Learning About Prayer

by Sean Foster on October 20, 2013

Luke 18:1-8 (NRSV)

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “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.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘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? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’


Anyone familiar with the name Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his writing. He wrote a great deal on suffering, which was a result of spending many years in prison camps in Siberia. Along with other prisoners, Solzhenitsyn worked in the fields day after day, rain or shine, summer or winter. His life was nothing more that back breaking labor and a slow starvation towards death. In these prison camps he was reduced to such a state of despair.

On one particular day of hopelessness, it all became too much for him. He saw no reason to continue his struggle. No reason to keep on living. His life made no difference. So he gave up.

He laid his shovel on the ground and slowly he walked to a crude bench and sat down. He knew that at any moment one of the guards would order him to stand up. But he would not! And when he refused, he knew the guard would beat him to death, and probably with his own shovel. He had seen it happen to other prisoners.

As he waited with his head down, he felt a presence. And slowly he looked up and saw a skinny old prisoner squat down beside him. The man said nothing, but he took a stick, and in the dirt, the man traced a sign of the cross. Then he got up and returned to his work.

Solzhenitsyn stared at that cross traced in the dirt, and his entire perspective changed. He knew he was only one man against that all-powerful Soviet empire. Yet looking at the cross, he knew there was something greater than the Soviet Union. He knew that that simple cross represented the hope for the people. Through the power of the cross, anything was possible.

Solzhenitsyn slowly rose from his feet, picked up his shovel, and went back to work. Outwardly, nothing had changed. Inside, he had received hope. (Story taken from Luke Veronis: The Sign of the Cross)

What that skinny old prisoner did for Solzhenitsyn was to give him renewed hope. So too we need encouragement to continue in prayer, and to not lose heart.

Today we read a parable from Luke’s Gospel about the persistent widow. The traditional interpretation of this parable suggests that God is the Judge in the story and we are like the widow who persistently begs and pleads to the judge to hear the plea and grant justice. The traditional interpretation suggests that we should be like the widow in our prayer life. We should beg and plead with God and be persistent. Don’t give up! Keep praying, and God will grant justice. And there is value in being persistent in prayer, but I don’t believe this parable is to teach us about persistence in prayer.

A Rabbi tells a story about a moth and a fly. The moth and the fly were together near a window. The Moth sat one the side watching the fly relentlessly slam into the window over and over again.

Said the moth to the fly: why do you keep doing that? Can’t you see it’s not working? Why don’t you fly over to that open window, and fly through to your freedom?

No, said the fly. If I just try hard enough, I’ll find the way out. And so the fly persisted slamming against the window over and over again.

The moth was certain that the fly was small-minded, when the solution was so clear and simple. Just fly out the other window that is open.

Soon night-time was upon them and the fly lay exhausted on the windowsill, while the moth shook its head. Just then, the night time light came on at the ceiling of the room. Without thinking, the moth flew up to the light where it fizzled in its heat and fell dead to the floor.

The Rabbi writes: God opens windows and doors for us, if only we had the faith to enter. (Story shared by Galen C. Dalyrymple on Daybreaks Devotional site)

The parable that we read today from Luke’s Gospel is not about persistent prayer.

The parable goes that there was a certain judge who neither feared God, nor respected people.

We are told that a widow in the city continues to go to this judge asking for justice.

And finally after the widow going to the judge several times, the judge is exhausted and grants the woman justice so that she does not wear him out.

Jesus shares this parable to encourage us in prayer and as Jesus say’s: to not lose heart.

Now how do we interpret this parable? You see, my problem with the traditional interpretation of the judge representing God is that the judge is described as a god-less man who has no respect for anyone.

What if God was not the judge in the parable? What if we interpreted the parable so that the widow represents God? I mean, the description of the judge doesn’t seem to match God. The judge is described as god-less and doesn’t respect people. I mean, to be honest, that sounds more like us, than God.

I believe that God parallels the widow, who like Jesus is poor and yet continually, with persistence tries to break into our lives.

Listen carefully to the parable again. The judge is in every one of us.
• Is it really our purpose in prayer to wear God down, and try to make God change His mind and give us justice?
• Do we really believe that the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever is the one who needs to change?
• Do we really believe that God is blind to the justice we need?
• Do we really believe that God is unable to see our situation as well as we can?
o No, God is able to see it better than we can.

I mean, the reason I think the traditional interpretation of the parable is wrong is because Jesus reiterates:
• Will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him?
• Will he delay in helping them?
• Jesus say’s, I tell you, God will quickly grant justice.

God is nothing like the unjust judge which is the reason why I disagree with the traditional interpretation of this parable.

I think the description of the judge is a description of us. And if so, perhaps it is you and I who need to change.

Lot’s of people have difficulty with prayer. Some even refuse to pray because they think – what’s the point? God already knows what I need – why do I need to persuade God?

But prayer is not about God. Prayer is about us. God does not need to change. It is you and I who need to change. And prayer can change us. Thus the reason for Jesus words: always pray and do not lose heart. Don’t give up!

The primary effect of prayer is not on God, it is on us.
• God’s love is already unconditional.
• His justice is perfect.
• His compassion is without limit.
• God does not tarry in granting justice.
• God is ready to bless us.
The question we need to ask: Are we ready to receive?

God is not the one who needs to change. It’s you and I who need to get in line with God and His will for us. And it’s often through prayer that we change and reform and draw closer to God.

Prayer is learning to become open to God and his will for our lives. Praise be to God that He persists to help us to understand.

We need to pray always not because God is deaf to our pleas or that God is slow to answer. No! It is because opening our hearts to God is no easy matter. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit is able to break through and change us, and open us up to His will and the blessings he wants to lavish on us.

How many times I have been changed in my prayers? Not my will, but yours O God.

Of course, there are many things that prevent God from answering our prayers.
• Sin is not the only obstacle to answered prayer, but sometimes it is our attitude that needs to change.
• Sometimes it is pride. Insisting that it must be our way or no way, or that our way is the only way, prevents God from answering our prayers.
• Sometimes it is doubt that gets in the way.
• Sometimes it is because we feel unworthy.
Persistent prayer… Praying always.. can… and will… and does…. change us.
• To deal with our sin.
• To change our attitudes.
• To take away our pride.
• To strengthen our faith.
• And to build up our self-esteem.

Give it a try….

One more story before I close today.

A girl was watching a holy man who was praying at the edge of a river. When he finished praying, the girl approached him and asked him: Will you teach me to pray?

The man studied the girls face and finally agreed to her request. He took her to the river and they waded to the middle. He then instructed the girl to lean over so that her face was just above the water. And the girl did just as she was told.

The man then pushed the girls head under the water. Soon she struggled to free herself. Once she caught her breath she asked: What did you do that for?

The man replied, that was your first lesson.

What do you mean, replied the girl.

He answered, when you long to pray as much as you long to breath, then I will be able to teach you to pray. (Story found in sermon preached by the Reverend Jean Niven Lenk entitled: Divine Persistence)


Previous post:

Next post: