Thursday, 17 March 2016

Keep on keeping on

The following parable has been on my mind lately as it points towards a major flaw in my character, my lack of perseverance in most things.

1 Now He (Jesus)was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. 3 “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 “For a while he was unwilling; but afterwards he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
Luke 18:1-8 NASB


The end of the parable is actually a restatement of the introduction. When Jesus asks the question as to whether, when he returns, he will find faith on the earth, this can be explained in terms of the opening verse. When he returns will he find an enduring and persevering faith? The kind of faith:
1. that really believes in God and that he is a God worth believing in? This is a strong theme in the passage as Jesus underlines that God is, unlike the unjust judge, really interested in and concerned for the widow and her plight. He is interested and concerned about us too;
2. that trusts this God enough to keep on praying and asking. A faith that trusts despite the fact that if the answer does not come straight away, it will come in some form, and in a way and a manner that satisfies the one who prays;
3. that believes that if God delays, he delays not because he needs persuading or nagging as this unjust judge does, but because there is a good and beneficial reason for doing so;
4. that perseverance must "finish its work so that (we) may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."(James 1:14)

Nowadays when we see the church struggling and in places dying, the reason we assume is because of advancing secularism, or the cycle of death and life or because of the church's disobedience. And all these thing may well be factors in what is happening. But at the same time I am beginning to wonder if it is a loss of faith on the church's part. The sort of faith that Jesus himself says he will be looking for when he returns.

By asking that question in the way he does: "However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" there seems to be an element of anxiety or doubt, as if he knows what the future failings of his church will be. Therefore the lack of success we experience in the church today is not so much because of what the world around us is like, but what we ourselves are like.

Have we allowed the age we live in shape our expectations and our faith? Do we lack the character to persevere in prayer and to keep praying until something happens because the way the world approaches things is to want and expect and demand something straight away? And are the trials and difficulties we face not a sign of failure but a means of God encouraging the necessary development of character that we need in order to grow the type of faith we are lacking and yet so desperately need at this time?

Losing heart, as Luke refers to it, is losing trust or as the Greek states "becoming weak or weary or faint". In other words becoming less Christian or less of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

It's interesting that the models for prayer in the Bible are two Old Testament characters. The first is Jacob who wrestles with an angel and refuses to let go until the Angel blesses him (Genesis 32:22-32). This incident becomes the turning point in Jacob's life, a point of conversion. The damage to his hip bone becomes a metaphor for an enduring change that took place in his life as a result of his wrestling and perseverance. Previously he had been a shifty sly character who relied on his own wits and cunning to get his own way. But now everything was unravelling because it had been built on the sands of his own trickery and human wisdom. And so we meet him on his way to see the brother he had tricked out of his inheritance, ready to throw himself at his mercy. He was out of ideas and out of luck. He had come to the end of his rope and there was nowhere else to go. A bit like the widow who was desperate for justice and also had nowhere to go except to an unjust and corrupt judge. In both cases faith is expressed through perseverance. Wrestling prayer is a persevering prayer that says to God, in effect, I am not going to leave go of this until I get an answer.

And the other Old Testament example is Daniel who throughout his life is the epitome of perseverance under trying and testing circumstances. In chapter 9 we find him praying on behalf of his people and asking God to "hear the prayers and petitions of your servant" and to look in favour on his people and restore Jerusalem and the people of Israel. At the end of the chapter he has a vision of Gabriel who says to him "As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given" (verse 23). So far so good. But then in Chapter 10 where he prays and fasts, the answer is delayed for 21 days due to spiritual warfare.

We too see both types in our own prayer lives. The instant and miraculous answer to a half expressed prayer or a cry for help. Those are great and give a real boost to our faith. But I would argue that the second type of prayer - or the second type of answer more accurately - is equally, if not more faith enhancing because it doesn't just lift your faith it grows it!

"....we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."  Romans 5:3-4

Although Paul does not specifically mention faith here, the development of Christian character implies a growing trust in God which leads to hope. (See Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.")

Is that the difference between a church that is growing and one that is not? The church that grows believes in God to the point that it prays and does not give up, where one that isn't growing has not only given up on prayer but by giving up on prayer has said goodbye to faith too?

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Would You Adam and Eve It? from Searchlight Theatre on Vimeo .