Pray Always and Do Not Lose Heart

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Luke 18:1-8

I know you have had the experience and so have I. The experience of having to call customer service or to ask for help from some corporation. Whenever I know I am about to do that, a certain dread comes over me. I think, “here we go again”… I’m about to go down the black hole of voice messages … touch tone choices… and a long journey finding someone… anyone… a human being—please – a human being… to talk to help me with my problem.

My  most recent unsuccessful journeys have led me to hours on the phone with US Air… trying to straighten out a problem they caused. It was not fair. All I could get was “well, this is our policy”… as if God had written the policy. I persisted… really I did. But they won.

Then there is trying to figure out medical bills that should have been covered but weren’t—and it was not our fault— someone forgot to code insurance the right way—but we didn’t figure it out because who can figure out those bills! Learning Greek and Hebrew were easier!

So we begin the journey– Calling the Health Insurance company (on hold 50 minutes)… telling us it is the Hospitals issue… the financial office of the hospital leading us to the  bill person with the Radiologist… that person tells us we have to talk to the Insurance company (I tell her we’ve already been there and they led us to you…)

She then tells us that we have to talk to the office… then the office tells us we have to talk to their claims person who finally says she is going to research if for us. But I know we are not done… not nearly done. It will take patience and persistence to make this work.

Which is where I connect with the widow in Jesus’ parable. She feels so powerless against the system… because she is. We don’t know her specific complaint… but we know she is looking for justice. And she has received none from their court system. This is not a just world we live in.

Still, she keeps hoping and praying for a judge to make things right. The only problem is, who listens to a widow? She has no standing. No voice in her male dominated society.

And this judge doesn’t care… he turns her away–  probably hides behind some technicality in the law or policy… he doesn’t care… but he finally gives in because he just wants to get rid of the widow. Wants her to go away. He is tired of her coming to court every time she is in town. She’s a pest. Protesting, badgering… she won’t stop until justice is resolved. I wish I had her persistence and patience in fighting the system!

Tom Long said Jesus told this parable because Jesus’ disciples were having problems with prayer. He said,

“We (also) have many questions and problems about prayer. Mainly we wonder if prayer is really heard by God. So many of our prayers seem to go unanswered: We pray for health, but there is still a spot on the X-ray. We pray for peace, but the troops aren’t home and the war rages. We pray for our children, but they still get into deep trouble.  We have problems with prayer, but when we go all the way down, our deepest problem with prayer is that we lose heart. We just lose heart. We lose confidence and trust and hope that our prayers will be heard and answered. We lose heart. And Jesus told them a parable that they might pray always and not lose heart.”[1]

So I am thinking Jesus tells the story because they have lost heart, and he wants to encourage his disciples to have that same kind of persistence and patience of the widow when it comes to prayer.

He has already taught them the Lord’s Prayer – they likely knew how to pray… they were Jewish – and likely grew up in homes of prayer… learning to pray… they had prayed in the temple and synagogue and home… prayer was a tradition of the community. They already know HOW to pray.

But what Jesus knows, is that they may be tempted to give up on prayer.

Because, in spite of praying, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  How many times had they prayed that prayer?, yet it is clear that the kingdom was not coming very quickly. This is still an unjust world. They are right.

As time went on they might wonder, “why hasn’t the kingdom come yet”—why is there still injustice, and illness—why do bad things happen to good people… why do the crooks—still seem to profit… why does Rome still rule and people still suffer under Rome’s rule. Why does the system still work against those who need the most help?

Where is this kingdom Jesus taught them to pray for? It is so hard. So hard to be persistent and patient in prayer.

So Jesus may understand that it is tempting to give up when your prayers seem to go unanswered.  So he tells them the story of the widow to teach them an important part of the prayer life: “pray always and do not lose heart”

I think Jesus wants us to understand that patient and persistent prayer is an essential part of being a disciple. Following Jesus is not easy. Being faithful is not easy. If we ever gave you that impression, I am sorry. Folks, it is not.

So I can understand that many people give up because they become discouraged. Some despair. Some become cynical. But others do not and they inspire us.

I was inspired by the story of the Chilean Miners this week.

There they were back in August. For 17 days, no one knew they were alive. They might have well packed in in and given up down below—with no idea that anyone was even looking. They may have wondered, “Where is God?  Why did God allow this to happen to them?”

Above, people may have given up after a couple of weeks. But everyone persisted. After they were found, the men sent up letters affixed to the probe that was sent down to see if anyone was there and alive.

One, with words scrawled in red ink on a scrap of paper read, “We’re fine, in the refuge, the 33 of us.”

Another note from Gomes said, “I want to tell everyone that I’m good and we’ll surely come out okay. Patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive.”

And they did. After emerging from the mine safe and sound, they agreed that faith kept them safe and sound during those 69 days.

Each of the miners emerged from the capsule wearing a shirt that says, ‘Thank you Lord.”  On the back are the words, “To Him be the glory and honor,” taken from Psalm 95:4. ‘Because in his hands are the depths. Of the earth and the heighs of the mountains are his.”

I think that is the kind of persistent faith Jesus is calling for in prayer—to give hope and courage to us as we seek to be faithful and seek God’s help. Pray, always and do not lose heart, says Jesus.

It is clear to me that the disciples eventually did learn to pray always and it sustained them. And  they came  to practice prayer as if their life depended on it, which in a way it did.

Al Winn said (and Larry and Frank will like this)—“Prayer is the deep pedal-note of life, undergirding all the other melodies of life”

I think for the disciples, prayer simply became a part of the rhythm and pattern of their life. Much as it did for those miners.

So maybe that is what Jesus wants when we get discouraged— for us to keep on praying… like the widow and the disciples…

Keep on praying because you know God is nothing like that judge. Nothing.

Quite the opposite Jesus says. The story says, if a poor widow with no standing can finally wrangle justice out of a impersonal, non caring judge… how much more will you- God’s own child, the one who God has loved from the very beginning—how much more will you find a God who will hear and listen and answer prayer.

That is one thing Jimmy Sanchez learned down in the mine.  When he emerged from the mine, he told the reporters that he would like to make one small correction to all the stories of life in the mine:

‘There are actually 34 of us,’ this 19 year old miner wrote in a letter sent up from the mine on Tuesday, ‘because God has never left us down here.”

Well, Jesus says, the God who sustained those miners is our God too… a loving parent who cares for us as well…  and how much more will the one who gave us life… who loves us deeply… respond to our cries. So pray always and do not lose heart. Amen.

 

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