You know, life is really challenging.  And I know that if you have spent any length of time on this planet, that statement doesn’t surprise you, life is so tough, isn’t it?  There is a lot to push through.  There are responsibilities, work stress, messy people stuff, and on and on it goes…and I wonder how many of us just feel tired or just worn down by all that life throws at us.  Is that how you feel today?  Hey, then for fun, let’s try to be a good person, to all we push through in life, and it can be a lot to deal with.  I want to ask if you have ever felt tired of doing the right thing?  It can be pretty tempting to just quit or check out on life?  Life, and this world just seems to wear you down, doesn’t it?  Maybe you are here today, and you are a leader, and year after year of trying to lead people, who often don’t really want to be led, who really don’t seem to listen, or care is just getting to you?  Maybe you are a parent, and you are so tired, even hurt over the decisions your children are making.  Maybe you have done the right thing for the most part for a long time and you are now looking around and wondering where doing the right thing has really gotten you over the years.  You know it’s interesting, just how life can wear us down isn’t it?  I’m talking just practically and haven’t even really talked Spiritually yet, have I?  Well maybe they are one and the same but let me ask you about your faith.  How about spiritually speaking?  Have you ever wondered if it was all worth it?  Maybe you started your walk with God so passionately and really focused on God, and you were consistently praying and engaging God but over time, that passion has slipped away, and your energy has faded a bit.  I mean, we can say it, everything in this world seems to push against God and living a Godly life, doesn’t it?  Life is hard, and there are moments where we feel weary and may be tempted to quit.  As Christians who read our Bibles, the stuff we just talked about really shouldn’t sneak up on us though.  I mean all through Scripture we find encouragement and challenges to not give up, not quit, to persevere and persist and keep pressing on…because of how challenging this life really is.  Jesus knew just how challenging life as a disciple of His would be, and today we study an awesome teaching from Jesus on the importance of persistence in prayer and staying the course, and not giving up on our faith, but living it out…all the way through the finish line.  At this end of this Parable Jesus is going to ask an important question, and it’s this question that highlights the day He returns…the finish line moment, that is so tough for us to see as we push through so much right here, in the now.

Luke 18:8 “…However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” NIV

That question really hit my heart as I was preparing this message, and really has stuck with me.  Jesus is asking when he returns will he find people who have stuck it out, people who didn’t quit as the going got tough, people who have persistent faith here on this earth?  In my eyes he is asking how many really will make it?  How many of us will stay the course and make it to the finish line of our race well?  Frankly that question should signal to us all something about this life in Christ…it says that the Christian life is not easy…and that is what we will talk about today as we dive into The Parable of the Persistent Widow.  But before we dive into that, I want us to take a moment and prepare our hearts for this teaching from Jesus.  Remember, Jesus told a lot of stories, and told us that He tells stories to create ready hearts, so that we can understand, receive, and live out the very life we should be living.

Matthew 13:12 Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. 13 That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. MSG

Let’s pray for ready hearts so we can be open to this teaching.

So, I started this talk with some questions that really touch on the challenges and difficulties of life.  I think we would all agree that life isn’t all that easy and trying to live out a Christian life is very difficult in a world that seems to oppose God in every way.  This is why it is so important for us to walk closely with God, and stay connected to Him daily, consistently, centering our lives on Him continually because it is so easy to get worn down in life.  Life is hard.  I think it’s easy to feel worn down practically in life, and even easier to be worn down spiritually to a level where we start checking out on God, because we live difficult lives practically in the middle of a Spiritual War.  Life isn’t easy.

You know, as I was putting this talk together and thinking through this teaching from Jesus, I felt really blessed that I get this topic, and I’m not sure I would have always said that.  This isn’t one of my favorite Parables, but I realized just how important this one is for me today.  I also had to laugh a bit, because I think I would have taught on this Parable very differently 20 years ago, compared to how I view it and would teach on it today.  Now, in my mid to late 40’s…with four teenagers, the older two at the age of spreading their wings and leaving home, while feeling called to help lead Spiritually in a world that doesn’t seem really all that interested in God.  It’s tough to stay the course.  It’s tough to not get discouraged, at times.  Frankly, it can be tempting to quit when the energy levels are lower than they used to be, and the hurts and wounds of leadership and life are piling up over time…in many ways it’s tempting to quit or check out on things…but we are called to so much more…and that more that we are called to comes when we stay the course.  Being a Christian is not easy, it truly is a battle, and frankly if we read our Bibles that really shouldn’t sneak up on us as much as it does.  It’s easy to grow weary, with the way life pushes against us, but we are to press on, to never grow tired of doing the right thing.

Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. NIV

It’s tough to stay the course at times, isn’t it?  We can all grow weary of doing good over time.  Life is so difficult and in all the push back, and responses we get from people and life it’s tough to stay the course.  Jesus understands the challenges we are going to face.  Which is awesome on so many levels that we have a God in Heaven who knows our pain, and our struggle.  He gets it and He felt it too.  And Jesus tells us that we need to focus on God and persevere.  Jesus wants us to pray persistently and not give up and that is the point of today’s study, the Parable of the Persistent Widow, which we can find in Luke 18:1-8.  But as always, before we dive into the Parable, we want to know the context of the teaching.  The story really comes to life when we start to understand the situation Jesus was in, who He is talking to and why.  Now throughout the first half of this series we have seen an amazing pattern forming with a lot of these parables.  It is fascinating how many of the Parables that Jesus told actually come in response to or in the middle of intense and confrontational moments with the religious leaders of that time…that to me is so telling.  Now today, I want to drop back into Luke 17, because while a religious leader starts this by pushing in on Jesus about the end times…the pattern will shift a bit, and today we see him telling this Parable specifically to His disciples.  And what will we see Jesus talk about?  He talks to them about the day He will return.  So this is interesting, we see that Jesus has just been pressed in on by the religious leaders to tell them when the end times are coming, then he turns to His disciples and talks to them about it…

Luke 17:20 One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. 21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” 22 Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes. 25 But first the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation. NLT

Jesus talks about all that must happen, including how He must suffer terribly and be rejected by this world, which is interesting since the disciples never seem to grasp what He is going to have to go through…regardless of what He says that He will go through.  And then He talks of the day He will return but does so in a bit of a disappointing way for the religious leader who wants to know when that day and time will be.  This goes on through the end of Luke 17 and it’s intense, and frankly a bit eye opening to think through really.  Jesus is depicting how abrupt that time will be…for so many people we would like to think we will have time to prepare for Jesus’ coming, sometime way off in the distant future, that is when we will worry about God and get our lives in order for that day…we can live how every we want today, then clean things up a bit, but Jesus paints a clear and very different picture, let’s read how He describes the day He returns here as we close out Luke 17.

Luke 17:30 Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. 32 Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! 33 If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. 34 That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. 37 “Where will this happen, Lord?” the disciples asked. Jesus replied, “Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.” NLT

So, this is eye opening, and should get us all thinking about our lives and how we are living them.  I like to tell people who are worried about The End Times that the best way to find peace in that is to live life as God asks you to live it…then it doesn’t really matter when Jesus returns…because no one, not even Jesus knows…regardless of who likes to say what about that day, but let’s get into this story.  I want you to think about this.  Jesus is talking about the end result moment of our lives here, isn’t he?  This is the finish line of life, and we leave that moment, and move right into this teaching right into this Parable…

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!'” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” NIV

So, Jesus talks about the day He returns, then tells this parable of persistent prayer.  How we should never give up.  How we should never stop or grow weary of praying and taking our prayers to God.  Then He asks that question that I pointed out to you at the beginning of this talk that should have us all thinking.  When I return, will I find faith on this earth, or will everyone have checked out and quit on me?

8 “…However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” NIV

I love how Luke lays this out, Jesus talking about the finish line and the end of our race, then leading into this Parable of not giving up on prayer.  This is awesome, Jesus is saying that if the persistent requests of this widow, who wouldn’t quit, can get the unjust judge to finally grant her request, imagine what God will do!  God who is just, and loving won’t He hear your cries and answer them too?  God loves you, and Jesus is saying never grow weary, never quit praying.  Don’t lose heart, never give up or check out on praying to your Heavenly Father.  But you know as we started this talk, we were able to be honest with each other, a little bit, and we talked about life…and life is not easy.  Living a life of faith is very difficult in this world that seems to oppose God in every way.  Have you grown weary in prayer?  Have you ever lost heart or hope?  Maybe at one time you really engaged God in prayer but have pretty much checked out at this point?   Jesus is telling us here to not give up, to keep on praying, and that our Heavenly Father is listening. You know Paul tells us the same thing, that we should never stop praying…

