WHY PRAY WHEN YOU CAN FAINT?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
By Ron Ritchie
Last week, I received a phone call from one of my lifelong friends, a man
named John. We had served together in the Air Force, and he was a groomsman
in my wedding in North Africa 35 years ago. He and his wife Pat were our
house guests in December last. They attended our services and the couples
class, and they really enjoyed themselves. John, a faithful Catholic layman,
called to share with me how excited he was about a seminar he was taking
at his church. The seminar was being taught by a priest who really knows
the Bible, John told me. He said he finally understood why God had the Bible
written by the prophets and apostles. The priest had shared with them an
acrostic for the word BIBLE: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Since
that phone call I have not been able to pick up my B-I-B-L-E without thinking
of God's gift to us.
This is exactly what Jesus was teaching his disciples in Luke 17:20-21,
when some Pharisees began questioning him. Assuming for the moment that
Jesus was the Messiah of 2 Samuel 7, they asked him, "When is the kingdom
of God coming?" Jesus answered, "Behold, the kingdom is among
you." What he meant was, they no longer needed to place their hope
in the future, for the kingdom they longed for was present, and the King
was standing in front of them.
The Pharisees did not understand that God's plan of salvation and justice
came in two parts. Here is Plan A: "For the Son of Man has come to
seek and to save that which was lost." (19:10.) If they would place
their faith in him as their Messiah, he would spiritually set up his rule
in their hearts. This would be possible because of his willingness to go
to the cross and die for their sins (an event prophesied in Isaiah 53),
followed by his resurrection and his ascension into heaven. We don't know
how long Jesus would have offered Israel the spiritual kingdom before he
would set up his physical kingdom, but we do know that once they rejected
him as their Messiah (Luke 11:14-20), he went to the cross and then arose
from the dead and spent 50 days with his disciples.
Just before he was about to ascend into heaven, the disciples wanted to
know if Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. It was then
they discovered he was still extending his offer of salvation to the Jews
and Gentiles to accept him as their Messiah and King and enter into the
spiritual kingdom of heaven. He told his disciples that Plan A was still
in effect and it would continue through them when "the Holy Spirit
has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and
in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
Then, as Jesus ascended into heaven, two angels told the disciples of Plan
B: "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand looking
into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will
come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."
(Act 1:6-11.) So until he comes again in judgment and sets up his physical
kingdom, our risen Lord is still saying to the whole world, "the kingdom
of God is among you."
In Luke 17:22-32, Jesus told his disciples, "The days shall come when
you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not
see it." (22.) He also told them that "...He must suffer many
things and be rejected by this generation." Therefore, from the cross
until his Second Coming, when he will set up his physical kingdom, there
will be many difficult days for the faithful men and women who preach the
gospel of salvation and follow him into the Age of the Spirit. But in the
end they will be with him when he sets up his physical kingdom.
In Luke 18:1-15, to which we come today, Jesus will share some more Basic
Instructions Before Leaving Earth. In light of the difficult days ahead,
our normal mindset is to faint and lose heart quickly. But Jesus will encourage
his disciples that the cure for fainting is prayer. Thus, in the face of
the many political, emotional and spiritual stresses we face, one could
ask, "Why pray when you can faint?" We should pray because...
I. Prayer will keep us in touch with God
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times
they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, "There was in a certain
city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. And there was
a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me legal
protection from my opponent.' And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward
he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet
because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by
continually coming she wear me out.'" And the Lord said, "Hear
what the unrighteous judge said; now shall not God bring about justice for
His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?
I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However,
when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
"Now He was telling them a parable...," says our text. Luke records
sixteen parables in his gospel. Today, we will look at the eleventh and
twelfth parables. A parable is taken from nature or some human condition
in order to teach a spiritual principle within the Kingdom of God. Jesus
shared parables with his disciples so that they could understand the deep
mysteries of the kingdom of God and how he was working on the earth (Matt.
13). But with unbelieving crowds and the Pharisees, he taught in parables
to hide spiritual truth as a form of judgment (Matt 13:34-35).
