Parables About Prayer
1. Do you believe that God answers prayer? All of my life I have professed to believe that, but in reality it is a very difficult concept for me to grasp. Actually, on one level I have more questions about prayer than answers:
· Why is it necessary for me to ask God for what He knows I already need?
· Why should I believe that the God of a universe so vast that my mind cannot grasp it would be personally interested in and would intervene in my life?
· What is the purpose of prayer?
· Why does it seem that prayers go unheard or unanswered?
And the list of similar question could go on and on.
2. However, on another level I know that prayer works. I have seen it the lives of others and have experienced it in my own life. Prayer is a powerful resource that God has given to us that we rarely use as God intended.
3. I want to direct your attention to Luke 18. In the first 14 verses of this chapter are two parables Jesus told about prayer. These two parables are addressed to two different groups.
· The first parable, in verses 1-8, is addressed to His disciples. It is a continuing of the teaching that began in Luke 17:22 which begins, “And He said to the disciples...”
· The second parable, in verses 9-14, is addressed to the religious leaders who were self-righteous and contemptuous toward others.
But while the parables are addressed to different groups, they both deal with the subject of prayer and there is much for us to learn from these stories. (Text – Luke 18:1-14)
T.S. – There is much more in those two stories than we can even touch on in a single study. But I want to point out to you two things these stories teach us about praying with power.
I. Praying with power involves praying continually.
1. The parable of the persistent widow is unusual because we are told the meaning of the story before getting to the story. Verse 1 says that Jesus’ purpose in telling this parable was “...to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” We could spend all of our time on that one statement. Essentially, that statement tells us there are only two ways to approach life. We can live in faith or we can live in fear. There really is no middle ground. Ultimately we are a faith-filled people or we are a fear-filled people.
2. To approach life with faith means to live a life of continual prayer. The call to “...pray at all times...” echoes throughout the Scripture. For example:
· Ephesians 6:18 says to “...pray at all times in the Spirit...”
· Colossians 4:2 says to “...devote yourselves to prayer...”
· 1 Timothy 2:8 calls people “...in every place to pray...”
· 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “...pray without ceasing...”
- How is it possible to do that? How can we pray at all times? Well, if our understanding of prayer is limited to our saying words to God, we can’t. However, if we understand that prayer is something much deeper, much more meaningful than just saying words to God, it really is possible to “...pray at all times...”
- One my all-time favorite books is the classic little book, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence was a cook in a Carmelite monastery in the 17th century. The goal of his life became to live continually in the presence of God. He said, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God...” But he discovered that such a life is not lived by bowing one’s head continually in prayer and just throwing words at God. Listen to his secret to praying at all times. “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” [Preface to The Practice of the Presence of God]
- I don’t know about you, but that is a revolutionary concept to me. It means that prayer can be happening in our lives in the midst of anything—while wrestling with a problem at work or struggling with bills at home or chasing after little children or sitting in a doctor’s office or doing the lawn or walking through the mall or whatever! That’s true because, at its heart, prayer is living each moment in the awareness that we are in the presence of God and at some level in our lives there is a continuing, on-going conversation with Him.
- That is one thing we can learn from the parable in Luke 18 about the unrighteous judge and the persistent widow. G. Campbell Morgan points out that the widow in this parable, got her request granted because she continually placed herself in the presence of the judge. And he says that the main point of this story is not that we have to badger God into answering us. The main point is that if an unrighteous judge would grant a request simply because the widow would not go away, how much more can we depend on a righteous, loving God to grant our requests as we live continually in His presence!
- So, we can choose to live in faith which is expressed in a life of continual prayer. But there is an alternative to that kind of life. And, if you are like me, you find yourself slipping to easy into the other approach to life. That is, if we do not “...pray at all times...” we end up living not in faith but in fear or we “...lose heart...” as verse 1 puts it. That phrase, “...lose heart...” translates a single word in the Greek text. It is made up of two words. A preposition which means “in or with” and a noun which means “bad or evil.” In other words, we constantly face the choice of living in God or apart from God. In God, faith dominates our lives. Apart from God, fear dominates our lives. Praying with power involves continually living in God.
II. Praying with power involves coming to God in humility.
1. Luke 18:9 tells us that the second parable in this chapter is directed toward “...some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt...” While there are many nuances of meaning in the parable of the Pharisee and tax-collector praying in the temple, the main point is so obvious, so transparent that it is impossible to miss. The main point is that to pray effectively requires that we come to God in a spirit of genuine humility.
2. The Pharisee in this story was the antithesis of humility. Everything about him spoke of self-righteousness, pride, and arrogance. With great irony Jesus said in verse 11 that he “...was praying this to himself...” In other words, his prayer was not directed toward God. He said these words for his own benefit and to enlighten those who may have been listening to him. Notice he mentioned God only once in his prayer and that in a cursory way at the very beginning. Five times he refers to himself, using the personal pronoun “I.”
3. On the other hand, everything about the tax-collector speaks of humility. Notice what Jesus said in verse 13 about this man:
· “...standing some distance away...” – While the Pharisee seemed to seek the central place so that all could see him, this humble man was content to stay on the periphery.
· “...was unwilling to lift to lift his eyes to heaven...” – He did not feel worthy even to look in God’s direction.
· “...was beating on his breast...” – A way of expressing sorrow and genuine repentance.
· “...God, be merciful to me, the sinner...” – While he began his prayer with the same word as in the prayer of the Pharisee, the entire tone is different. His prayer was just a simple plea for mercy and an acknowledgment of his sin.
4. These two men could not have been more different. And the result of their prayers could not have been more different. God answered the prayer of humility, granting mercy on the one who offered that prayer.
5. Humility is a prerequisite for powerful praying. The Scripture says “...humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10). That is exactly what happened to the tax-collector in this parable. He cast Himself upon God and God lifted him up.
6. I want you to hear another quote from the writings of Brother Lawrence: “I consider myself the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness. I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, give me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence.” [The Practice of the Presence of God, p.32]
1. I do not stand before you today pretending to be an authority on prayer. I am keenly aware that there are people in this room who are much further along in the journey than I will probably ever be. But I can point you to some things God’s Word tells us about this amazing privilege. And these stories in Luke 18 clearly teach us that:
· To pray with power we must pray continually
· To pray with power we must pray in a spirit of humility
2. I want to conclude today by reading a wonderful prayer about learning how to pray. It was written by Andrew Murray in his classic book With Christ in the School of Prayer. So that you can concentrate on the words, I am going to ask that you close your eyes and let this prayer be your prayer this morning.
“Blessed Lord Jesus! Once again I am coming to You. Every lesson You give me convinces me all the more deeply that I don’t know how to pray properly. But every lesson also inspires me with hope that You are going to teach me what prayer should be. O my Lord! I look to you with courage. You are the Great Intercessor. You alone pray and hear prayer for the sole purpose of glorifying the Father. Teach me to pray as You do.
Let you life and Your love of the Father take possession of me. A new longing is filling my soul that every day and every hour prayer to the glory of the Father will become everything to me. O my Lord! Please teach me this!
My God and Father! Accept the desire of Your child who has seen that Your glory is along worth living for. Show me Your glory. Let it overshadow me and fill my heart! May I dwell in it as Christ did. Tell me what pleases You, fulfill in my Your own good pleasure, so that I may find my glory in seeking the glory of the Father. Amen.” [Quoted in Spiritual Classics, Foster and Griffin, p.274]