Prayer, Discouragement, and Faith
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 18:1-8
October 20, 2019

Jesus speaks to us today about faith and prayer. He speaks to us about this in the parable of the widow and the not-so-nice judge (Luke 18:1-8). He urges us to always pray and not to lose heart, not to give up on God. He is speaking to us about discouragement. Faith does not give up on God, no matter what the circumstances. Discouragement gives up on God. So faith and discouragement are in a battle.

Prayer is important because it means we are looking to God for our help and are looking to God for His answer. Prayer means that we are relying on and open to God.

Discouragement with respect to prayer comes into play for two reasons. Bad things happen. We see this in the parable. Jesus talks to us about a widow. This means at least that she has lost her husband. The widow also needed to be vindicated against her adversary.

The second reason is that God’s answer, God’s vindication, may seem to take a long time. Jesus alludes to this in the parable when He says that the not-so-nice judge did not want to give justice to the widow “for a while.” The idea here is a long time.

So here is the point of the parable. Even though the judge in Jesus’s story did not fear God or respect human beings and put the widow off for a long time, she kept coming. She kept asking. She was not put off by the judge putting her off. Finally, the judge gave in. He did so because the widow was wearing him out with her persistence.

In the parable, Jesus paints a picture of the judge as not being very nice. He does this in order to create a colorful and marked contrast between the judge in the parable and God. God is not like the judge at all. The judge does not fear God or care about human beings.

But God is good. God is trustworthy. God cares. God is infinitely concerned about you in His love and grace. God hears.

Because God is good, Jesus promises that God answers the elect with His justice and does so speedily. The elect here are those who believe in Christ. In Christ they look to God for help. They believe that He cares, hears, and answers according to His love and grace in Christ. 

But here the issue of time comes up again. Jesus says God answers speedily. But then He asks the question: when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8). So the issue of faith arises as we think about time.

Time refers to waiting for God to answer, to give justice or vindicate. This vindication may involve outward circumstances, as it ultimately will. It may also involve the resolution in your own heart. The coming to peace.

But time creates the problem of losing heart, of giving up on God, when it seems like the vindication is taking a long time. We want to believe that God is good. But when the bad comes and we cry out to God, time comes into play. How long is the vindication supposed to take?

And during the time of waiting, there is pain. It hurts so bad sometimes. I am referring here to soul pain. The pain of loss. The pain of fear. The pain of loneliness. And how long must I endure? Then the temptation to discouragement comes.

But now I’m asking, why are we tempted to discouragement? You may provide different answers to this question. Maybe it is as simple as just getting worn out. Maybe we find often that we just have a lack of staying power.

But then again, maybe we get to start thinking, in the time of waiting. We can start to think according to rational reasoning, experience, and a natural sense of justice.

Rational reasoning. This is the way of using reason to try to figure out how reality works, even how God works. We can give up on God when we think we know how the world works. Maybe we think we know according to science and mathematics. Rational reasoning can tempt us to think that the physical universe is closed to outside intervention by some supreme Being. Things just happen deterministically by unchangeable physical laws and there is nothing that can be done about it. Just get used to the fact.

We may feel that we are bound by such thinking because of the great success of science in the physical realm. But science doesn’t explain everything. Knowing how to make automobiles and computers does not explain the “why” when the bad things happen and the soul pain comes. In fact, it does not explain why we have the pain. A famous recent American philosopher and educator has said that we are no different than inkwells and atoms. But if so, then why do we have soul pain? We cry out as if the bad things that happen were not supposed to happen. A materialistic worldview does not adequately explain this. And a materialistic worldview can be cruel, because it denies that there is any hope. It denies that your feelings are real; that your soul pain is real. It denies that there is a Creator and that He could do anything about it. So it denies any remedy.

But only God can play with respect to the things that go to the root of our existence and hope. Rational reasoning ends up not being much help.

We also think we know by experience. If I experience good, then God is good and cares about me. If I experience bad, then . . . . Well now there is a big blank and a big question mark about God. Discouragement is knocking on the door.

And now the problem comes as to how I can change my experience, because that is the only remedy if I can’t wait for God. But do I really have the power to change things by the exertion of my will? You know the answer to that when you are in the soul pain and there is nothing you can do to change what brought it about.

And then there is justice. If there is any sure way to figure out what God is doing and the “why” of things, it must be justice. If I experience the good or success, if things go the way I would like them to, then it is right and just, and God must be good. If my experience is not good, then it is not right, and so God must not be good. And now the discouragement, the giving up on God, comes knocking, because justice works like this: if the good has come, I must have been good. If the bad has come, I must have been bad. How can I now look to God if the bad has come?

Do you notice how in all these ways of thinking that we know, it all comes down to us? What a burden. Faith and prayer in Jesus’s Name relieve the burden, because it places it all on God and places one in reliance on God’s doing. Now there is rest, peace, and assurance.

So trying to figure it out can lead us into deep quagmires and can wage its war against faith. We must use knowledge to get on in this life. But knowledge cannot answer the higher things; the things that are above it, the “why” questions about God in light of our experience, and what the answer really is.

So God’s word speaks to us as Jesus speaks to us. God’s Word speaks to us from outside our nature. God steps forth from His inaccessible glory in Jesus, into our flesh, to speak to us about our plight. He comes to speak to our discouragement. He comes to speak faith to us, to lift us out of the ways we think we know to faith in God’s promise. He puts before our hearts again the promise that God is good, He loves you. He has infinite concern for you. And He will answer and vindicate in Christ.

The promise seems to take a long. But Jesus inspires our faith that clings to the promise and holds God to it. Jacob is also our inspiration here: “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).

God’s vindication will come. Though it seems long, He will do it. And He will most likely do it in a way that is bigger and better than you could have ever expected. It will ultimately come in a way that overcomes death itself. We do not live in a closed universe.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God with you, speaks to you. He lives. He speaks to you the basic encouragement you need. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Though your reason in the midst of your experience let’s you down, keep the faith. Keep praying. God is good. God is trustworthy. God hears. God is infinitely concerned about you in the love and grace He has for you in Jesus. God will answer. And His answer in Jesus is always wonderful. Amen.


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