"...He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought
to pray and not to lose heart." In view of the difficult days that
lay ahead, not only for the Lord but also for his disciples, Jesus instructed
them to go back to the basic truth about their relationship with their heavenly
Father and his desire to bring the kingdom of heaven to this wicked and
fallen world through his Son as well as these disciples. He had taught them
earlier to pray: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it
is in heaven..." (Matt 6:10). This was followed by the encouragement,
recorded in Luke 11:5-13, that if they would place their faith in their
heavenly Father, not only would he hear their deepest needs, but he would
also answer their request. "But I say to you [that you do not have
to persist in your prayers with our loving heavenly Father] ask, and it
shall be given to you, seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him
who knocks it shall be opened." And at all times you will be comforted
by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When he said they must "pray at all times," Jesus was not asking
the disciples to pray like a Tibetan priest turning a prayer wheel. What
he was saying was that, as we are confronted with rejection and injustice
while ministering and waiting for his second coming, we should continue
to ask God to protect us and other believers and ask him to provide all
the resources necessary to confront our present realities. Jesus set the
model for his disciples by demonstrating a lifestyle of prayer. Ray C. Stedman
in his book, Talking To My Father, wrote,
"True prayer is an awareness of our own helpless need and
an acknowledgement of divine adequacy. For Jesus, prayer was as necessary
as breathing, the very breath of life itself."
Jesus, on the night before he was betrayed, illustrated the value of prayer
on behalf of his disciples when to said to the Father, "I have given
them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the
world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out
of the world, but to keep them from the evil one." (John 17:14-15.)
He was encouraging them to pray for the second coming, and then to pray
for themselves and others while waiting for that event. Thirty years later,
the apostle Peter, who had heard these encouraging words, wrote to the Christian
community in Western Turkey who were facing injustice and religious persecution
under Nero, "The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound
judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." (1 Peter 4:7.)
Prepare your minds and spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit so that when
you come before your loving Heavenly Father in prayer, your thinking will
be sound and your spirit will not be drunk with anxiety over your circumstances.
The spiritual principle is clear: Within our present reality, our risen
Lord is still saying, "The Kingdom of God is among you." Salvation
is still being offered to mankind in the midst of a corrupt and fallen world.
Keep in mind that as you go about as followers of Christ in this generation,
you will face difficult days of rejection, persecution and injustice for
his name's sake. We must develop a lifestyle of prayer, otherwise we will
faint over the many difficult situations we are placed in by our risen Lord.
"Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought
to pray and not to lose heart."
Last Tuesday night I went to bed late. As I lay in the dark, I began to
think of all the couples in this spiritual family who are facing problems
that seem almost overwhelming. I tried to think through some of the ways
I might be able to help them through their difficult situations, and I found
my chest begin to tighten up and my heart begin to race. I realized how
helpless I was at that moment. I knew I could not save them. I found myself
fainting and losing heart and wishing his kingdom would come quickly. Finally,
I began to pray for them, acknowledging that I could not save anyone, and
the next thing I knew it was seven in the morning. "At all times we
ought to pray and not to lose heart," said Jesus.
Next, Jesus shares his eleventh parable, the story of the wicked judge and
the persistent woman. We need to look closely at this parable because many
believe that it teaches a principle of spiritual persistence. But it does
not, and neither does the parable of Luke 11:5-8, where Jesus told the story
of the man who awakened his sleeping neighbor asking for three loaves of
bread and finally succeeding because of his persistence. In this parable,
the judge apparently was a Roman who was placed over a city by his government.
This man was godless. He had no respect for, nor did he sense any accountability
to the Living God and his commandments concerning justice. He had no respect
for himself, so how could he respect his fellow man? He was completely self-absorbed,
and he obviously needed to protect his space, as we would say today.
What do we see of the character of the widow? Apparently she had no family
or friends in high places. Further, she was being sued, and her opponent
was demanding an unjust settlement. It appears that the facts of the case
were on her side, so she went to the court system and got permission to
approach a judge. This only made things worse, however, as she was given
a wicked and merciless judge. He was unwilling to grant her the protection
she believed she was entitled to. It seems she returned to him day after
day, and in time she bothered him so much that she wore him out. The judge
agreed with God that "even though I do not fear God nor respect man,
yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest
by continually coming she wears me out." He didn't grant her legal
protection because he had heard her case again and decided, based on Roman
law, that she had suffered an injustice; and that he would grant a retrial
and set the record straight so that Roman justice would prevail. No! He
was afraid that she would eventually "wear him out" (which had
nothing to do with justice), so he ruled in her favor. Now here is the spiritual
principle: "And the Lord said, 'Hear what the unrighteous judge says'."
And what was that? He said he was not interested in justice for this widow,
but rather in his own personal comfort and peace, his space, and the dismissal
of this bothersome woman.
Now in contrast, what is the character of the Judge of all the earth? Here
is what Jesus said to his disciples: "...now shall not God bring about
justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night and will He delay long
over them?" Our heavenly Father, who is perfect in love, righteousness
and justice, is nothing like this wicked judge. G. Campbell-Morgan wrote
this concerning the character of God: "There are things He cannot do
because they would deny the truth concerning Himself, His righteousness,
His holiness, His justice, His compassion; and God cannot be unrighteous.
