Wednesday Bible study (03/18/02)
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
Many years ago, I was privileged to hear the testimony of Richard Butler. During the Vietnam war, Richard Butler was an American combat pilot. His jet was hit on a bombing raid over Hanoi. He managed to guide the plane out to sea. There, however, the engines failed, and the aircraft went into a long slow dive toward the ocean. The ejection seat did not work, and Richard began to pray desperately. The plane crashed, and he blacked out.
He came to in the water supported by his life jacket. Apparently the crash had caused the ejection seat to operate. He realized immediately that he was injured badly because the sea around him was red with blood. He said that his lower left leg felt funny. When he reached down to touch it, it was not there. He knew then that he would bleed to death in a matter of minutes.
Then something bumped against his back. It was what was left of his plane. The fuselage had not yet sunk. Richard somehow dragged himself back inside the cockpit, got a tourniquet out of the first aid kit, and applied it to the stump of his leg to stop the bleeding. A few minutes later, he was picked up by a rescue helicopter. Today he wears an artificial leg, but he is alive.
Did God answer his prayer? Some folks would say that it was all a coincidence. Richard Butler just happened to regain consciousness before he bled to death. The plane just happened to be floating beside him so that he could get that tourniquet. But, I promise you that if you ask Richard Butler, he will tell you in a voice of absolute certainty, that God answered his prayer.
There are two options by which we can explain the way things happen in the world.
On the one hand, we can say that things just happen by chance. Some people are lucky; others are unlucky; but events have no purpose, and there is no guiding hand at work in history, either the history of the world or our personal history.
On the other hand, we can see the evidence of God in any given event We can view all that happens from the perspective that God is active in history. God is a power in our lives. God hears and answers our prayers.
These are our two options. In the story about the pilot who was saved, the first option would say that it just happened that way. He was lucky. He could have been luckier; his plane could have not been hit at all, but nevertheless, he was lucky just to be alive.
But the other option does not see it that way at all. He was not just lucky. He prayed to God, and God helped him. I call this the option of faith because that pilot believed in a God who would hear his prayer. He believed in a God who could deliver him, and afterwards he testified that God delivered him. He had faith, and he exercised his faith in prayer. That is the first rule of prayer. Prayer rises from a strong foundation of belief. Many people say words that they call prayer, but the prayer that is heard by God is the prayer of faith.
Effective prayer requires a leap of trust in God, but that sometimes requires more courage than we have. Sometimes we pray such timid, cautious, fainthearted prayers. We pray something like this: "Oh God, if there be a God. Save my soul, if I have a soul." That is not a prayer. That is an expression of unbelief.
That is not the kind of prayer the Bible teaches. Hear the note of confidence in Hebrews 4:16 "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Quit being cowards in prayer--that is what the verse says. Let us reach out boldly and start praying largely. Do not be satisfied with prayer crumbs when you can have the whole loaf.
I need to ask you a tough question now: Have you ever lifted up a prayer to God in which you did not really expect God to do much? Perhaps a friend or relative of yours was dying of cancer. The doctors have all agreed, the person has no hope. The person is near the end of this earthly life. So you pray halfheartedly. You know that God is great and powerful, yet deep down inside, you do not really believe God will do anything. You creep hesitantly to the throne of grace, and before God can answer, you answer for him. You pray something like this, "Lord, could you, would you, maybe, hear me. I wish you would spare this person's life, but I do not think you will.” That is not a prayer of faith. It does not expect an answer, so why should God answer. It is a prayer that says in effect, "God, I know this is too much for you, but for form's sake, I am going to ask you anyway." That is insulting to God. That is almost blasphemy. How different is the prayer of faith. Faith tells us that God has mighty power and that God loves us and that God is eager to hear and answer our prayers.
That is why we are urged to pray not once and give it up, not twice or thrice, but to pray until we get an answer, and to pray expecting an answer—for God will answer. That is what the parable is about in LK 18. V1 tells us what it is about. Jesus told them the parable as an illustration of the principle that we ought to always pray, that we should never faint or lose heart or give up in prayer.
What Jesus is advocating here is not prayer as a one-time thing, but prayer as a habit. We should pray not just when we feel like it, not just when we are in desperate need, but always, constantly, never ceasing, never stopping. We should be swallowed up in prayer; we should swim on an ocean of prayer; we should lose ourselves in unending prayer to God.
