Prayer

Is it the end yet?

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Why?  

Such a short phrase and yet so all consuming at times in our lives or the lives of those we love.  In the opening lines of Luke’s gospel (Luke chapter 1) we are introduced to a married couple (Zechariah & Elizabeth) who are now ‘well advanced’ in years and yet sadly do not have any children…

Why?  Although Nadine and I never faced this particular challenge ourselves, we know a number of couples who wanted children and yet had to wait month after month, year after painful year… Why?

Luke, wants us to know that this experience of theirs was not as a result of consequences of some action on their part.  In fact they are described in glowing terms as having married according to God’s instructions and they were also diligently serving God and living in such a way that would have been pleasing to God.

Luke points out two medical reasons for their being childless – ‘Elizabeth was barren’ and ‘both were advanced in years’.  However, the unmentioned reason is the true reason for this situation in their lives – God was going to work a miracle through them that was going to usher in the miraculous birth of the Messiah to come!

Makes me think of Romans 8:28 and how as Michael Eaton says that passage means that when things are going badly, somehow for the believer they’re going right in a funny sort of way that we just might not fully understand right now!

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain and sadness must have been real and crushing at times, it must have caused them to question themselves, to even question God…  But all the while, God was sovereignly working out all things, personal things and national and cosmic things all in accordance with a His plan and purposes (Ephesians 1:11).

We know Zechariah had prayed because the angel Gabriel in vs13 says to Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard”.  I would not be surprised if Zechariah had gone through periods of doubt regarding his faith, regarding the goodness of God or whether his prayer’s were being heard…  But in this moment, the angel confirms, your prayer has been heard!

Are you like Zechariah and Elizabeth?  

Have you been diligently following God, seeking to live in ways you know please Him, serving God in the church in some way and yet there is something that you feel God has not heard you on?

What an encouragement this seemingly ordinary couple are!

They served God, obeyed God loved to please God in spite of their own struggle and disappointment at seemingly unheard and unanswered prayers and seemingly did so for years and years.  Their faith wasn’t dependent on God doing what they wanted when they wanted it!  They weren’t consumer’s but worshipers of Almighty God.

If they had conceived as a married young couple, no one would have noticed, it would not have caused all who knew them or all those in the hill country of Judea and all around who heard say; “What then will this child be?” (vs66)

God was working in the delay, God wasn’t late but on time as He always is according to His timescale not ours.  What is there in your life that feels like delay, or unheard or unanswered prayer?  Can you believe God’s sovereign will and His perfect timing?  I am not saying you’ll get what you’ve been praying for necessarily, but I am saying that as with this couple, God has your life and it’s circumstances in His loving control and your life like that of this couples’ is interwoven with God’s divine purposes in the whole earth!

This story is a good news story, with a wonderful conclusion far beyond what they had ever prayed for no doubt, angelic visitations, in filling by the Holy Spirit, prophesy, and the honour of a son who usher’s in the Messiah…

Someone said to me the other day, when things in our lives seem unfulfilled, out of control even, under pressure – what we can say with assurance is ‘that we haven’t reached the end of the story yet‘, there is more to come, God’s not done.  We know from Hebrews 11:39 that for some of us God won’t have even written the final chapter of our lives when we have passed on to eternity as our lives can still have impact after our death and history of this earth won’t be wrapped up until Jesus comes back…

Maybe you’re in a tough spot right now, maybe your faith is being challenged, maybe it feels like God has abandoned you or is not answering your prayers…

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story encourages us to remain faithful, diligent in loving God, serving God’s purposes and while we wait to see what God will do and we too with them one day cry out “blessed be the Lord God”.

Lessons from a persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8)

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I loved this parable from a few weeks ago!

Just an explanation of the pictures, Alexandra my daughter (7yrs) draws during family devotions at breakfast, she draws “what she sees in her head” – love it.  Here she has drawn the widow and the judge and then herself and God who chose her!

Why is this parable recorded in Scripture?