1 Thessalonians 5:17 Never stop praying. NLT

You know, prayer is so important.  It truly is our lifeline, and connection to Our Heavenly Father.  In a moment or two I want to lay out some of the benefits to staying the course in our prayer life, but before we do, I do want to dive back into the reality of our lives.  There are just times where we all struggle a bit, and times when we do get discouraged, and can grow weary of doing good.  Times when we may struggle to pray or may even be tempted to quit praying altogether.  Life is hard, and there is so much pushing against us that the temptation can be to just stop praying and there are a lot of reasons for that.  Maybe you have been praying for years and years for the same thing…day after day, month after month, year after year praying, begging for something to happen that just isn’t happening, and now you are wondering if God even hears you or cares at all about your prayer.  For some of us we just don’t want to feel the disappointment of something not happening that we really want to see happen in our lives, so we don’t pray about that situation because it won’t hurt as bad if God doesn’t come through the way we want.  You may feel fear, I mean what if God does answer my prayer or doesn’t answer my prayer the way I want, so you check out on prayer.  For some people it isn’t that specific, it’s just that our prayer life has grown flat, and we are just stuck in the rut and monotony of life and praying has started to feel more like a rut or routine we have to do, or like work to do, rather than the gift that it truly is…well, I want to talk to you about some reasons you may want to quit or check out on prayer before we talk about why persistent prayer is so important.

I feel like God won’t or doesn’t answer my prayers.  Many people feel this way, discouraged, and struggling to believe or have any hope that God would listen or answer their prayers…if that’s you remember something God loves you and is with you.  Do you remember what Paul said about God?

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. NIV

God is on your side, and we can trust that God is working for the good for those of us who love Him!

I am not hearing anything!  It can be so discouraging to hear that prayer is a conversation between you and God but then you pray, and you just hear nothing in return.  It’s easy for us to get nothing back but silence and decide that God is not with us, but the reality is that the silence doesn’t mean He isn’t there…He is, and He hears your prayers!  There have been many times in my life where I wished God would show me or tell me something, and I got nothing back but silence in those moments, and it’s easy to get discouraged in those moments…but stay at it, God hears you…and He is working in that silence on you and your life in ways that you do not see yet.

I have been praying but my circumstances aren’t changing!  So, we hear, and see on posters and hear from preachers that prayer changes lives…but it can be challenging when we really want something to change, and that specific circumstance doesn’t change regardless of how much or hard or emotionally we pray.  Well prayer does change lives, but it may not change your circumstance…and that can be hard to accept sometimes.  But God is doing a work that may be beyond anything we can understand in the moment…a great example of this is Paul, do you remember how he had that thorn in his flesh.  He didn’t want it, and prayed for God to remove it?  Remember that?

2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. NIV

Do you see it?  Paul begged for that thorn in his flesh to be taken away…he wanted his circumstance to change and prayed that it would change, but God didn’t take that from Him, and Paul realized that God wasn’t changing his circumstance but doing a greater work in him!

I feel like I don’t need to pray because I can handle it on my own.  One of the great realities about the act of prayer is that by engaging a life of prayer and taking our lives and needs to God, we are recognizing our deep need of God.  The concept of surrendering our lives to God is so important and frankly very opposite of the world and culture we live in today…a culture that says I can do it all on my own.  The reality is we can’t do it on our own, and that is why we need God.  Prayer is one way we show our submission to our Heavenly Father.  I was telling the team at MRG the other day that I’m trying a new exercise in my life, and it’s been helpful.  Any time a negative thought, or stressful moment hits, I’m trying to take that thought captive and respond to it with this statement.  I say it out loud!

I can’t.  God can.  And I think I will let Him.

Prayer is an awesome way to remember our need of God and show just how dependent we are on Him.

It’s taking way too long for God to respond.  It is so hard to stay at something, and to keep praying for something, especially if you have been praying for it for a long time.  I know it’s tough in those moments to stay the course, but remember God is doing a work through and in you.  He hears your prayers and while circumstances and outcomes are not coming the way you want…Jesus wants you to stay the course.

