Date: March 15, 2009

Bible Text: Luke 18:1-8 |

Series:

If you will, please turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 18, starting with verse 1, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”
Jesus is saying, “I want to teach you something here. I want to teach you that the way I’m going to answer your prayer is by your continual coming.” You can’t get anything else from it. “And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?” Now again, what does it say? He will bear long with us. It’s His will that He bear long with us. We don’t practice that. We quit. “I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
This passage says that a widow went to a judge for help and justice; and though the judge had no fear of God nor regard for men, he grants this woman her request because he didn’t want her to trouble him with her continual coming. Now through this story, Jesus is teaching us the importance of persistence in prayer. He knows how easy it is for us to just give up and do something a little easier that seems to get more immediate results. The whole purpose of this parable is seen in verse 1. “…men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Don’t give up.
How many of us have prayed about something and have just given up? We conclude that it is not God’s will, and we quit. We pray for something that is so important to us; but after a week or two, we just quit. We’re like a guy who is drilling for oil down in Texas. He borrows hundreds of thousands of dollars, but he doesn’t hit anything. Then he borrows and scrapes a few more thousand, and he hits nothing. He goes to visit his relatives and friends and gets a little bit more and says, “If I don’t strike oil now, I’m going to quit.” He doesn’t, and he quits. Somebody else starts up, and in a couple of days, hits a gusher. That’s what we’re like. I believe we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven and discover how near we were to victory when we gave up. We say, “God just closed the door,” or whatever we like to use as an excuse. Because the Lord knows our nature, He says, “…men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Keep your finger here and turn back to Matthew 7. My first point is that the Lord taught us to pray by what He said. We’re familiar with Matthew 7:7 where Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” In John 14:14 He says, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Now whenever I preach on something like that, I know some young people and maybe some older people say, “Well, that’s not true.” Yes it is, if you pray the way He teaches. Because as you pray over time, and you pray in passion, He will show you exactly what His will is and you will pray exactly in His will, and He will gladly answer your prayer. That’s what the Bible teaches.
The entire New Testament is full of verses where our Lord speaks about prayer. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” I’ll tell you from experience, when you pray to the place where God says, “This is My will,” you will believe. You will know what is going to happen, and you shall receive it. Our Lord taught us to pray by what He said. Sometimes we get the idea that victory in prayer is only for the “super Christian.” But I’m happy to tell you that it is for all of us normal people. I love where the Bible says that Elijah was “a man subject to like passions as we are.” And we know he prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t rain for 3½ years. If you study the Bible or human experiences, you will find that some of the most extraordinary prayers were answered for some of the most ordinary people. And some of the most exciting answers to prayer in my life came when I had just about given up.
You may be tired of my relating to you our court case of many, many years ago now. But it illustrates this so greatly. We stumbled into the pilot program of child advocacy. There was no child advocacy before it came to us. It was the federal pilot program, we found out much later, written by Hillary Rodham and her friends. The whole idea was to take the rights of parents away. Well, there was a widowed mother, a new Christian, who had a 15-year-old boy who didn’t want to come to Sunday school, didn’t want to come to church. And so because of this program, because he was told he didn’t have to obey his parents, he ran to the welfare. They called her up and said, “You can come and see him, and we’ll decide whether you get him or not.” I went with her. I heard with my own ears them say, “You can’t use the word ‘God’ unless he okays it.” He had forged his dead father’s signature and was driving the car. That’s against the law. But they said, “You can’t tell him he can’t drive the car. You can’t tell him he has to take the garbage out.” That’s what happens when these bureaucrats get zealous.
We fought this. Again, we did not know it was a pilot program from Washington, D.C.; we just knew it was a Bible principle, and so we fought it. We stood with this mother, and you would not believe what happened. A big lawyer from Hammond, the biggest lawyer in northwest Indiana, who played football with Gerald Ford and whose father was a senator, came and wanted to help us. They disbarred him. Now think about that. Decades before he was going to retire he could not work anymore because he stood with us. A court-watching organization funded by the steel mills saw that there was a real problem, and they stood with us. It was disbanded. Fifty years old, but it was disbanded. The police were against us and the newspapers. I would quote, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” and they would quote me as saying, “God loves a bruised and bloody body.” It was the biggest battle I’ve ever heard of. We were only 4 years old at the time. We weren’t established much, but through prayer and God’s power, we won the court case.
