The Marks of Persevering Prayer Luke 18:1-8

Dennis Jernigan was born in 1954 in Salpulpa, Oklahoma. He was raised in a Christian home and attended a Baptist church.  Although he was surrounded by Christian influences, Dennis struggled with homosexuality.  He battled with same-sex attraction from middle school through his early twenties.  One day while at a concert, Jernigan was born-again by the Spirit of God.  He confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and began his lifelong sanctification journey. Upon his conversion, Jernigan started writing music and now his songs are sung all over the world.  I remember singing his songs in college,

You are my strength when I am weak / You are the treasure that I seek / You are my all in all / Seeking You as a precious jewel / Lord to give up I’d be a fool / You are my all in all.  Jesus, Lamb of God / Worthy is Your name / Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name.

Jernigan has helped Christians lifted their voices in praise and worship for over 30 years.  How did this once practicing homosexual change to become a world-wide worship leader? The answer came after a concert in his mid-thirties about ten years after he began his musical career.

            A woman named June Smith approached him after a concert.  Ms. Smith had been part of Jernigan’s grandmother’s weekly prayer group.  Ms. Smith asked Jernigan if he remembered going over to his grandmother’s house to play the piano when he was a young boy. Of course Jernigan remembered and Ms. Smith said, “Your grandmother would stand behind you and pray over you that God would allow you to use your love for music to worship him. She came to our weekly prayer group and asked us to agree with her in that prayer.  We prayed for you every week for years.” Then she said, “And son, we still do.”  Jernigan became a world-wide vehicle for worship because of the faithful persevering prayers of his grandmother and her friends.  His grandmother would never live to see the fruit of her prayers, but without her prayerful perseverance Jernigan may still be lost in homosexuality. Persevering prayer helped to transform Dennis Jernigan. 

            Prayer is powerful.  Jesus wants His people to pray and not lose heart. It took years and years of prayers of a group of godly older women to transform a lost young man to a new creation in Christ.  I want to share from this text 5 marks of persevering prayer. 

Prayer should be Regular

            It is important to keep in mind the context of this parable.  Jesus just finished teaching on the coming of the kingdom of God when the Son of Man comes in glory.  This parable is connected to this previous teaching by the last sentence, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Jesus gives this parable as an encouragement to persevere/  Luke 18:1 says, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  The word translated for “ought” here is the Greek word “dei.” It is used consistently by Luke to give imperatives to the reader.  We “must” always pray and not lose heart.  Prayer should be as regular to the Christian as breathing. 

            DL Moody was teaching at an elementary school on one of his trips to Scotland.  He started with a rhetorical question, “What is prayer?” And a number of hands shot up to the sky, curiosity caused Moody to call one of the children who said, “"Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies." (Answer #98 in the Westminster Catechism) Moody smiled and looked at the boy and said, “Be thankful son, you were born in Scotland.”[1] Prayer is simply offering up your desires God in the name of Christ by the help of His Spirit.  Prayer is asking for God’s help and mercy. 

            Prayer should be a regular part of the Christian life so much so that Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” Christians should always pray.  This doesn’t mean we are only praying and never doing anything else, but rather it means we are always bringing our needs to God.  “God help me concentrate during this sermon, help me eat well today, strengthen me to serve my children, provide for our family’s daily needs, help my kids make good friends, heal my friend of cancer, keep me safe on the road, etc.  What are your needs? Take those needs and bring them to God in prayer. 

Prayer should be Repeated

            We not only should pray, but we should pray repeatedly to our Father.  Jesus told this parable not only to encourage his disciples to pray, but to pray and not lose heart.  We continue to lift our requests to continue regardless of whether we believe they are being heard.  Jesus begins the parable proper in verse 2,

He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The widow was given justice because her repeated pleas for mercy. 

            After preaching one Sunday morning on marriage, a woman came up to me and told me how hard it was to continue to pray for her husband.  She had been going to church alone for 13 years.  Every Sunday she would leave the house alone, walk into the church alone, hear the Word alone, and go home alone.  And after praying week after week, year after year, for her husband to start to come to church, she looked at me that Sunday morning and said, “It is hard to continue to pray.”  And you know what? It is hard, but we still should always pray and not lose heart.  I told her that I was going to start praying with her for her husband and by God’s grace, her husband started coming every Sunday morning to worship, and then starting coming every week to Sunday School.  He is now a vital part of that congregation because a woman was faithful to persevere in prayer for her husband for over a decade.  She did not give up, but reaped the harvest of her prayers at the proper time (Gal 6:9).

            Beloved, I know that there are things in your life that you have asked God for years and years to have been left unanswered. And I am confident that some of you want to give up praying; you are losing heart. Jesus wants to speak to you this morning and say that you should always pray and not lose heart.  Keep going. Do not give in.  I am with you.  I have not forsaken you. I have heard your cries for mercy.  Have courage to continue to pray. 

Prayer should be Reasonable

             Peter writes in his first epistle that you should be, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We have anxieties and worries that God tells us to bring to him, but our request should be reasonable. Would it be wrong to ask God to give you a new car if you are anxious about reliable transportation to work? Definitely not!  Would it be wrong to ask God to give you a new Lexus so your friends would be jealous? Absolutely yes!! 1 John 5:14-15,

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

And James 4:2b-3

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

In these three verses, we see three reasons our prayers are not answered. First, we are asking for something outside God’s will. Secondly, we are not asking. We have not because we ask not.  And third, our prayers are not answered because we ask with the wrong motives.

