

Did you notice in the parable, by the way, that when the shepherd finds the sheep, he places it upon his shoulders rejoicing? Jesus took the burden upon His shoulders. He took the long walk home carrying the sheep when He bore our burdens on His body to the cross to save us so we might have forgiveness and be brought home. Scripture tells us that He counted it as joy. “. . . for the joy set before him endured the cross . . .” for us (Hebrews. 12:2).

Jesus calls us to experience the same sort of joy in our lives as we strike out to find the lost and bring them back to the Father. He calls us to carry the burden of bringing lost people home. The good news of the Gospel is not to be kept to ourselves or from those who are messed up and on their own. You and I are to take this calling seriously.

I believe the disciples listening to Jesus that day recognized His teaching to ignore the boundaries set up by the religious elite and instead go after those who were lost in God’s sight.

I would like to believe, as you probably do too, that everyone is going to go to heaven, but it’s just not true. The Bible states clearly that no matter how much we want it to be true, it isn’t. If we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, ignore the fact that people can be lost eternally, we are being unfaithful to the One who gave His life for us. For they matter to Him, He loves them, and He wants us to love them back into the kingdom.

I leave you with this thought. If someone in your life today does not know Jesus Christ or has gotten themselves lost with the distractions and temptations of life, I urge you to be a blessing in his or her life. Let them know the Father is looking for them, and a party in heaven is waiting for them because it is. Joy is awaiting you as you carry out that mission. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

A Story for Diane

Luke 18:9-14

Many years ago, I was on a plane headed to Montana. My mother was deathly ill in the Billings hospital, and I was headed home to be with her, my dad, and my sister. I had brought a book along to keep my mind off the situation at hand and make the time go by fast. I planned to quietly keep to myself on the flight, but I guess God had some other plans for me.

Seated next to me was a talkative woman in her mid-50s. She introduced herself to me as Diane, and before long we were having a conversation. She told me about her background. She had lived a fairly difficult life with some broken relationships and disappointments along the way. When she learned I was a pastor, she told me that, although she was very spiritual, she was not in a church and felt no particular need to be part of one. “I figure I’m doing good enough.”

Of course, that statement opened the door for me to turn the conversation a bit. So I said to her, “That’s interesting. Can I ask you a question – if this plane went down tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?”

“Sure,” she replied with confidence. When I asked her on what basis she was so sure about her answer, she responded, “Because I’ve lived a good life.”

If you were sitting in my seat at that time, what would you have said to Diane? Nothing? Maybe nod your head in agreement, or change the subject? Well, Jesus told a parable for Diane and for us as well.

Remember, Jesus’ parables are earthly stories containing a heavenly truth. Luke 18 contains a wonderful, life-saving truth. Let’s examine what is called, The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

In this story, two people had come church to pray following the atonement sacrifices made in the temple. The first one had lived a very good life. He worked hard to keep every letter of God’s laws and statutes. He was a Pharisee, part of an elite group known for their deep religiosity.

The second man had lived a very bad life. He was a local tax collector (also known as publicans) who were known to be swindlers and cheats. People regarded him as a traitor against his own people, for he worked for the hated Roman government, which had taken over the country. This man came to pray in the temple knowing he didn’t have a leg to stand on before a holy God.

Two prayers were being offered in this parable, and they were very different from each other. The first man stood in the front of the congregation and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” He’s saying, Lord, look how good I am! I’m so much better than anyone else. I’m sure you and I are good with one another. It was almost an attitude of, God, you’re lucky to have me on your team. He was self-righteous, presumptuous, and arrogant in his prayer, very full of himself.

His attitude reminds of a statement written by a pastor and author John MacArthur. “Some people get so caught up in their own holiness that they look at the Trinity for a possible vacancy.”

Meanwhile, the publican (tax collector) stood far off in the back. He knew he was not worthy to come close to the altar or the other worshipers. He wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat on his chest, which was a sign of contrition and anguish in the Middle East culture. “God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he cried. His prayer was reminiscent of Psalm 51, written by David. He knew his uncleanliness, his sinfulness before this holy God to whom he prayed. So he came in deep contrition and faith in the mercy of God. So we have it: two men with two prayers.

Jesus ended the story by saying there were two answers to these men’s prayers. One man – the tax collector – went home justified. He made right with God, forgiven and accepted. But the Pharisee did not. Jesus concluded, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The truth Jesus is making to those who trust in themselves is this: not one of us is righteous on our own to approach our holy God at the throne of grace. It is dangerous to trust in yourself for a right relationship with God. Come humbly before your God, begging for mercy and grace.

This parable is basically about a statement Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:). Being poor in spirit means recognizing you are deeply in debt before God and cannot even begin to redeem yourself. Only God’s free generosity at infinite cost to Him can save you.

The tax collector is a picture of the poor in spirit. He sees himself for who he is – a debtor before God, unable to buy himself out of trouble, having to rest on the mercy of God. He receives God’s mercy and is justified by Jesus. He is made right with God.

Martin Luther once said, “It’s the beggars before God who are the blessed. The ones who humbly approach the throne of grace confessing that they are justified before God, who count on his mercy and grace.”