The judge we were fighting, who became a Supreme Court justice in the state of Indiana, was behind it all. This was his “pet” project. This was going to bring him fame. He sued us. I won’t go all into it, but it was a tremendous battle. There were seven different charges we had to win. We won them all. But by the end, we were just beat up. We were in the papers every single day for months and months. We would knock on a bus kid’s door, and they would run from us. There’s still a stigma in the community because of this. We prayed and God gave us answer to prayer, but I was whipped by then. People in this auditorium today were there during the battle. They know what it was like. We were whipped. We were down to a core of 200 people. You might say, “Well that’s a good amount of people.” But we were building this original auditorium when the bank pulled the loan illegally.
Now, can you imagine that? You can’t put yourself in our shoes, but can you try to imagine that? The newspapers were still beating on us, the police, the welfare. We would knock on doors, they would cuss us out. It looked like the end. We were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt already with legal bills and everything else that was going on. And then they pulled the loan. We owed $600,000 which would be the equivalent, I’m sure, to at least $2 million today. Now I give all that to you and say that I prayed, but I didn’t have enough faith. I didn’t have much faith, let’s put it that way. I prayed, but I didn’t have much belief. It was like the end. I reminded God that I didn’t want to be a preacher, but He made me be a preacher. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to come to Chesterton. I’m a city boy. I didn’t want to start a school. And the hardest thing for me to submit to God was when He said to build this big auditorium. There we were—200 people. And I just whimpered, “God, you told us to build it. These people love You. We’ve been through a lot.” It’s a long story, but He gave us the money.
Do you understand the point that I am making? Don’t quit. Don’t quit. When Jesus went up on the Mount of Transfiguration He took with Him Peter, James, and John. And while He was there, a man with a demon-possessed son came to the disciples at the foot of the mountain and asked them to cast out the demons. They tried and failed. When Jesus came back down, the father had lost confidence, not only in the disciples but in Jesus Himself. We do that, don’t we? We cast the wrong light on Him by our weaknesses. The man said, “If you can, would you cast the demons out of my boy?” Of course, Jesus cast the demons out. And when they were alone, the disciples asked Him why they could not cast the demons out of the boy. Listen to His answer, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” It wasn’t that they were not interested. It wasn’t that they didn’t try hard. It wasn’t that the job was too big. Sometimes we have great goals for souls to be saved, our church to really be something for God, our finances and our family to be right. We’re not indifferent, but we fail in the place of prayer. The Lord taught us to pray by what He said.
Second, He taught us to pray by what He did. In Luke chapter 11 when the disciples came and asked Him to teach them how to pray, it wasn’t after a great sermon on prayer, but after they had observed Him praying. As they watched Him pray, they watched the results of that prayer. Their conclusion was that prayer was real. It was big. It was worthwhile, and they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He taught them to pray by example. He put prayer first in His life. The day before He chose His twelve apostles in Luke 6:12 he spent the whole night in prayer. “Well,” you say, “That’s Jesus. I work a job.” I know we work jobs, and I know we can’t always pray all night. I don’t think God teaches us to pray all night as a normal thing. I don’t consider myself a spiritual person, but there have been times in my life when I have not been able to sleep. I had to walk the floor and pray. Do you understand? I can’t understand how people can go through life and not have those times. I can’t understand how a Christian can believe in the God of the Bible that I believe in, and not have those times.
For us, sometimes prayer is the preparation for the battle. For Him, it was the battle. We know He made the blind to see; the sick He healed. He raised people from the dead. He fed 5,000 from a little boy’s sack lunch. He walked on water and made the sea and the storm to become calm. But I never see Him work up a sweat in performing those miracles. Yet, in Gethsemane, as He prayed, He perspired, and His sweat was as great drops of blood. The point I’m trying to make is that He put forth more effort in praying than He did in performing the miracles. And I think that’s where we foul up. I’m not saying that we are supposed to perform miracles, but He wants to perform them through us. When He got up off His knees, it was like a man going to receive a reward. The victory was already won. He just had to walk through the motions, and He knew the victory was won. That’s the way it ought to be. We ought to get a hold of God about a matter; and when we get up off our knees, we know the victory is won. Not talk, not pride, but we got a hold of God, and God gave us assurance. We must see that our victories are won or lost in prayer.
