Connections 10.20.2019: Prayed Up

Luke 17:22-25, 33-37; 18:1-8

Have you heard the one about the church member who prayed such long prayers that his fellow members cringed when the pastor called on him to pray? They dreaded hearing his prayers drag on for five minutes or longer, which they always did.

Somewhere along the way, the church called a new pastor. Some helpful soul suggested to the newly-arrived minister that not calling on the one who prayed long prayers might enhance her popularity.

So in her first worship service as pastor, she called on the long-winded fellow to pray. His prayer lasted for six minutes, fourteen seconds (some helpful soul timed it). She called on him to pray again at the next service. And the next one. And the next one.

Needless to say, people were talking. Committees were meeting. Emails and text messages were flying.

The new pastor called on the man to pray in every worship service for six months. Over time, his prayers grew shorter until finally, he said “Amen” after praying for only forty-five seconds.

As the pastor shook his hand after that service, she whispered in his ear, “Now that you’re prayed up, try to stay that way.”

This week’s lesson text includes Jesus’ parable of the widow and the unjust judge. The parable is about a widow who keeps pleading her case against her opponent until finally the judge gives in, not to uphold justice but to get the woman off his back.

After telling the parable, Jesus says, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them” (vv. 7-8a).

In other words, if an unjust judge will help a persistent widow, how much more will God help us?

That’s the promise. That’s the assurance. That’s what we can count on.

But then Jesus adds, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (v. 8b).

This was an important question to Luke’s readers, who had been waiting a few decades for Jesus to return and set things right. It may be an important question to us too, considering that two thousand more years have passed.

The question is, then, how can we maintain and develop our trust in God while we wait for Jesus to return and for justice to be done?

Luke’s introduction to the parable answers that question: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (v. 1). We maintain and increase our trust in God by engaging in ongoing, regular prayer.

We need to pray so regularly that we stay prayed up.

That way, when Jesus returns, he’ll look at us and say, “Well, what do you know? I found faith on earth!”

Discussion

  1. How would you describe the relationship between prayer and faith?
  2. What practices can we adopt to develop a stronger prayer life?
  3. Some people interpret the parable as teaching that we can pester God into helping us. Is this a valid interpretation? Why or why not?
  4. How has prayer helped you endure trying times?
  5. Why is it important that we trust God is working God’s purposes out, and that this trust continues to grow and develop?

Reference Shelf

There are clear convergences of this parable with the situation of Luke’s intended audience and with ours.

The Parable with Luke’s Audience

Luke wrote his Gospel four decades or so after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By that time, hopes for a quick return of Christ were fading. We see Paul, who wrote before Luke, trying to help churches deal with the same situation (see, for example, 1 Thess 4:13-18). In Luke’s narrative of the journey to Jerusalem, Luke has Jesus tell this parable to teach his disciples that they should always pray and not lose heart. The disciples would need to remember that lesson soon, given the situation they would face following the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the lesson is directed more at Luke’s intended audience, the Christians who were struggling to maintain faith in the face of what seemed to be a long delay in the return of Jesus and the increasing persecution against the church. What does Luke want them to learn from this parable?

Luke wants them to learn to pray to God. They need to keep praying no matter how much time goes by and no matter how much difficulty they encounter.

He wants them to learn to hope in God. The judge in the parable was unjust, but God is just. To trust in God is to know that God will act to vindicate God’s people. To trust in God is also to trust in God’s timing.

He wants them to learn to trust in God. When the Son of Man comes, will he find his people continuing in their faith? Will they demonstrate that faith through faithful, trusting prayer?

The Parable with Us

If Luke needed to encourage people to keep the faith who had been waiting

less than half a century for Jesus to return, how much more do we who have been waiting for two millennia need such encouragement? There are differences between their situation and ours, though.

For one thing, we are not persecuted for our faith. (I assume a Western, primarily American audience in making that statement. Christians in other places are certainly being persecuted.) Some of us may think we’re persecuted, but what we call persecution barely passes for inconvenience. Our faith is not tested by the threats of loss of property, community, and even life that confronted Luke’s audience.

For another thing, we are afflicted more with a lack of expectation than with frustrated expectation. Perhaps it’s because preachers who try to manipulate people’s fears and twist biblical hope embarrass us. Maybe it’s because we hear about the coming of Christ during Advent season and at no other time. Maybe it’s because, since we really can’t understand what it means for Christ to return, we choose not to think about it at all. Whatever the reason for our lack of expectation, it is a powerful reason to persevere in prayer.

Both despite and because of the differences between our situation and that of Luke’s intended audience, the parable still teaches us to watch, to pray, to hope, to trust, and to be faithful.

Michael L. Ruffin, Luke: Parables for the Journey, Annual Bible Study (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2015).

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email