God cannot be other than holy, God cannot be unjust, and God cannot fail
in mercy." "...now shall not God bring about justice for His elect
who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?" Jesus
was encouraging his disciples that the heavenly Father is interested in
justice, and that if they came to him in prayer, asking for justice in the
difficult days ahead, before he returned again, he would hear them because
they were among his elect. But unlike the widow in the parable, they did
not have to come to him persistently, day after day. Once they asked for
justice, they should believe that the righteous Judge of all the earth would
not only hear them, but he would not delay in establishing justice for them.
But, we must keep in mind the purpose behind any delay which might occur.
Thirty years later, the apostle Peter wrote to some of God's elect in western
Turkey, believers who were suffering unjustly under the hand of Nero. Peter
said two things. First, while Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, was being
led to the cross by the cruel Roman guards, he was being reviled, but "He
did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept
entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." (1 Peter 2:24.)
Why? Because he was being sent to the cross for the sins of all of us so
that all who place their faith in him would be given the gift of eternal
life. And second, Peter encouraged the same believers who were hearing the
mocking of men concerning the second coming. When these men asked, "Where
is the promise of His coming?" Peter's counsel was, "Do not listen
to them. The Lord has heard your cries. Understand why Jesus has not come
at just the moment you want: 'But do not let this one fact escape your notice,
beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand
years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count
slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for
all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief...'"
(2 Peter 3:1-13).
In light of the difficult days ahead, Jesus assured his disciples, as well
as all who would follow them into the Age of the Spirit and the great tribulation,
disciples such as Stephen, James, Paul, Peter, Clement of Rome, Martin Luther,
Corrie Ten Boom, Jim Elliot (the list goes on), that in the midst of their
trying times over the generations, God would hear their cry, and his answer
would not be delayed in light of his plan of salvation. Peter wrote: "I
tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily." Peter
is thinking of men and women in every generation until Jesus comes again,
rather than one person crying for justice night and day until he or she
"wears God out."
"However," says Jesus, "when [not if] the Son of Man comes,
will He find faith on the earth?" In view of the difficult days that
lay ahead for the Lord's disciples, as well as his disciples in the Age
of the Spirit, when he finally does come again 1) in an invisible coming
to the world for his church (when he will come as a thief in the night,
just before the final great seven-year tribulation), or 2) when he comes
again in glory, power and judgment for all the world to see at the end of
the great tribulation, will he find his spiritual sons and daughters living
victorious lives of faith, trusting in him for every circumstance they face?
Or will he find those who love him fainting during those difficult days?
Will he find Christians losing heart as they suffer injustice at the hands
of wicked men, forgetting to trust him for justice and protection from their
oppressors? Each man and woman must answer that question for themselves.
In light of the difficult days we live in before the second coming of Christ,
we should be found praying at all times - praying so that we do not lose
heart. In the immediate context, we should be praying about our Lord bringing
justice in the midst of an unjust world system.
Jews for Jesus evangelists have been harassed by station managers in the
Boston subway stations for passing out their famous "Broadside"
tracts proclaiming Jesus as Messiah, even though they exhibited exemplary
conduct while doing so. Two years ago, a Boston court banned the group from
continuing their ministry. A request for prayer went out to their supporters,
and then they hired a group called Christian Advocates to defend their right
to free speech in the subways of Boston. As a result of prayer and godly
advocates, when they came to court, according to a report, "Judge Zobel
ruled that a ban on handing out leaflets in subway stations was an unconstitutional
block to free speech, and she issued a permanent injunction barring the
transit authority from enforcing regulations on literature distribution."
Why pray when you can faint? Because prayer keeps us in touch with God so
that we will not lose heart in the difficult days before his second coming,
II. Prayer will show God our heart
And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in
themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two
men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.
The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that
I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like
this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to
lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be
merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house
justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself shall
be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Our text tells us why Jesus went on to teach this parable: "And He
also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they
were righteous and viewed others with contempt." The question that
would be raised in the minds of the disciples, considering the fact that
when Jesus returns again he will judge the wicked and reward the righteous,
was, "Who then are the wicked men and who are the just men?"
The Pharisees had two basic problems in the sight of God: 1) they were self-righteous,
and 2) they had contempt for others, despising all who were not like them.
What is the definition of a self-righteous person? Jesus told his disciples
in the Sermon on the Mount, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."
(5:20.) That quality of righteousness could never be obtained by keeping
a set of man-made traditions, or by trying to keep the law in the flesh.
