Your Prayers Make a Big Difference

Luke 18:1-8

In the New Testament, love and prayer belong together. If you love God, youallanb can’t help but communicate with Him.

It’s a sheer joy to communicate with those you love dearly, isn’t it?

In the face of all the discouraging things that happen in our modern world, it’s amazing that so many people keep praying regularly.

The problem of prayer becomes acute when God seems to be in no hurry to answer our prayers, for whatever profound reasons He has in mind. If five people pray that they’ll get a job, say, as a chaplain, the prayers of four will seemingly go unanswered, because only one person will get the job.

How do we make sense of this? Prayer is first of all, all about getting to know God better. Prayer is of inestimable value even if it does no more than remind us of who we are before God, that is, sinners in need of all the help we can get from Him.

Lack of prayer may indicate a lack of hunger for God. It thrills God most of all when we want Him more than we want things from Him. How marvellous when our Creator is more precious to us than anything else we might desire; when God is better than our hopes, better than the best we’ve dared to imagine. Our praying can be greater and better than the things we pray for.

Prayer involves more than asking for what you think you want. It involves asking to be changed in ways you cannot imagine; to be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you’ve been given, instead of grieving over what might have been. Our ability to love is sometimes reflected in our ability to pray.

If you don’t pray, everything can disappoint you by going wrong. If you do pray, things will still go wrong, but not in a way that will disappoint you. Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre? We can never make it on our own, no matter how clever we are, how much luck we may have, how many strings we pull or how hard we work. Even when we have everything going for us, God is still our primary need. Who else would we want to go to, except the God who loves us, who treasures us and who wants us in spite of our inadequate prayer life, in spite of our failure to love others as we ought, and in spite of our failure to live as God would like.

When we feel discouraged, we’re directed to “take it to the Lord in prayer”, and persist in that prayer until we get a response. Our greatest temptation in prayer is to give up too soon.

The young widow in today’s parable is a model of persistence for us. In Jesus’ time, widows often had to go to a judge to get justice. When a husband died, his property often went to his brother, leaving his widow helpless. Widows often lacked someone to help them. Jesus shows a passionate concern for the plight of widows, a concern that most likely flowed from seeing Mary, his widowed mother, struggling to make ends meet.

Jesus tells us of a widow who refused to give in until she got justice. To make matters worse, the judge in charge of her cause is a callous magistrate, lacking any compassion for this woman. Furthermore, she had no money with which to bribe him. Persistence was the only weapon she had to secure her inheritance and her future. And she was shameless in her persistence.

She didn’t give the judge a moment of peace. We have the picture of a powerless widow threatening to box an all-powerful judge. Though this judge has many men at his beck and call, he can’t shake off this one persistent widow. It would be like our Prime Minister trying to ignore the verbal harangue of a homeless bag lady until she hits the Prime Minister over the head with a water bomb, dousing him until he takes notice. The unjust judge fears this widow will pester him forever. Verse five literally states, “I’ll hear her case or she’ll give me a black eye.” You can imagine the newspaper headlines: “Powerless Widow Wins!”

We’re often in as much need of help, with a need greater than we can cope with alone, as this widow was. Jesus reassures us that God is more ready to hear us than we are to pray. We fail to persist in prayer as our Lord wants us to, maybe out of a false sense of self-sufficiency.

When we don’t get answers as soon as we think we should, we shouldn’t despair. F.B. Meyer once said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” God wants us to pour our hearts out to Him over all the things that churn us up and upset us.

The story is told of a woman of humble origins who was saving her coins for “a treat”. Then she met her future husband. He was the personification of her dreamed-of hero. She couldn’t believe it when he asked to marry her. They moved to a large house; her dream home. And they had children. It was all she had ever wanted. Then she became ill.

The news from her doctor was: “Your liver has stopped working.”

She almost screamed at him: “Are you telling me that I am dying?”

“We have done all we can”, the doctor said as he left her.

She felt a fire of anger ignite within her. She wanted to tell God off. As best she could, she struggled to the hospital chapel, preparing what she was going to say to God:

“Every time anyone finds a little happiness, You pull out the rug from under her feet. Well, I just want You to know that I have had it. I see through You.”

But when she got near the front of the chapel, she fell. She was so weak, that she could hardly see.

She could just read the words woven onto the step into the sanctuary that read,

GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.

Suddenly, all the angry words, all the desire to tell God off was gone. All that was left was, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Then she put her tired head down and listened.

Deep within her, she heard: “All of this is a simple invitation to ask you to turn your life over to Me. You have never done that, you know. The doctors here do their best to treat you, but I alone can cure you.”

There and then, Jean turned her life over to God. Finding her way back to her hospital bed, she entered a deep sleep. After further tests the next day, her doctor gave her good news: “Your liver seems to be functioning again.” Like Job in the Old Testament, God had led her to the brink, but only to invite her to surrender, to Him.

Through prayer, God invites us to place our whole life into His hands. When we pray, God works. Time spent in prayer is never wasted. A bad prayer is better than no prayer at all. God delays His answer because He knows we need to spend time with Him more than we need the things we pray for.

God either gives us what we ask for or something better. Like a wise parent who withholds certain potentially harmful presents from a child who desperately wants it, like a bow and arrow, until the child is old enough to use it safely, so too God, in His infinite wisdom, withholds things that may harm us rather than help our faith now.

God delays in order to . . .

first, teach us patience;

secondly, to increase our gratitude for what we already have;

thirdly, because God has a greater blessing in store for us;

or fourthly, for a reason we would not yet understand.

For example, a failure to forgive others may be the reason our prayers are not being answered.

St. James reminds us, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” Look at all the blessings that are ours as a result of Christ’s unanswered prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Unanswered prayer there in the garden didn’t stop Jesus from continuing to pray on the cross. Moses, Job, Jonah and Elijah prayed that they would die. This request wasn’t answered because God still had blessings to bring to us through them.

A woman in hospital suffering from cancer had her pastor pray regularly for healing. When healing didn’t come, she said to her pastor,

“Today, let’s not pray that I’ll be healed. God knows that I hate this illness. God knows I want to be healed. Let’s pray that, whether I’m healed or not, I’ll feel close to God because even if I’m not healed, especially if I’m not healed, that’s what I really want – GOD.”

She was a reminder to her pastor that in the end, we don’t simply want peace, bread and health. We want God. God grant that the more you pray, the more real God will become for you. Jesus asks us that when He returns, He will find in us the kind of faith that persists in prayer like the widow in the parable.

This is the only parable of Jesus that ends with a question, indicating that our Lord wants us to go home today with this question firmly fixed in our minds: “Will the Son of Man find such faith on earth when He returns?”

Our faith in our Lord moves us to pray, and prayer feeds and sustains our faith, making it indestructible. Our age is one of “compulsive talking”, but not to God. There are gifts God won’t give us until we ask for them. When you’re too worn out to pray, ask the Holy Spirit to help you. We’re always in better shape after a heart to heart with God.

Martin Luther said, “Prayer is the most important thing in my life. If I should neglect prayer for a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith. … Guard yourself against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, ‘wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.’” 

Prayer contains too many marvellous blessings and benefits for you to want to ever delay for a day. Do your prayers make a difference? Yes, yes, yes! Forever and ever. Amen.

“Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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