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Parables of Christ

Parables on Prayer

Luke 18:1-14

Lesson audio

The first section of this lesson may seem a bit deep. The truth is that any writer on the Scriptures faces the temptation to get drunk with his own words – the trick is to make sure you don't drown in them.

Intolerable Problems

The two parables which we are about to read bring with them some intolerable problems of logic.

Why Am I Praying?

The question has been asked in a number of ways. I propose to put it this way: "if God already knows what I'm going to pray about, why am I praying?" Have you ever had that feeling? Let's take a look at a few of the reasons why you should pray even though God knows what you're about to say.

·         Prayer is, first and foremost, an act of reason. You are beseeching the Lord God Almighty; to do so, you must use your brain. Using your brain is something that human beings do – it's what makes them rational creatures. If you will, we can phrase this as "you were given a brain, now use it." Reasoning is something that human beings do, and the higher the better. It is therefore fitting for you to use what God has given you when you talk to him.

·         Prayer also acknowledges God as the creator and sustainer of the universe. The mere fact that you pray acknowledges him for who he is (or at least should). This is fitting and proper, even if you have nothing particular to say to him tonight.

·         Perhaps the most compelling argument is this: the one man who knew whether or not predestination works in what ever way was Jesus of Nazareth. He knew the answer to this question. He was a man of prayer. So, we may never get a good answer this side of heaven – but whatever the answer is, it implies that you and I should pray.

Predestination

The other problem concerns the matter of predestination. If God knows the future, and knows what's going to happen to you in the future, why would you bother to pray? It's already fixed; you can't change a thing. It is interesting that those whose particular denomination includes a belief in predestination tend to long explanations here.

·         To begin with, the Scripture has many warnings on the subject of prayer. There is no Scripture of which I am aware which says, "Don’t bother." The truth is consistent; we may not know the answer to predestination but we can certainly read the commandment to prayer.

·         Next, is everything predestined? Right down to your shoe size? Or is it simply God stands out of time, being eternal. To see something happen is not cause it to happen.

·         It is also quite possible that while we cannot thwart the will of God in prayer, we might be able to move along a little faster.

That God sustains the universe is well known; it's called Providence. Why he would allow us requests to meddle with his Providence I do not know; I only know that he commands us to do so.

Does God Hear Sinners?

I sure hope so. Even the most righteous among us are sinners; and there are those among us who are prayer warriors whose lives are a living testimony to the power of prayer. Somebody out there is getting this to work – therefore we may conclude that God hears the prayers even though those of us who can admit we are sinners.

Persistence

Luke 18:1-8 NASB  Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,  (2)  saying, "In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.  (3)  "There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, 'Give me legal protection from my opponent.'  (4)  "For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, 'Even though I do not fear God nor respect man,  (5)  yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'"  (6)  And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge *said;  (7)  now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  (8)  "I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

 

The Widow

Story telling is an art. In that art there are certain conventions. These are shortcuts for the author to evoke your understanding. The widow is just such a figure:

·         Figuratively, she represents the poor and the powerless. An elderly widow was dependent upon her family, or worse her late husband's family.

·         In law, she was quite handicapped. The courts of this time considered a woman's word as being worth half that of a man. The result of this is that often enough the small property which was left to the widow was taken by deceit.

·         Please note what is not said about this widow: she has not introduced to us as a super prayer warrior. She is not noble and righteous; she is ordinary.

The Unjust Judge

The judge in this case would also be a well-known figure to those listening to him. The wording of the parable suggests that this is a judge by Roman law. The Romans were very proud of the fact that when they conquered someplace they brought it law and justice. This was generally true. But any system of law is no better than the people who implement it. In this instance most Jews would have seen someone who was Jewish being hired for this job. In other words, he was a traitor on whom you had no way to apply social pressure. There was no sense talking to his mother. Likely enough Christ's hearers would have assumed that he was corrupt and taking bribes.

The widow does not approach him by supernatural means. She simply wears the man out. The Greek phrasing for this is quite interesting; it means to put circles under someone's eyes. In short, what she did was to nag, pester, bite and bullyrag the man into doing what he was supposed to do in the first place.

Christ then uses this as an example by comparison. His argument is simple; if you can get the crooked judge from the sap sucking Romans to do what he supposed to do, how much easier is it to get God to listen to your prayers? God, after all, loves you.

Always Pray

So we are to pray always.  Just what does that mean?

·         The usual interpretation is that we are to pray without ceasing. This is sometimes taken to an extreme point, but in general this is the first good meaning to it. Don't stop. Whatever it is you're asking the Lord, keep asking until you get an answer. (Remember that "no" is an answer.)

·         Consider, however, that it can also mean that we are to pray in all things. Have you ever fallen into the trap that says, "Oh, that's too trivial to bother God with?" That is a severe underestimation of God Almighty.

·         It can also mean, "no matter how hopeless."

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14 NASB  And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:  (10)  "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  (11)  "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  (12)  'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'  (13)  "But the tax collector, 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!'  (14)  "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

 

The Pharisee

Let's begin with the obvious which is so often overlooked. The Pharisee is definitely more righteous. Fasting two times a week is far more than the once a year fasting required on the Day of Atonement. He ties his agricultural produce, but he also tithes the little herbs from his garden. He is indeed the working definition of a righteous man in Jewish society of the time.

His problem is not his obedience; it's his attitude. He clearly despises the tax collector. That's understandable; the tax collector would be seen as a traitor to the Jews cooperating with the invading Romans. More than that, he is also judgmental towards the man. If you want a working example of "do not judge", this is a good one — in the negative sense.

Worse yet: he knows that God agrees with him. He's just repeating the simple facts as far as he's concerned. But did you notice this — what, exactly, did he ask God for? To be exact, he asked for nothing. He got it.

The Tax Collector

In a very curious way, this tax collector is an honest man. Most of the Jews would not have agreed with that statement; tax collectors were notorious for skimming and for just plain fraud. But look at the man's honest heart:

·         He knew himself to be a sinner. There is no salvation until that realization sets in.

·         He knew that he was not "worthy." He didn't try to convince God that he was.

·         But he didn't know exactly what he wanted: mercy. That's what he asked for; that's what he got.

Problems

This Pharisee brings up two problems which are common to Christians even to this day:

·         The first is the concept of righteousness by comparison. It's the idea that because I'm a better man than so-and-so over there, then I must be okay. That's a little obvious; so our Pharisee covers it with a formality. He puts the comparison into a sentence that nominally is about thanksgiving. Sometimes we do the same thing; it's called praying for someone.

·         The other problem is righteousness by works. The idea here is that we can do enough good work that we put God in our debt. Sometimes, we do this because it keeps our mind off of repentance.

So When You Pray

So when you pray, you might remember these things.

·         God knows you — and is not fooled in the least. Therefore, do not lie to him.

·         If you pray out loud, don't lie to the rest of us either.

·         Particularly do not lie to your self.

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up. The contrite, penitent heart is heard at the throne of God.

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