Week of October 8

Keep on Winding the Clock of Commitment

Read: Esther 3-8; Luke 18
“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?”
Luke 18:7, ESV


“Disciples are to live, looking for the hope of the King’s return” (HCBC). However, we know the agony of waiting until He comes again and the longing for justice in the meantime. So, what are we to do in the in-between? Jesus calls His disciples to take matters into their own hands—praying hands! Let’s learn today about active prayer.

The Meaning of the Text

Get the point that Jesus makes
To begin with, we need to settle into this passage to make sure that we understand what Luke seeks to communicate to his reader, Theophilus, and to us as readers today (1:1-4). Chapter 18:1-8 provides a continuation of Jesus’s message on faithfulness that began in 17:20. An eschatological, or end-time, view is evident when we compare 17:20 and 18:8, so there is an end-time urgency to the passage. The scholarly term for these idea-based “bookends” is inclusio (NIC). Chapter 18, verse 9, is linked to the preceding materials in several respects. There is a tie with the theme of prayer (18:1-8, 9-14), the statements on travel (18:31, 35; 19:1, 11), and the motif of being fit for the kingdom of God (NIC; NAC). This overall section extends to 19:27.
The parable in verses 1-8 is connected to the interaction Jesus had with His disciples, even though the connection may not be readily apparent to us (cf. 17:22). The Savior continues to teach His disciples about the consummation of God’s kingdom. By calling them to pray and not to give up, He provides them with an important lesson in the active power of prayer while we wait (see also 11:5-8).
Pray, pray, and pray till Jesus comes
Our context focuses on the delay in Jesus’ return, but the broader application may be made to all life circumstances. In this parable, two characters make up the picture: a persistent woman and an unjust judge. Jesus uses, once again, an a fortiori argument. He means to show that if an unjust judge finally granted the woman her request, how much more will God hear and grant the petitions of His followers who pray to Him day and night. Therefore, because Jesus’ return has been “delayed” for centuries (see Luke 17:22-37), the church should not give up, but continue to pray “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2) and remain faithful (18:8; NAC). What is the nature of such prayer?
What the prayer life is and what the pray-er does
The woman asked continually—it was her only hope. Her request was not “nonstop,” but persistent. Luke showed special concern for widows in his book. She had absolutely nothing, and yet someone had robbed her of what little she did have (cf. Luke 20:47). The idea is not to fail in praying for the big picture of God’s coming kingdom. This level of commitment requires “whole person” belief. The daily needs that we have for justice fall beneath the umbrella of trusting God as well. He knows our needs and He is just in taking care of us. This type of persistent prayer is to characterize the Christian life.
I suppose it depends upon how much need that we have of God. Let me explain it this way. I’m a “coastal guy,” having grown up near the Gulf Coast. Cold weather to me is an occasional plunge into the twenties. Therefore, there was never much urgency to prepare for a lengthy sub-zero degree winter in Houston. I watched a recent TV episode of “Yukon People,” and these folks must prepare for temperature drops that settle and remain around 20-40 degrees below zero throughout the winter! They anticipate the coming cold by making sure they have all they need of food, water, and supplies until spring arrives. No persistent preparation, no survival. Jesus teaches that tireless prayer enables us to survive the “cold” until He returns. What type of harsh spiritual elements may we face?
The woman remained committed despite the indifference of others. Jesus teaches us that the unjust judge had neither reverence for God, nor did he care about humankind (18:2; cf. Proverbs 9:10). There was no room in his worldview to value people as having been made in God’s image and possessing inestimable worth!
The Jewish historian, Josephus, once wrote about Jehoiakim, a king who ruled briefly over Judah during the Babylonian conquest: “He was of a wicked disposition and ready to do mischief, nor was he either religious towards God, or good-natured towards men” (Antiquities 10.5.2; see NAC). Notice that this judge did not show reverence toward God or neighbor, which Jesus considered to be the nail upon which all the law hung (Mark 12:29-31), remember? Jesus’s parable here was not to show why God will bring justice, but that He will bring it to His people. So, we are to remain prayerful until He returns. There is one further point to make.
The big question for our lives: Are we like the persistent and praying woman? Let’s consider the connections between each of these various episodes in this longer section of Luke’s Gospel account, because they will enable us to grasp Luke’s strong underlying message. Joel Green believes that a question or two rises to the surface when one reads this section. For example, “Who are those who not only come to God open-handedly in trust and expectation, but also behave accordingly, with graciousness, toward others?” (NIC). Let me illustrate the point!

The Message for Our Lives

I have always been fascinated by the “often-untold stories” of people and their extraordinary commitments. For example, the LA Times once ran a feature story on the longest-serving employee at the presidential residence. He had served 51 years at that time and his job was to keep the 85 timepieces ticking!
His name was John Muffler, and he was the White House’s official clock fixer and winder. He kept those clocks balanced and oiled and wound for five decades! It was not all a bed of roses for Mr. Muffler, as he was called. Lyndon Johnson chewed him out on several occasions, but he continued serving consistently and faithfully. I would call him the human Energizer bunny, because he took a licking but kept things ticking. I know, that last sentence was punny, but please read on.
Here’s the spiritual point: Jesus reminds us of the vital importance of praying faithfully and consistently for the Father to come take us home to be with Him. God’s time and timing is on our side!

For Thought and Action

1. To use another analogy, we cheer triathletes for finishing their races. Dogged determination in prayer will bring ultimate success. Pray on!
2. Churches do well when they teach disciples that the “prayer meeting” is to last 24/7 until Jesus returns. Encourage persistent prayer within your church fellowship.
3. For Families: We often begin to pray for concerns related to our family’s life together, and then, after a while, discontinue them. We don’t make a record of God’s answer, or celebrate when God’s plan has been revealed, or even when justice resolves a situation.

This is where the family prayer journal becomes an important item in our homes, even one we keep at hand on the kitchen counter or coffee table. When we pray together for a major family concern, or an issue of justice, or a complex situation, or for the salvation of someone we love, we make a ceremony of writing it down, date the prayer, and continue to pray. When God answers, we rejoice, make a special meal, celebrate God’s goodness, and write the date and answer in the prayer journal!

Can we imagine the treasure this journal will be over the years as more and more answers are documented? There will be many journals as time unfolds, and shelved in the family bookcases. After we are long gone to Glory, they will remain and testify to the legacy of faithful prayer you have modeled for your family, children, and future grand- and great-grandchildren. Let us commit to consistent prayer!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock