Great Storyteller Persistent Widow

We’re in a series called ‘The Great storyteller.’

Exploring the parables of Jesus.

Tonight: Exploring the B-sides of the parables.

Title: The Persistent Widow


Comcast Story

So this past Christmas was a unique experience for Jordan and I. Primarily b/c this was our first Christmas with Grace. And like a lot of you, we had 2 Christmas’s to go to in addition to celebrating Christmas just the 3 of us. We have the Eiffert side of the family where we celebrate with my side of the family and we have the Townsley side where we celebrate with Jordan’s side of the family.

Now one thing I always become really aware of, at least in the neighborhood we live in, it may be the same for you - Home break-ins go through the roof right around Christmas. And this is made worse by the fact that weeks before Christmas, my sisters house was broken into as well as a personal friends house.

And being a security minded person, I’m super aware of that and so I start obsessively looking at our internet security cameras and our home alarm. I can access all that on my phone, and so I find great comfort in being able to be sitting in a restaurant and I have in the corner, my security cameras. Not sure if that’s healthy, but that’s what I do.

Well that was all going according to plan, until our Comcast internet stopped working. Now I’m pretty techie, so I can usually fix that sort of thing but essentially the internet would work for like 15 minutes, then it would stop and I’d have to reboot the router and modem and then it would work for like 15 more minutes.

Now I am the guy that has a hard time talking to tech support b/c I feel like they always talk to me like 120 year old person who’s never seen a computer before. So I was on the phone with tech support for probably 45 minutes and they were just taking me through the most basic stuff that I KNEW wasn’t going to fix it. Rebooting my computer, trying to new cable, restarting the router. I’ve already done all those things. Well the phone call essentially ends with them saying they’re made some change to my account and now it should work. I eventually hang up and sure enough, give it 15 more minutes and it stops working. And so I call back, and I have to do all these same things that I know aren’t going to fix it. Eventually, I think about call Number 3, they agree to send a technician out to come. They come out, make some change that they’re confident will fix the issue, and then leave, and sure enough it breaks in 15 minutes. So I call back and start this whole brutal process over. Eventually I end up doing 6 phone calls and having a 3 separate technician come to the house. Meanwhile none of my security camera stuff is working.

But I had to be incredibly persistent b/c at the end of the day, the Comcast employees aren’t going to care about my internet the same way I do. And that makes sense, they go home at night, to internet that works just fine.

And as strange as it sounds, I think there’s a lot of people that when it comes to prayer, think this is pretty much how it works.

That God is the Comcast employee that doesn’t really care at the end of the day whether your prayers are answered or not.

And the parable that we’re talking about tonight on the surface seems to confirm that.


Luke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. (Luke 18:2)

And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:3)

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, (Luke 18:4)

yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” (Luke 18:5)

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. (Luke 18:6)

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

(Pray)


So in Luke 18 we find the parable of the persistent widow. Other people call it the parable of the unjust judge.

And at the beginning he comes right out and says what the point of the parable is:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

And then look at the opening line:

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. (Luke 18:2)

Here just makes yet another bold, innovative and risky move. By portraying God as the negative character in the story.

“God” is represented by a judge who “Neither feared God nor cared what people thought.”


Then the 2nd character is introduced, the widow:

And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ (Luke 18:3)

So here we have some sort of lawsuit, maybe over money, and she goes to this judge looking for him to help her.

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, (Luke 18:4)

yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ” (Luke 18:5)

So here the judge has zero compassion on the woman, he’s not concerned about looking bad, he doesn’t care about doing the right thing in the eyes of God, none of that.

Now this is b/c the woman is so annoyingly persistent, he finally agrees to help her.

The parable ends:

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. (Luke 18:6)

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)


On - surface:

And so on the surface:

It looks like what Jesus is saying is the God the father is like a judge who doesn’t care about people, but if you bug him long enough, FINALLY he may do something, simply b/c you’re so annoying.

And I don’t know if anyone here has ever felt that in prayer. That God is this kind of neutral party, and if you can just pray RIGHT or pray LONG ENOUGH or pray with the RIGHT FAITH or the RIGHT WORDS, then maybe, just maybe God will get off his lazy butt and do something.

I’ll be honest, growing up, I felt this a lot. I thought of God kinda like the force in Star Wars, that if I could just figure the right way to harness the power, then I could do something. But if I COULDN’T, maybe b/c I doubted or I didn’t have the right words or didn’t pray long enough or often enough, that I really didn’t expect much.

And now that I’ve grown up in the faith a little, I truly believe that this has got to be one of the most legalistic, dysfunctional ways of understanding prayer that I can imagine.

That God is up there, ready to act if you just know the right spell.

Harry Potter I’ve never read the Harry Potter books, I know a lot of you have, maybe I will someday, but I have seen the movies, if you’re totally out of it, it’s about these kids to go to this school of magic called Hogwarts and they study to learn all the right spells and moves. - And as strange as that sounds, I actually think that’s how a lot of people think about faith and prayer.