I don’t feel spiritual enough to pray.  Nothing frustrates me more than someone feeling like they aren’t spiritual enough to pray.  There are many reasons for this…some of us just know how much we have done wrong, and we see our long list of sins and just can’t believe that God would want to hear from us because we feel guilty.  For others, we have been taught that some people are just more spiritual than us, and prayer is something they are good at that we just aren’t gifted with…frankly, that is heartbreaking, and way too popular of an opinion.  It’s funny because we prop people up, or they prop themselves up to be over us spiritually when Scripture tells us that even the prophets like Elijah were people just like us…who God worked through…

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. NIV

We don’t prop people up; we prop God up.  This feeling we have that we aren’t spiritual enough to pray comes out of human pride and human insecurities and people seeking and pushing for a place only Christ should have in our lives.  God loves you; He is your Heavenly Father, and He wants to speak with you.  There are so many reasons we grow weary and want to quit praying, these are just a few examples of things that we can face.  But with the time I have left I would like to talk to you about just a few reasons why we should stay at it by looking at some of the benefits of persistent prayer, and what our Bible has to say about that.

God promises that our prayers are not wasted effort.  It’s hard to pray persistently when we can all feel like our prayers aren’t going anywhere at times.  Like we are putting work into something, and pouring our hearts out to God over something, while nothing is happening, but the Bible tells us that our efforts are not wasted.

1 Corinthians 15:58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. MSG

We will have our prayers answered.  Now someone is sitting here, with a prayer that hasn’t been answered thinking…really Sam, but what if God does answer prayer.  Jesus told us this in Luke.

Luke 11:9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” NLT

Jesus says that everyone who asks receives and those who seek find.  So, we must keep on praying, seeking and asking and God will absolutely answer us.  God answers our prayers.  Now it may not be the answer we are looking for or that we are expecting, but it will be exactly what it needs to be for us.  The reality is that we just have no idea what God is accomplishing through our prayers, but we see throughout our Bibles that God deeply values persistent prayer, He hears and answers us.

1 John 5:15 And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours. MSG

In prayer we give our mess over to God.  We live stressful, challenging lives…we are seeing less of God in a time in this world where we are seeing more and more anxiety, depression, fear, and stress.  I’m not discounting true mental health issues, but I see no irony in the lack of God and prayer and the amount of fear, stress, and anxiety in our lives.  Scripture tells us that we take stress to God, in prayer we take it all to the one who can take it from us.

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. NIV

God is our loving Father who cares and guides our lives.  As a father of four I can tell you that nothing matters more to me than taking care of my family and trying to help my children in any way I possibly can.  Well God is our Heavenly Father and wants to do the same for us.

Matthew 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” NIV

This should paint a great picture for us today…as a parent we want to give our children everything they want and need.  There are things they ask for that we go out of our way to make sure they have, and there are things they ask for that we know they need to earn over time, and frankly there are some things they ask for that we know they shouldn’t have, because it won’t help them or lead anywhere good in their lives.  So sometimes when our children ask us for things it’s an immediate yes, sometimes, the answer is yes over time…and sometimes the best answer is no…and so it is with prayer.

Listen, life isn’t easy and living as a Christ follower in a world that pushes against God in every way is very difficult which is why Jesus looked to the day He will return, and then told us to never give up or grow weary but to continue to pray…to stay at it.  Which is so profound and has massive implications in our lives because life is hard, Jesus knew it and knew the importance of persistent prayer in our lives because this journey to the finish line isn’t easy.  And prayer really is our lifeline in many ways.  That is why that question in Luke 18:8 is so profound…because it’s asking if we will stay the course or give up on Him.

Luke 18:8 “…But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” MSG

I just want you to encourage you.  We get it, life is hard…and it doesn’t seem to let up on us.  But as Christians who read our Bibles that shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  You may be tired.  You may be hurting from all that life has thrown at you.  You may be questioning if God is there or wondering if He is even listening at all, as you have prayed and prayed and can’t see any movement or hear anything or see any answer coming from Him.  We get it, life is hard, and it can wear us down, because this world opposes God in every way and wants you to quit.  It wants you to check out and feel discouraged and alone and disconnected from God.  But we press on, we stay at it.  We focus on that finish line to come.  Hear me today, don’t lose heart, stay the course.  God loves you. God is with you and your persistent prayers are making a difference.