            The persistent widow had a very reasonable request.  She wanted justice.  Verse 3,

And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him an saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’

Widows were commanded throughout the Law to be cared for by society.  In this case, this widow needed justice, probably financial justice, from someone who was trying to take advantage of her.  We do not have to think this was an older widow, because woman were married as young as 13 or 14 so young widows were common (1 Tim 5:3-16).  Regardless of her age, she came repeatedly with a very reasonable request: justice. She was demanding justice.

            God’s people should care about justice.  We should desire God to vindicate us and to deliver us from persecution and trials.  Although we can make application to prayer with this parable, the thrust of the parable is focused on a specific prayer; the prayer for justice. Jesus concludes the parable verses 7-8,

And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The prayer for justice is a reasonable prayer that will be answered by our God.  The 1st century Christians were under persecution and were crying out to God to vindicate them against their enemies.  They are much like our brothers and sisters in Christ crying out day and night for justice against the ISIS in Iraq and the Boko Haram in Nigeria. They may be tempted to lose heart and give up their prayers for mercy.  God says that He will give justice to His people.  He will avenge.  And we know that because He just promised us that the Son of Man will come and save the righteous and punish the wicked in Luke 17:20-37. 

            The greatest challenge for us in our prayers is that God answers them in His timing. God will give us final justice on the Day of the Lord. Peter connects God’s promise, patience, and the Day of Lord with a similar encourage,

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

The Lord will give us justice, but His patience is towards us so that no one would perish but all his elect would come to repentance.  We are not called to understand the Lord’s timing, but to be rooted in His character.

Prayer should be Rooted

            Jesus is offering us a lesser to greater parallel.  He is showing that if an unrighteous judge who does not respect man or fear God, but makes decisions that serve his own interests.  If an unrighteous, selfish judge like that will give justice to a persistent widow, will not God do so even more? The comparison can be clearly seen in verse 6-7,

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?

Our desire to always pray and not to lose heart should be rooted and grounded in God’s holy love for us.  Even that verse in 1 Peter 5:7 we read earlier,

Cast your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you.

Luke 11:13,

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

James 1:5,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

God loves to bless His people. He loves to give to His children.  We see this most clearly in how he gave us unrighteous sinners, His own Son. Romans 8:32,

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

We should always pray and not lose heart because God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. If our God loves us so much that He willingly would send Jesus to die in our place, how will not also give us all things? 

            We are in Christ.  We are children of God. We are forgiven. We are righteous. We are heirs of the world to God. We are new creations.  God has already given us so much and he wants to give us more so we should pray and not lose heart.

            Friend, if you are here and not a Christian, have you ever considered how much God loves you?  Have you thought of how much God desires to have a relationship with you? The Bible says that you are unjust and will face true justice. We all have been there, but God sent his Son, Jesus Christ to bear the burden of anyone who would turn from their sins and trust in Him.  He was crucified, but was raised on the third day. And now because of His victory over the grave, we live in hope of our future resurrection.  Friend, God promises that He will give justice to His people and he invites you to be one of his people, will you come?  Confess your sins and believe in Christ. 

Prayer should be Refocusing

Prayer is an act of humility.  Every time we pray, we say to God, “I cannot do it alone. I need you.”  In this way, prayer is refocusing our dependence upon God.  God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Prayer is one way God trains us in humility.  We pray because we need mercy and grace. We pray because we are insufficient in ourselves. We pray because only God can do the impossible.  We pray because our God who knows all told us to pray. 

Jesus wants us to take our eyes off of our light and momentary afflictions and to focus on the eternal weight of glory that awaits us on the return of the Son of Man.  Prayer refocuses our hearts on heaven.  Jesus knows this and therefore encourages us to always pray and not to lose heart.  Verse 8,

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Jesus draws everything back to the Day of the Lord.  When the Lord comes to bring justice to His people, will he find faith? Will he find people trusting in His name? Will he find people believing in His love? Will he find people hoping in their future resurrection on the basis of the resurrection of Christ? 

Beloved, we should have faith in God and God’s command to always pray and not lose heart. George Mueller pastored in England in the mid-late 1800s.  He established 6 different orphanage homes for children in his lifetime caring for over 10,000 children.  It is well-known that he never asked for any monetary donations to meet his financial needs except in prayer to God.  God provided (often times miraculously) every single need for the orphanage.  Mueller wanted the world to see that God is faithful and he could be trusted in all areas of life.  Listen to his words:

It seemed to me best done, by the establishing of an Orphan-House. It needed to be something which could be seen, even by the natural eye. Now, if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House: there would be something which, with the Lord's blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God. This, then, was the primary reason, for establishing the Orphan-House. . . The first and primary object of the work was, (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact, that the orphans under my care are provided, with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without any one being asked by me or my fellow-laborers, whereby it may be seen, that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL[2].

Beloved, refocus your hearts on how great our God is.  God is faithful and will always be faithful. He is faithful to hear our prayers.  He will give us justice.  He who called you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24).

[2] accessed 9.6.14
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