We have - tendency - making prayer - Complicated

I think we have this tendency of making prayer so much more complicated than God even intended it to be.

There are rules for it. There’s ‘moves’. There’s phrases that we’ve decided are the super effective ones.

And instead of it being us asking something of our ‘Abba Father’ which means ‘Daddy’. Instead of just asking him and trusting him, it’s totally about us and OUR posture, and OUR words, and OUR faith.

I come out of a faith tradition where we used to spend a lot of time talking about ‘Praying in Faith’ - and really what we meant was believing hard enough, and being absolutely certain that what we pray for is going to happen. - And if we don’t, if we doubt then it’s not going to happen.


So needless to say, I do not think that’s the truth or prayer, and I do not think that’s the point of this parable.

While I do think this parable is about persevering and not giving up, it’s not about ‘storming the gates of heaven’ and having absolute certainty.

And I actually don’t think that certainty is the holy grail of prayer that people have made it out to be.

Greg Boyd : One of my mentors from a distance is a pastor named Greg Boyd and in 2013 he published a book called ‘The Benefit of the Doubt’ - Breaking the Idol of Certainty.

In it, he talks about the early years in his church where he had a close friend named Brian who was dying of cancer. So they had all these prayer meetings for him, they’d fast, they’d do all that stuff. And someone said in one of the prayer meetings ‘If we don’t get our faith up, God’s gonna let Brian die. But if we believe hard enough, God will let him live.’ - And Greg said that language really sparked something in him. So much so that one time Greg says he was praying and he got this image of God standing next to Brain and God essentially holding Brian hostage with a gun to his head. And if the believed hard enough, God would let him go. But if they didn’t then God was going to kill Brian.

And essentially Greg says : “Does this sound like a loving father to you? Or does this sound like a cruel monster engaging in psychological torture?”

I DO believe that God wants us to pray in faith, and to persevere, and to ‘believe’. You’re sitting in a church called ‘The Believers Center’ for crying out loud. But that has nothing to do with ‘certain’ all the time.

You guys know my riff on apologetics, I think there’s totally a place for that. But at the end of the day, I feel like the purpose of apologetics is mostly to comfort nervous Christians. B/C I don’t think that KNOWING that Jesus is God and he was raised for the dead, I don’t think that ultimately the point. - This might make some of you uncomfortable, but if you were to ask me ‘How to you KNOW Jesus is God and he was raised from the dead?” I would say ‘That’s easy: I don’t. I don’t KNOW that. I BELIEVE that. And there’s a very different thing. - Don’t worry, I read Lee Strobels ‘A Case for Christ’.

When it comes to matters of faith, we don’t KNOW anything, which shocking is why it requires FAITH. - B/C we can’t see it.

I remember I used to just wish so bad that God would just something so over the top that it would MAKE people believe. Like he would hijack all the smart phones in the world and do a live broadcast of himself and do some crazy miracle on live stream.

Two things about that:

  1. It wouldn’t work. People would still doubt. People can doubt anything. They’re call it fake news.
  2. That would eliminate the NEED for faith, which is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. - God doesn’t coerce people. God doesn’t force people.

So if you’re understanding of faith and prayer is just becoming absolutely certain about stuff in your mind and you then you can get God to do whatever you want him to do. That’s the very definition of legalism. It’s just your performance.

“I prayed - only 41.7% faith level / 60% faith.”

No, there is no certainty meter. And if there was, there would be no way for you to know when you’ve reached it, so you’d always be living with this ‘Am I enough?’ Mentality. And that’s a horrible way to live.

I truly believe this: All God wants from us is to be people who have enough faith to keep on asking.

Even when it feels like it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t feel like he even hears you. I believe all the faith you need is enough faith to come and ask. Sometimes for the 1,000th time.

Here’s how I know I have enough faith: When I still believe enough to come and ask.

The fact that I’m going to God and asking him surely means that on some level, I believe it.

That might not seem like a lot of faith, that might sound a little bit like ‘mustard seed faith, but I bet it you’re being honest, you can think of times in your life where you don’t even have enough faith to ASK.


If - wanting my opinion - Why - some - unanswered.

If you’re wanting my opinion as to why God seems to answer prayers in a real direct way in one case and not in another, that’s AT LEAST an entire other sermon. I covered it pretty thoroughly in ‘The Cross and the Sea’ sermon in 2015. It’s message 8. I believe, you can find it online.

‘The Already & Not Yet’.

But the short version is that we’re living in a unique period in history that theologians call ‘The Already and the Not Yet’. Which is to say that Jesus came to bring a new kingdom but we’re in unique period of time where that kingdom, that light is still spreading. And so we live in a world where we see the wholeness, life and healing of the Kingdom of God, and we also see the fallen Kingdom of the world that is death, darkness, pain and suffering. But the light is winning, and the light is continuing to spread.


But I guess who I really want to talk to tonight, are people who are on the verge of losing heart.

