“Power of Prayer”
Oct. 21, 2007 – Luke 18:1-8

A tale is told about a small town that had historically been “dry,” but then a local businessman decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. It just so happened that shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case, stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.” (J.K. Johnston, Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 129.)

In our gospel reading this morning, a widow is coming to a judge in order to be protected. The judge, we are told, is a man “who neither feared God nor had respect for people”, and he keeps turning her away. In this story, the widow represents the powerlessness of the time. She would have had little to no rights in the community. The judge represents the epitome of power. He was above all other law, no one could hold him accountable.

So the widow continually comes to him seeking justice, and he keeps turning her away. Finally he changes his mind, and grants her justice. He says, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” She wins. The widow gets the justice she seeks. Her persistence in asking allows her to get what she asks for.

We are told Jesus tells us this parable so we can learn about the value of the persistent prayer. But we need to be careful, we need to remember the judge is not an example of God. The judge is being used as a contrast to God. We know the judge has little love for anyone, even God. He granted the woman justice so he can get rid of her. If she keeps coming and asking for justice, it makes him look bad. And he can’t have that! He’s too politically astute to allow her to bring down his reputation. He’s not an example of God, by any stretch of the imagination.

Jesus reiterates this when he says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”

If someone as cold hearted as the judge can offer justice to the widow, how can a loving God not grant justice to his people?

Now we need to be careful with this passage. It could be seen, and has been seen, as though we’re being told we can keep praying over and over again to get what we want, as though prayer was like sending a Christmas list to Santa. This is not what we’re being told in this passage. In this passage, we are being told to ask God for justice. How justice is delivered may not be how we expect it to be delivered, or even when we expect it to be delivered.

Prayer is intentional, intimate time with God. It is where we spend time communicating with God. It’s a time where we can voice our concerns, lift up our praises, and yes, even vent our frustrations. But communication is more than just speaking. Prayer should also be a time for listening.

When we have a conversation with someone, isn’t there time for both people to speak? Prayer is also an opportunity to listen. It’s a time when we can listen for a response from God. For some people, they sometimes will hear an answer, or a direction. For others it may come in a sense from within, or a feeling. For others it may come in other ways, or even at other times. Will we always get our prayers answered the way we want them to be answered? No, we won’t. In fact we may rarely get the result we are looking for. We can only see part of the picture. God sees the entire picture, and how each life, each instance makes up the masterpiece.

It reminds me of the “Magic Eye” posters you used to be able to buy, and likely still can. At first glance they are nothing but chaotic scenes of colour and random lines. But if you look at the picture are just the right angle and distance, and focus in just the right way, a beautiful 3-D image appears out of this chaos.

This makes me think of how we react with the world around us. How we get lost in the chaos of everyday life, we can’t see the larger, hidden picture. All we see is the life we live. God, however, can see the entire picture, and knows what is best for us, and for creation.

Sometimes we pray for things too soon. The timing isn’t right. So God wants us to wait. Other times we may not be praying for the right thing. So God wants us to grow. To learn more, too get more understanding, to see more of the picture. Sometimes it is for the right thing at the right time and we might get an answer of some sort.

A blog I regularly read, recently posted an article he wrote celebrating 30 years since he became a Christian. It was simply 100 things he’s learned since that day. A number of them reflected on prayer, and our relationship with God. Some were observations about the church. The rest were about how we live out that relationship.

The relationship that is built on prayer and understanding scripture. Through prayer we can learn more about our own relationship with God. It helps us form our understanding of scripture, and ourselves. As we spend time with God, through prayer and reading scripture, we are molded, we are tuned to be more in-line with God’s values.

When we leave the sanctuary this morning, I ask you to look at the trees around the parking lot.
I’m sure we’ve noticed their beauty as they change colours, but look closely at how they stand. At the top of the hill here, it’s often breezy. I’m sure it’s plenty ‘breezy’ in the winter. I sure can’t wait for that!

But look at the trees along the edge of the parking lot. You’ll notice how the constant wind has forced them to grow. They lean. They grow with the direction of the prevailing wind. The constant wind has caused the trees to be formed by the environmental conditions they live in.

What if we took such an approach in our relationship with God? What if we immersed ourselves in an environment where God is our guiding force? If we allowed God to help us seek direction as we grew in our relationship with Him? 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, we seek God as our source of growth and action in the world.

I wish I could say I do this. I really do. But I can’t. I try, but there are times when I don’t pray when maybe I should. There are times when I should pick up my Bible instead of the TV remote (which is pretty much every night). It’s so easy to fall into the trap of complacency. Where we just go about our day, just as we act every other day. Which is fine for most of us. We get paid, we have our friends and family. We get along alright. But where is God? How are we living out our lives as disciples of Christ? Where do others see God in our lives?

In our example of the widow and the judge, we learn that God loves us, and wants to help us in seeking justice. And that’s great, aren’t we blessed to have a God who loves us so much.

But what of those who’s voice isn’t being heard? The people in our community, the people in our world who cry out and no one listens. We may feel hopeless because we feel there isn’t anything we can do. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe there is, and we haven’t been listening.

Prayer is a place to start. We can pray for those who go unheard, who are victims of injustice. But remember the conversation. We can speak, but we also need to listen. God speaks in many different ways, through many different people.

So being persistent isn’t always about us getting our way. More often than not, it’s about finding more about God’s way for us.