Luke tells us why in verse 1…  This parable is in Scripture so that we would always pray and not loose heart in our praying.  Why is this necessary, well it’s because we do loose heart in our praying (haven’t you?), because from our perspective, when God’s answer is seemingly delayed we tend to unravel…

We can identify with the widow, who has a need and she needs to persist to get an answer.  Sometimes, actually oftentimes when we are praying there appears to be no answer.  We can learn from this widow and her example to persist in our prayer and not give up.

What questions does it address, ask or answer?
1) Unanswered prayer or delays in answered prayer.

God always answers our prayers, He just doesn’t always give us the answer we are looking for or in the time we would like, but He does answer our prayers.

One of my greatest lessons in life came through unanswered prayer…

We had left everything, sold everything to follow God’s call to come and lead Oasis Church in Amanzimtoti.  One of the things we needed was for me to sell my shares in a private company to help us buy a home in Amanzimtoti.  I concluded a deal to sell my shares and we moved, bought a home knowing that the money for the house would only be due on transfer of the property and so we had some time before the money from the sale of my shares would be needed.

But then the purchaser didn’t pay!  In fact he didn’t pay ever in the end.  We were stuck having bought a house and not able to afford a bond at the full purchase price and nothing seemed to be happening, my prayers were dominated not with prayer for the church but wrestling with God over this delay, disappointment and very real financial problem that presented itself and seemed not to be resolving itself.

Eventually on a prayer walk about 7 months later I felt God speak to me about my heart in the whole issue, God told me to forgive the man who had reneged on the deal.  It was at that time that God taught me that it is possible to be right but not Christlike, but that is not being right at all!  So I repented and within a short time someone else offered to buy my shares and the problem was resolved.

It’s been said that God always answers our prayers either with; yes, no or not now.  Why are my prayers unanswered?  This is a common question.  Luke makes Jesus’ purpose clear in prefacing the parable with; “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)

God wants us to persist like this widow did, even in the face of seemingly unanswered prayer or delay.  When we read this parable and we hear what the unrighteous judge says, we need to then hear Jesus’ words spoken to encourage us

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.

God will never be rightly charged for forgetfulness or not paying attention or not caring about us or not loving us – His children.  We need to remember these things when there appears to be delay or when what we prayed for did not happen.

We pray to the Father who loves us, we are taught in this parable that God is attentive to the cries of His chosen ones (“His elect”), He does not delay long over them.  The question is not whether God is faithful to us, mindful of us or listening, the real question in this parable is whether we will continue to trust God even when there are delays or when the answers to our prayers are not what we have asked for or thought was best.  Will we trust God then?  That’s the real question.

We put God on trial but in reality we are the ones on trial not God.  Which leads to the next question/issue raised by this parable…

2) The parable ends with a question focused on us…Will God find faith on the earth?

The question Jesus poses to each one of us is; “Will we persist in our faith, in our prayers like she did in her requests?”  We know God will find faith on the earth, the question is whether it will be our faith?

What mystery does this text speak to?
The mystery of election.

In making His point, Jesus contrasts two things:
1) God and the unrighteous judge
2) The elect of God and the widow

We who have believed in Jesus are incredibly valuable to God.  We are “His elect” (ESV) “His chosen one’s” (NIV).   Jesus is making a similar argument to the one found in Matthew 6:25-34 where we are told not to worry because if God our Father cares for the lilies of the field, the grass and the birds HOW MUCH MORE will our Father not care for us?

Here in this parable, Jesus is making the same type of argument, God chose us, we are very valuable to Him, she was unloved and with little value and yet she was heard, HOW MUCH MORE will we who are so valuable to God be heard by God!

In our day, many believers wrestle with the doctrine of election, it is full if mystery and an offence to the modern mind in a number of ways.

However, it was not some topic to avoid for Jesus, but rather a truth that was meant to encourage the disciples.

Application

May we be like this widow who persisted in her requests to an unrighteous judge who saw no value in her, being encouraged knowing that we come not to some unrighteous judge but to our Heavenly Father who loves us and who chose us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) because He loved us (Ephesians 1:5).

May we like her therefore not give up but continue to trust God, believing even when we can’t see the evidence of His love and continual care for us, may we believe that He knows what is best for us and often it is not what we think is best for us, may we trust Him and His purposes for our lives.