I think the progression tends to be losing confidence in yourself first, thinking you must be doing something wrong, and then with some time it turns into losing confident in God, that he’s not even listening. Or if he is listening then he doesn’t care.

Jordan & I - 'waiting family'

I remember when Jordan and I were a “waiting family” for adoption. We really believed that God had told us to do this, no there wasn’t any sort of biological reason that we couldn’t have our own kids, we just really felt like God was leading us to adoption. So we go through this whole process to be approved to adopt, and we’ve paid these thousands of dollars, we had to pay for psych evaluations for our 8 pound dogs for crying out loud.

We finally get that all set up, and we’re so excited and we’re basically sitting by the phone waiting for our baby to arrive. 1 month passes, 2 months pass, 3 months pass, a year passes and we haven’t heard anything. And we’re starting to think ‘My God, what is wrong with us! None of these moms are picking us!’ Meanwhile Jordan’s cousin and her husband they decide they want to adopt, so they go through this whole process and they’re matched in like 11 days! We’ve been waiting for a year!

If you can imagine that call where they tell us they’ve been matched. We’re just like “Congratulations!!! Wow! SO great.” But I’ll never forget Jordan gets in the car and just breaks down crying.

Sometimes waiting can just beat the ever-living crap out of you.

And sometimes it can take all you have to just say one more prayer, when you’ve already been praying for a year!

THAT’S what this parable is about. It’s about not losing heart even when the days seem really long. And the answer seems really far away.

That if a unjust judge will finally give in if the asker just keeps at it, how much more will a Heavenly Father who’s NOT unjust, who’s NOT cruel, how much more will he give good things to his children?

But what he asks is that you persevere enough to just keep on coming back.

Doesn’t need a magical incantation, doesn’t need a magical level of faith. He just asks that you keep coming back.


Honesty.

I really believe this: He wants you to be honest.

I’ve long since abandoned the idea of trying to be someone I’m not when I pray.

It’s totally fine if when you pray sometimes you get all fired up, but just know he doesn’t need you to scream at him.

Bible college - Prayer voice.

I don’t know if you guys are familiar with my particular church culture, but when I was in bible college, I had my regular voice and then I had my prayer voice. - Where I feel like for some reason, my prayer wasn’t ‘breaking-thru’ and the only way I could get it to work was just to talk louder.

“God I just plead the blood of Jesus!!!” Who talks like that in real life? You don’t order like that in the McDonalds drive-thru. Can you imagine?

But I used to think that the more intense I could be, he’s more likely to hear me.

It’s fine if you shout if that’s what you’re feeling, but just know that he doesn’t need that.

God just needs enough faith for you to actually show up.

On those days when you feel like everything you ever wanted is coming true and God is just so tangible that you can feel him.

And on those days where you pray and you trust and you have faith and NOTHING changes. All he needs you to have is enough faith for you to actually show up.

  • When you’ve been on the adoption waiting list for 9 months and everyone around you is having babies. Will you still show up and pray?
  • When all your friends are getting married, and here you are still praying that God would bring you a husband or a wife. Will you still show up and pray?

Sometimes that’s all faith means : you keep coming back.


I think - place - prayer gets / beneficial

Stop praying how - SUPPOSED

Start praying from - place - actually are.

Or think about the book of Psalms - BRUTAL honesty in prayer. What really crazy is that the psalms were put to music and people would sing them in the temple. Imagine singing this:

Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. (Psalm 109:6)

When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. (Psalm 109:7)

May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. (Psalm 109:8)

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. (Psalm 109:9)

May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. (Psalm 109:10)

Properly theology? OF COURSE NOT! But it was brutal honesty. It’s an extreme example.

But I think it serves as an example for us. No matter how confused, bitter, angry, hurt, violent you feel. Keep the lines of communication open.

Book of Job

That’s one of the points of the book of Job is that Job prays some truly horrendous prayers. He essentially sits down and says ‘God, you absolutely suck!’ And God commends him. Not for his great theology, his theology was a train-wreck. No he’s commended because he was shooting straight.

He says to Job “You have spoken what is right.” - That word right means to shoot straight. What it means: you spoke to me straight from your gut. He was honest, and real.

As opposed to his friends were all religious, fluffy, retribution and ‘you must have had sin in your life’.

Job ‘God, you absolutely suck.’ You’re such a jerk.'

Kept the lines of communication open. Kept talking to God.

As wrong, weird, blasphemous as it was, it was straight from the gut and God loves that.

God loves honesty, - he wants and honest relationship with honest people.

(Prepare - Communion)

Matthew 7:7-11

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8)

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? (Matthew 7:9)

Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? (Matthew 7:10)

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

(Close your eyes)

I want to talk to the people that tonight there’s something heavy on your heart. Maybe you’ve talked to God about it, maybe you haven’t. But it just feels like the pressure never seems to let up. And you wonder: Does he hear me? Does he ever care? Does he even see me?

As we pass communion, spend a minute - opening your heart - He sees you. He knows you, he loves you.

He wants you to open your heart up to him, and rest.