If you’re a parent then the chances are you’ve experienced the supermarket meltdown where your child has had a tantrum because they really want that chocolate that the supermarket has strategically placed at the checkout. Or if you’re not a parent then perhaps you’ve seen a struggling parent with their child. You’ve carefully avoided the lolly aisle but they will get you in the end as you go through the checkout.
It’s a difficult situation you’re placed in. You can ignore the tantrum and have everyone look at you. You can smack your child and have everyone accuse you of cruelty to your child. Or you can give in to your child’s demands so the tantrum stops.
The problem with the last one is that your child learns that if you scream loud enough your parent will give in. It’s interesting that Jesus says that we should treat our prayers to God in a similar way. He says: 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?
Jesus is referring to our prayer life with God. But why pray if God knows what we need and what is best for us? Luther answers that in his Small Catechism in explaining the Lord’s prayer – your will be done. He says: The good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may be done among us.
Prayer is faith building. Just as a child learns behaviour through persistent nagging likewise our faith behaviour comes by our persistent prayer to God. Prayer is not always about changing God’s behaviour like a child nagging their parent till they give in. Sometimes prayer changes our behaviour like a child who matures and learns what’s best for them and the correct way to ask and also learns when a parent says no to trust them.
Sadly many lose faith in God when they pray and pray and don’t receive an answer. And that same sadness is heard in Jesus’ voice when he says: when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Prayer is an interesting part of our faith. At times it can seem like it doesn’t really achieve that much. Like St Paul when he prayed 3 times for God to remove his suffering (2 Corinthians 12:8). Or the Old Testament reading from a couple weeks ago where Habakkuk cried out to God in prayer; How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Habakkuk 1:2)
But on the other hand we see the vital need for prayer that even Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven: where in Luke 5:16 we read that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
So there are some things we learn about prayer through this:
First – prayer is vital for the life of the Christian.
Prayer is communication with God.
Communication is vital in any relationship. Even arguing is communication in a marriage. Arguing and disagreeing is where we grow sometimes in our relationships. The Psalms are full of passages crying out to God disagreeing with how it is perceived God is acting. But the psalm always ends in praising God for his goodness.
So in our times of arguing and disagreeing we are led to confession and forgiveness just as a conflict in marriage is led to confession and forgiveness. And that’s where a relationship grows as we grow deeper in our understanding of each other and deeper in our love through our struggles.
Secondly – Struggle is vital for the life of the Christian. Struggles in any relationship can lead to a deeper understanding of each other, so too struggle is a part of our faith journey with God. In our Old Testament reading we see one of the best known struggles with God as Jacob wrestles with an unknown assailant as he heads back to his home town. As the struggle deepens Jacob begins to understand that his struggle is actually with God and through that struggle he receives a blessing from God. But also in that blessed struggle he receives a life-long scar in his limp.
So too as we struggle in our many battles in life, as Christians it is also a struggle with God. But what seems to be a struggle against God we discover that it is a struggle where God is struggling with us not against us. It doesn’t seem that way at the time, just as it didn’t seem that way to Jesus who cried out to God wondering why he had abandoned him. (Matthew 27:46)
And that’s what unanswered prayer can seem like – God abandoning us. And, like Jacob, Jesus came away scarred – but by those scars Jesus blesses us as he blessed Doubting Thomas to touch the scars and promised that those who believed without seeing his scars would be even greater blessed. Through our struggles, though we may come away scarred, we come away blessed.
In our grief, in our relationship breakdowns, in our health struggles – we may walk away scarred for the rest of our life but we walk away knowing that God has been with us – not against us – and that he continues to be with us as we limp our way forward. As Paul discovered when he prayed for healing but instead of physical healing received spiritual healing through Christ’s blessing and proclaimed- when I am weak then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Finally – never give up. The final message from Jesus about prayer is to be persistent like the widow who didn’t give up until she received justice. And as we heard, the judge gave in to her persistence.
Prayer is character building. We don’t want to see God as some sort of genie where if we wish something it comes true.
Prayer is not wishing – and God is not a genie. He is our heavenly Father and Luther in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer urges us to speak with our Heavenly Father as we would our earthly parent. Jesus is concerned that when he returns that people will have turned away from their faith. So we are urged to pray desperately for people to return to their faith and for those who have never had any faith.
And St Paul says, we are to be persistent in our prayers. He says: I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavourable.
There are people that we have to pray and pray again for. They are our friends – our family – our colleagues – our neighbours. Don’t be put off or downhearted if you pray and nothing changes at first. No – keep praying to God for them. Even if it seems like a spoilt child nagging his parents – that’s what prayer sometimes will become. It’s not that God doesn’t listen or isn’t doing anything. No, God is dealing with our free will and won’t force anyone to believe. But he will keep putting things in front of them like the supermarkets putting those pesky chocolates in front of our children. Sometimes they won’t be nice things that God puts in front of people. Sometimes God will use tragic circumstances like sickness, death and tragedies to turn people to him for hope.
As St Paul says: suffering produces perseverance; for perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3,4). Note that I said “use” – God doesn’t create those circumstances. No, they are part of our free will world. And that’s why people turn away from God and from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
So let us never give up faith in God being able to turn people’s hearts away from those myths and back to him. Keep praying for your friends, family and loved ones like the persistent widow and never take no for an answer and keep praying to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
And the peace of God that surpasses all our understanding keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.