The Jews already knew from Genesis 15:6 that "...Abraham believed God
[concerning all his promises] and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
Abraham was declared righteous before God because of his faith, not his
works, but out of his new life came good works. Paul would later write to
the Romans, "There is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10).
Today, as in the days of Abraham, men and women are declared righteous by
God when they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior
So what were the characteristics of this Pharisee in Jesus' parable? He
went to the temple to pray to a God whom he imagined in his mind. He stood
in the midst of all the others gathered to pray and, in effect, prayed to
himself: "God, I want to give thanks to you at this moment. As I look
around at the humanity in which I am forced to live because of the Roman
oppressors, I want you to know I am so thankful that I am not like other
people." Then he named the kind of people he had in mind: "swindlers,
unjust, adulterers, or worse yet, like that tax-gatherer across the way.
Now Lord, back to me. I fast twice a week, every Monday and Thursday [which
was unnecessary because the law only asked a Jew to fast once a year, on
the Day of Atonement]". And then, instead of obeying the law concerning
tithing, which required that he give a tenth of his grain and cattle, he
gave a tenth of all that he had, including the smallest seeds, etc. But
here is what Jesus said of this practice: "and yet [you] disregard
justice and the love of God..." (11:42).
And what were the characteristics of the tax-gatherer? When we studied the
life of Matthew (DP message #4129) we saw that this man was a tax-gatherer
before he became a follower of Jesus (Matt. 5:27-32). Tax-gatherers were
Jews who were hired by the Roman government to collect taxes from their
fellow-Jews. Once hired, they were known as publicans or public servants.
They were considered to be on the lowest rung of the social ladder because
of their unscrupulous methods. Tax collectors would estimate the worth of
merchants' good that flowed through the three major cities in Israel, Caesarea,
Jericho and Capernaum. The estimated tax was usually much higher than the
goods were worth, so in time the tax men acquired a reputation as extortionists.
As Jews, they were hated by their countrymen and regarded as publicans,
sinners and traitors. Their Roman employers hated them also. So the only
friends a tax-collector had were other tax collectors.
In spite of how others thought of him, however, this man realized he needed
God in his life. He had such respect for the "awesome God," the
"Holy God," the "Merciful God" that was revealed in
the Book of Deuteronomy that he was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to
heaven. In contrast to the Pharisee, this man was "beating his breast,
saying, 'God be merciful to me the sinner.'" In other words, "Let
your anger, which I deserve, be removed. Cover me with the blood of the
lamb, slain on the Day of Atonement, for the sins of your people. Dear God,
forgive, please forgive me. I know I have sinned in your sight." We
know, of course, that Jesus' words to such people are: "Blessed are
the poor in spirit [those who are spiritually bankrupt] for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:3).
Jesus next evaluates and judges the heart of man: "I tell you, this
man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone
who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be
exalted." (18:14.) The tax-collector could go home knowing he was justified
(declared righteous) by God, and await the second coming of Jesus Christ
in confidence and peace. The Pharisee was not forgiven his sins because
he thought he had no sin, and he exalted himself before God and man. Unless
he changed his attitude from pride to humility he would be judged at the
second coming of Jesus Christ.
I watched a wonderful program on TV the other night about the life of John
Newton, the former slave trader who became a Christian and then a pastor
in England in the 17th century. John Newton wrote many hymns, but perhaps
the the most famous of them all was "Amazing Grace." As I read
the words of that great hymn again last week, I couldn't help but think
how much John Newton reminded me of the tax-collector in the temple. Here
in the words of his hymn is the heart of John Newton:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come,
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
In the difficult days between our Lord's first coming and his second coming
he continues to give his disciples in each generation Basic Instruction
Before Leaving Earth. As his disciples, let us continue to proclaim the
message that the kingdom of God is still among us in the person of Jesus
Christ. Let us be people who ought always to pray and not to faint, because
1) prayer brings us back to God, and
2) prayer reveals our hearts as we seek to serve our Lord.
It is in prayer that we sense our own helplessness in the age of the Spirit;
the wonderful presence of our risen Lord; and his encouragement for spiritual
resources to deal with our present realities. Why pray when you can faint?
Because our Lord does not want us to live defeated, discouraged lives. He
wants us to come to him in these difficult days before his second coming
so that we can ask for all the spiritual resources necessary to continue
to share the good news of Jesus Christ to all who will listen. "The
Kingdom of God is among you," said Jesus. If we will place our faith
in the risen Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we shall receive salvation
and the forgiveness of our sins. Our shame and guilt will be replace by
wholesomeness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, as men and women who love
"...at all times we ought to pray and not to faint,"
until he comes again in power and glory.
Catalog No. 4266
Ron R. Ritchie
January 19, 1992
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