Theme: Pray Continuously
Justice for the faithful
18 Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, 5 but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” 6 The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? 8 I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”
Thoughts on the passage:
I was playing a game of cards with my family recently when my sister interrupted the play to talk about some of the struggles she was having getting people to sign-up for things at church. She wanted our take on what she might do to get better results. It was both a chance for her to ask advice but also a chance for her to share some of what was causing her stress in her life. It also had nothing to do with the game we were playing, or even what we might have been talking about before then. At the same time, it did not really feel out of place. Maybe I am wrong, but I suspect that many of us have conversations just like this one. Maybe it occurs in the midst of watching television, or helping with the dishes, or whatever. When we are with people we are close to, it is easy to flow from the mundane to the in-depth without a lot of fanfare or transition.
Do we pray like this? Do we pray to God like we are just picking up on an ongoing conversation we have been having for hours or days or months? I suspect that if you are like me, when we think of praying we think of the formal stuff. We think of praying before meals. We think of praying at church. We think of prayers that are ritualistic, structured and formal. When I was a kid I was taught to pray before bed each night. The pattern was either to pray for my family and then pray for the things that happened that day OR to pray for the things that happened that day and then pray for my family. Too often I think our prayers become these structured things we do. They are formal in action. They are clear requests that we are making to God. They end up feeling transactional in nature. We do the obligatory prayer to God for our failings or the regular prayer of thanksgiving over our food. All of it Is regular and formal. None of it cuts deeper into the real stuff that is going on in our life.
Look at a few snippets from the Psalms. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22) “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say continually ‘where is your God?’” (Psalm 42) Here we see a depth of pain and anguish being brutally shared with God. Gone are the niceties we often put in our prayers. Instead we hear the real emotion of people who are sharing their deep struggles with God.
Jesus tells the story of a woman who daily goes before a judge, pleading her case. Even though the judge has no respect for God or for others, he eventually yields and grants her justice. Jesus then explains that God is far more willing and able to give justice than this judge. Is there enough faith in the people to turn to God? Jesus leaves us to wonder if we would be found wanting in this department.
How often are we guilty of keeping our prayers structured, formal, and limited? Instead we should be thinking about everything we do as an on-going conversation with God. Do we use each and every moment as a chance to bring God closer in our life? Do we let God into our whole lives or are there parts that we keep from God?
During the last week there has been talk around the idea of “locker room talk.” It really is just one name for a variety of “safe spaces” we create. Whether you call it “Girls’ Night,” or “Guy Talk,” or “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas,” it is all a part of the same idea that some things only happen in a small group and don’t get shared outside that group. I am all for privacy, but do we include God in those groups or exclude God? Is everything we say and do part of our prayer to God, or are there parts we do not want God to hear?
Real relationships are free-flowing, they do not just happen during formal structured times, but occur over the course of time. They are like a conversation that gets picked up and left off over and over during the course of a day, never truly resolved and never really abandoned either. These sorts of relationships take time. They start with structure, like family meals together and deliberate sharing of the highs and lows of the day, but they are at their richest when those conversations come up naturally during times of need and not just at prescribed moments.
It is my hope that we can have that same sort of rich relationship with God. I would go further to say that I believe that God wants such a rich relationship with us. In the movie “Bruce Almighty,” prayers to God are depicted much like emails, things that we write on our own time and God replies to when God has a chance. That is not the kind of back and forth that God wants with us. God wants a real relationship, one that involves sitting down together face to face and talking about everything or just talking about nothing. The question is whether we are willing to do the work to have that sort of relationship. What is involved in that work? First, we need to do those formal things to build our relationship with God, which means things like going to worship, attending Bible studies, and spending time in prayer. It also means we need to be ready to move into something deeper, going beyond the motions to start trusting God with things.
My wife and I were dating long distance and so we had to do things differently in terms of the formal parts of dating, but we both knew the relationship was getting to be real when she called me during a moment of distress. She called because I had become that person she wanted to share in the distress with. God wants to be the person we share in that distress with, but it comes when we are ready to trust God.
That is the key question that Jesus is asking us: are we ready to trust God? The woman in the story goes to the judge with her case not because he is a good person, but because she believes he can make a difference. God is good and God can make a difference, yet do we bring our problems to God? Too often, I am guilty of going it alone. I might bring some things to God, but I am also prone to just going it alone. In doing so I am hurting my relationship with God. In doing so I am failing to trust in God. “Pray continually,” Jesus tells us. Let everything we do and say be a part of our relationship with God.
Questions to Ponder:
What are the ways that you like to pray?
What are barriers that keep you from praying more often?
When is a time God answered your prayers?
God, you are ever more ready to listen than we are to speak. Free up our tongues that we might empty our hearts to you. Strengthen our faith that we might trust better in you. Help us to be faithful followers of you in all the ways that we speak, act, and live. Amen