But, of course, we do not do that. God our creator is the best friend we have, yet sometimes we treat God like we are barely on speaking terms with him--and then we wonder why we lack a divine presence in our lives. We wonder why we see so little of the power of the Holy Spirit. Where is the love of the Father in my life? Where is the grace of the divine Son? But if I Have little of God, the problem is not with God; it is with me. As long as we do not pray, and pray often, we will know little of God. We will see little of God's power. But if we pray, God will answer..
The parable of the unjust judge,in Luke 18 has two characters: a corrupt judge who does not believe in God and does not respect people, and a widow who has a certain case or lawsuit. We do not know what the lawsuit was. It does not matter The widow brought her case before the judge and said, "Give me justice," but he put her off. He wanted a bribe. The widow had no money, but still she did not give up. Every time the court opened, she brought her lawsuit again. And so finally the judge said to himself, I do not care about whether this woman receives justice or not, but I am tired of her badgering me, so I will hear her case to get rid of her.
Then in v6, Jesus says to us "Hear what the unjust judge saith." Pay attention to the spiritual lesson of this parable. In vs7, he drives home the lesson. He asks a question: Will God defend his elect who cry to him day and night, or will God put them off and delay helping them? V8 is the answer: "He will avenge them speedily." The last word in the original Greek is the phrase "en tachei"--literally meaning "in or with swiftness." God will defend and protect his people immediately, right now. This reminds us of Psalm 46:5 where speaking of God's people as a city the Psalmist says, "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early."
Now there are several errors that we can fall into in interpreting parables. Jesus told parables to illustrate one great spiritual truth. We should stick to that truth and not try to read too much into a parable. That is a major error that people make in dealing not only with parables but with the whole Bible. They try to read things into verses that are not and were never there.
The first thing we should not read into the parable of the unjust judge is that we should nag God. We are not to conclude that if we nag God long enough, he will grant our prayers to get rid of us. We are not to continue in prayer because we expect God to eventually get bored with us and grant us our petition to get us off his back. Rather, the reason the Christian persists in prayer is because we know that God will respond. Some might say that if we continue in prayer, we can be assured that God will reply, but that is backwards. The truth is that because we are assured of an answer we can continue to pray.
A second idea that we should not read into this parable is that God is the unjust judge. That of course is an abomination. The thrust of the parable is not that God is like this corrupt judge, but that God is totally unlike this judge. Jesus contrasts an unrighteous human judge with a righteous divine judge. His point is: If that corrupt judge can be forced to vindicate a poor powerless widow, then how much more will holy God do for his people. If a criminal who takes bribes will under certain circumstances justify the innocent; then how much more may we be assured that our heavenly father, who is righteous and merciful, will hear our cause; and answer our prayers.
Seen in this light, the parable is a vivid illustration of our assurance that our prayers are not just pious exercises, but that what I called earlier the Option of Belief works. Prayer works. If that widow could be heard by an unjust judge after many delays, then the promise to us is that we will be heard by our loving heavenly father "speedily."
With a promise like that, we would think that most people would be just as speedy in their rush to pray. Psalm 63:1 says, "0 God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee." But most people don't. Most people do not pray, and the ones who do do not pray enough.
It is not that we do not intend to pray, but our prayer life is so hindered by so many things that it is not what it ought to be. Suppose that we pick a time for prayer. At first we are very determined, and we may carry it through a few times, but then the hindrances set in. The things that hinder are perhaps innocent in themselves. If we choose to pray late at night, then we soon find that we are just too tired after a hard day, or we stayed out too late, or company came, or there was this special program on TV, something keeps happening that interferes with our prayer time. If we try to pray in the morning, then it is easy for prayer time to get lost in the rush to get the kids off to school or ourselves off to work.
God has promised us that he will answer prayer, but we do not claim the promise because we are distracted by worldly trivia. We allow our priorities to get mixed up, and our prayer life gets lost in the shuffle. And that is a terrible loss. That is a loss that we need to reclaim. The promise of the parable of the unjust judge is that God will protect his people "speedily." We ought to claim that promise in the same fashion--"Speedily.
Why would you not? Prayer gives meaning to life. I mentioned earlier that we have two options, but no one really wants the bleak, barren option of life as random change and meaninglessness. We all know that faith is the only option, the only way, but we hesitate. We are fearful lest we lose...what? We have nothing to lose really, nothing but a life without soul and without purpose. Claim the promise of prayer. Reach out to God and you will discover that God is already reaching out to you.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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