Text: Luke 18:1-14 | Listen to Message
The Paradox of Christian Prayer
Everyone knows what it feels like when your prayers never seem to make any difference at all and you just want to quit. What’s the point of praying when the answer is always “no”? Maybe God hears other people when they cry out to him, but he doesn’t hear you. He doesn’t care about your problems. At least that’s the way it feels.
In seasons of unanswered prayer, “disappointed” or “discouraged” is woefully inadequate to describe the agony you feel. You’re heartbroken. Exhausted. Crushed. Devastated.
Luke seems to mock our pain when he says Jesus “told a parable to the effect that [we] ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Yeah, right. If you don’t want us to lose heart, then why don’t you – you know – answer a prayer every now and then?!
But Jesus, undeterred by our cynicism, goes on to tell a story about a widow’s relentless persistence against impossible odds – and a corrupt judge who doesn’t give a rip about her or her rights. But finally he gives in and gives her justice, simply because she refused to take “no” for an answer. Then Jesus gives the punch line: “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?”
Many Christians conclude that you need to pile up your prayers and wear God down, just like this widow woman piled up complaints and finally wore down the judge.
No, no, no! A thousand times, NO!
This is not a comparison; it’s a contrast. Jesus is saying, “If even the worst of judges will eventually do right for no reason other than to get this woman off his back, how much more will the God who chose you and pursued you in love do right by you?”
No, you don’t have to “pay your dues” until you hit the magic number. Yes, you do need to be boldly persistent in your prayers.
But Jesus isn’t done. He says this bold persistent is only half the story.
Jesus tells a second story contrasting the prayer of a self-righteous, self-confident Pharisee with the humble, broken cry of a tax collector who simply refers to himself as “the sinner.” The Pharisee expects God to reward him for his awesomeness. Meanwhile, the tax collector can barely stammer his way through a simple “God, be merciful to me.” Guess which prayer God heard.
Jesus concludes this second story by saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Get this: God doesn’t need to hear how awesome you think you are. He flung the Universe into existence with the breath of his mouth. He chased rebels to an old rugged Cross, where he was bruised and crushed for the forgiveness of sins. He’s got plenty of power and goodness of his own; it isn’t compelling to him to hear about yours!
Here’s the bottom line: Grace gravitates toward brokenness and humility. You want the limitless favor of God in your life? Then show him the dysfunctional and filthy places in your life and ask him for mercy!
Do you see the paradox yet?
Jesus said you need to be boldly persistent in prayer; then he turned right around and said you need to be humbly self-aware when you pray. This is the paradox: Gospel-shaped prayers are bold, humble cries of relentless dependence on the mercy of God.
Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can make you bold and humble at the same time. Humble because you were so lost in your sin that Jesus had to die for you. Bold because you are so loved and accepted, Jesus was glad to die for you.
This is the secret to always praying without ever losing heart: Remember who’s on the other end of your prayers – and especially remember his mercy!