So when it comes to being right with God and receiving forgiveness and eternal life in His kingdom, this parable invites us to throw away our spiritual resumes, which we think are so impressive, because He is not impressed. All our good works are nothing more than filthy rags in His sight.

Some people have a hard time swallowing that. Perhaps it’s human pride. Perhaps it’s a lack of faith. Perhaps it’s just the way you grew up. Our culture teaches that you get what you deserve. Tim Keller, in his book, “Generous Justice” talks about people who resist Christ’s teachings concerning our spiritual poverty before God.

“On the contrary, you believe that God owes you some things—he ought to answer your prayers and to bless you for the many good things you’ve done. Even though the Bible doesn’t use the term, by inference we can say that you are “middle-class in spirit.” You feel that you’ve earned a certain standing with God through your hard work.”

They are like the Pharisees.

But Jesus shows us in this parable that it is the one who comes empty-handed, realizing the righteousness, the holiness, the purity, the mercy, grace, justice of God, the one who recognized his total unworthiness, uncleanliness, helplessness before Him, and trusts in His grace, He is the who will come away justified and made righteous. When the tax collector prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” he showed an awareness that his very soul was in danger for eternity. He was like the prophet Isaiah who had a heavenly vision of God and cried out in the temple,

“Woe is me. I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I . . . have beheld God in his temple” (Isaiah 6:5).

The tax collector walked away justified by God, but not the poor, deluded Pharisee. He was unaware of the danger he was in before his holy God as he trusted in himself and not God.

The truth is, like the tax collector and the Pharisee, we cannot stand before our holy God on our own merit. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. Not one of us is righteous before Him now, no matter how good or religious we’ve been. God is holy and just and detests our sin, which keeps us separated from Him for eternity. It is beyond our human capabilities to be right with God.

However, God is merciful and forgiving to those who come to Him as sinners in need of mercy. First John 1:8-9 says,

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

God justifies and forgives the sinner at His own expense. How so? At the cross. The Son of God, Jesus, the righteous One, who never sinned, the obedient Son, paid for the sins and debts of the unrighteous so we might be made righteous and clean in God’s sight. As we think of the horrific crucifixion of our Savior, who suffered the punishment and wrath of God toward sin, we see the serious nature of our sin and the amazing grace of God. He is the one who justifies us as we trust and receive Jesus Christ into our lives.

Perhaps you are asking yourself today, If God is so merciful and gracious, then why bother to be good before Him? Why not just live like the dickens and ask for mercy at the end? Fair question I suppose, and it’s been asked before.

If you turn to the sixth chapter of Roman, you will find the same question being asked. Theologian Donald Bloesch offers us a helpful answer.

“The Christian alternative to Pharisaism is not Publicanism but costly discipleship. The laxity of the Publican is just as repugnant to God as the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. In the parable it is not the Publican as such but the repentant Publican who is praised.”

Back to my conversation with Diane who is trusting in herself for entrance into God’s heaven. I asked, “So Diane, what do you think is ‘good enough’?”

She replied, “I don’t know. I guess I’m not sure.”

I responded, “So then, you’re not really sure that God will receive you into His heaven, right?”

“Well, I’ve tried to be the best person I can be. I figure that’s good enough for God.”

“You know, Jesus once said, ‘Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ Would you say you’re perfect?”

“Of course not.”

“Neither am I. But here is some good news for imperfect people like us: Heaven is a gift!”

“You must have to do something for it,” she answered.

I explained, “You would think so, but heaven cannot possibly be earned. We will never be good enough on our own and have a right relationship with God.” Then I told her about what Jesus did for her on the cross and His resurrection. As we place our trust in Him and what He has done for us, as we lay down our trophies, we are forgiven. The gift of heaven is ours.

“You know, I’m going home to be with my mom. I am not sure at this point if she is dead or alive. But I’ll tell you one thing I do know, if she is dead, she is in heaven – not because she deserves it – not one of us does – but because she trusts in Jesus. That is my comfort and my consolation right now as I fly home. Diane, trust in Jesus and not yourself.”

She looked a little skeptical as she considered my words and responded, “I don’t know, but you have given me something to think about.” The conversation ended shortly thereafter. When the plane landed in Billings, we went on our own ways. I prayed for Diane as she walked away. She was in danger but unaware of it, for she trusted in herself instead of God’s grace.

The world is full of Dianes. Some are even churchgoers, I’ve learned from personal experience as a pastor. They trust in themselves to make things right with God thinking and hoping they are good enough. They set their own standards for what’s good enough, or they compare their goodness with others’ goodness and figure it is enough. But they are in eternal danger.

I end this message was two appeals.

1. If you are counting on yourself, drop the spiritual resume you’ve been depending on to impress God – it’s worthless. Instead, humbly come before the throne of grace and confess your need for God’s mercy. Place your trust in Jesus Christ, the righteous one, who suffered and died so you might have righteousness and a right relationship with God for eternity. The gift of righteousness is received through trusting in Christ alone.

2. If you have received God’s grace, His gift of righteousness, then I leave you with this little story.

A former Princeton president, who had received Christ into his life, once remarked that he was now living the rest of his life as a “P.S. Thank you, God.”

I can’t think of a better way to live the rest of your life. May your life days be a “P.S. Thank you, God, for saving me.” Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

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