Persistence in Prayer Pays

I was pleased with the comments after my sermon this morning. It seems that people appreciated the illustration I gave, which is good as I wasn’t sure about using it. I am grateful for the blog and video supplied by Ian Paul which gave me much of the background to the passages. Click here to see it. I also dipped into a commentary by Paula Gooder. I have been ill with covid this week so didn’t feel very well whilst doing the preparation and writing. I was relieved to have a negative test result this morning. Here’s the text, minus my asides of course:

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and Luke 18:1-8

This week’s readings are both about persistence and prayer in bringing about God’s kingdom. Paul writes to Timothy about the importance of scriptures in training us for the work that God has for us. What he writes to Timothy applies to you and me. You may think perhaps it applies more to me as I am a church leader, but I share that leadership with the church council.  I also believe in every member playing their part in God’s mission, and I hope you do too.

The scripture that we have to focus on today is the gospel. How will that train us, how will it maybe rebuke us, correct our thinking or otherwise train and equip us for the bringing about of God’s kingdom here in Denstone?

Do we want God’s kingdom to grow in Denstone?  Or are we happy with the way things are?

It is interesting to note that Luke points out that Jesus gave the parable to encourage us to pray and not give up. It’s almost as if he knows that there will be times when our prayers are not answered. And how right he was. Unanswered prayer is a mystery.

Why does God sometimes seem to go deaf?  Why does he not answer our prayer for someone to be healed or for a horrible situation like the war in Ukraine to end? I am not going to answer that fully today – it would make the sermon too long.  Just to say that we don’t see the bigger picture of God’s purposes and will.

Back to the parable because Jesus does make it clear here and elsewhere that we should pray. He wants us to pray in all sorts of situations and needs.  The context for this parable though is the coming of God’s kingdom, and in particular the coming of the Son of Man  – Jesus’ return at the end of time as we know it.

We live in the times between Jesus bringing about the kingdom and it not yet being fully here when he comes again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to quote the creed.  But he is a very long time coming and the world is still full of injustice and evil. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God IS in our midst. We see glimpses of God at work – his love, joy and peace; his healing, wholeness and justice.

We pray, your kingdom come, your will be done. We pray for specific situations. We long for justice for the poor and marginalised.  We long for more people to come to know Jesus, don’t we?  And the widow in this parable is held up as an example of persistence for us to apply to our praying.

There are two characters in this – the widow and the judge. Imagine the scene. A small town where there is one judge who makes all the decisions. He didn’t care what people thought of him and he didn’t fear God. He probably took bribes. He was the one with all the power. At the time of Jesus, the system was all male and set up for the advantage of the male. It was expected that a man in the family would go to the judge on behalf of a woman. The fact that the widow must do it herself shows that she had no-one to speak for her. The judge had all the power, she had none.

It wasn’t that much different a hundred years ago in England.  I’ve been watching Downton Abbey this week. Not seen it before. A reminder of how far women have come in the last century.

The widow in the parable is a strong woman. The expectation of the judge and indeed of those around her would be that she gives in gracefully and accept her lot as a victim. But she doesn’t. She returned again and again to the judge until she wore him down and he granted her justice.

We don’t know what the issue was. That’s not the point – the parable focusses on the prayer, not the reason for it.  But her perseverance paid off. Despite the judge being corrupt and unjust he gives in.  Her relentless visits eventually wear him down. The imagery Luke uses comes from the boxing ring. We miss the humour in our English translation.

Imagine a big powerful heavyweight boxer in the ring with a little old lady. Despite the odds the woman manages to catch the big man and give him a black eye, landing several blows, one after another until he surrenders. 

We do love it when the under-dog prevails, don’t we? And that’s the picture that Jesus paints when he encourages us to keep on with prayer.

The odds may seem to be against us. We may seem to be getting nowhere in the fight against injustice and evil. But don’t give up.

Even the corrupt and bad judge gave the widow justice in the end.  How much more will God, who is loving and just and as far from corrupt as you can get, give us justice when we persist in prayer?

If we persist, then the answer may come when we least expect it.  Do you remember the Berlin Wall coming down? That surprise came after a long time of prayer. We weren’t expecting it.

Sometimes a situation looks as if nothing is budging despite our prayers. I wasn’t sure whether to use this illustration or not, but I will because it has stuck in my mind so it may stick in yours too.

This week we had an unfortunate incident with our downstairs toilet being blocked by too much tissue and kitchen roll following a mopping up of the kitchen floor. Despite prodding and poking, and even bailing out sufficient water to get my marigold-protected (rubber glove) hand down to oik it out, nothing moved.

Terry put another bucket of water in so the level was as high as it could safely be without overflowing again. I thought it was a waste of time – I was just about to say so even though Terry assured me he had done this many a time before.  I was going to suggest we call an expert in when whoosh…. It all went away. Just like that!  No gradual reduction in the water level. It was there one moment and gone the next.  

Likewise, we can be praying about a situation without any success that we can see.  Nothing budging, nothing changing. We think that God isn’t listening or doesn’t care. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, the situation can change.

That’s also how it will be when Jesus comes again.  No warning. Things will be as normal and whoosh… Jesus will arrive and then we will have justice.  The kingdom of God will be fully here.

And when he arrives, will he find faithful, prayerful people carrying on interceding and begging for justice?  Or not? I remember that my last sermon here I used an illustration of a car tow rope to represent faith. When Jesus comes will he find us still attached to God?  Will he find us still praying?

I want to end with the good news of the answer to prayer. (name) has been on our benefice notice sheet prayer list for a while. She is a young woman, in her 40s, with a husband and school age children. And she was diagnosed with cancer last year.  Many churches have been praying for her. I thought I should check up on her and was thrilled to get the following message:

Hi Liz.

I was told I was in remission in June – PRAISE GOD!

However I could still really do with continued prayer for all the side effects I have been left with and ongoing issues. Thank you so much. As a family we really felt carried through on everyone’s prayers for us ❤️

The Kingdom of God is here, and prayers are being answered. We see signs of the kingdom when we see justice, when we see the poor being lifted up and when we see people healed.


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