Again, He strained at prayer until his sweat became as great drops of blood; but when He was healing the blind beggar, He just said, “Receive thy sight.” When He raised Lazarus from the dead He said, “Lazarus, come forth.” Having prayed, all else seemed easy. If I were an unsaved man standing in the shadows of that garden and saw Him sweating that crimson perspiration, if I heard Him cry, “If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from Me,” I would have thought that if the trial went against Him, if He was going to face death, He’d fall to pieces. And yet, over there were the other three—Peter, James, and John—sitting against the tree sleeping. We might say, “They’re calm. When the trial comes, they will be cool. They will help Him.” Yet we know they were the ones who went all to pieces. They were the ones who ran. They were the ones who denied. They were not prepared. We should be cool in the battle because we’ve already gained the victory in prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray by what He said and what He did.
Then next, and I think this is more exciting yet, let’s look at some of the rewards for praying. Prayer brings a sense of His presence. I get so tired of people publicly thanking God for things that you know God didn’t do, they just kind of worked it out. But I stress this, if you pray for something that you know can come from no one else and in no other way but from God and you get it, that’s exciting. Not especially what you got, but the fact that He gave it to you. The fact that God heard me and responded to me excites me more than what He did. I talked to God and He listened, and He gave me what I asked for. Praying gives you a sense of His presence.
I like what R. A. Torrey used to say about this. He said, “I know there’s a God.” And then he gave this illustration, and you have to picture a cafeteria back in those days. He said, “If I go to a hole in the wall and I ask for some ham, and it comes out; and then I ask for mashed potatoes, and it comes out; and I ask for a salad, and it comes out; and green beans and it comes out—I know there’s somebody behind the hole. And when we start asking God for things and here it comes—revival in people’s lives, special needs and offerings, God’s presence in a great need—you know He’s listening and you know He’s providing. David said in Psalm 116:1-2, “I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” Not because I got something, but because He heard my prayer. That makes me pray.
Next, the realization of His presence brings new courage and power. At times, I’ve been down, and then God answers some prayer and I get revitalized with new courage, new strength. Show me a guy who really prays and gets answers to prayer, and I’ll show you a guy with faith. My faith is just simple. I don’t think it’s bad to rehearse these things, but when we came here, we had no job. You say, “That was stupid.” That’s the way God led, and I do believe God was leading me. No job, no support. My pastor had promised $50 a month, but it didn’t come until later. I prayed, “God, you know we need food,” or, “We need the rent for the auditorium,” and He gave it every time. I’m not saying it was easy, but it was given every time. God teaches us that way. You might say, “It was only $50 here and $70 there.” Yes, that’s all it was, but that gives you faith. We really hurt ourselves sometimes when we just play around and juggle things. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we’re rich, but we have such a budget now (like most of you) that we can juggle things. There was nothing to juggle back then. It came in, and it went out.
I’ve heard many a pastor say, “It doesn’t do any good in our area to knock on doors.” Well, rip that page out of the Bible. You ask, “Do you see a lot of people come to church from canvassing?” No. But the Bible says you reap what you sow. People say, “It doesn’t do any good,” but they don’t have faith. “Well, you know, you can’t raise kids today.” Rip that page out of the Bible. “What do you have a bus ministry for? None of them turn out right.” Well, I can introduce you to some who have. You see, that guy doesn’t know what prayer and answered prayer is. If you find yourself down and negative, try praying, really praying. And I don’t mean one time. I mean as this passage teaches, over and over and over. I’m not talking about weeks; I’m talking about months. Just keep on going, and God will mold you in that prayer. God will teach you and show you His will in that prayer. I used to go to a motel and just get alone with God and pray. I can remember kneeling there next to the bed and praying; and God would then say, “This is it,” and I couldn’t pray anymore. He didn’t want me to pray anymore. He gives you the assurance. Our feet start moving. “Okay. If this is it, let’s go!”
In the book of Daniel we read that no one was to call on any power but the king. Daniel had the courage to defy even the king, and he kept praying three times a day with the window open. He wasn’t nervous, though. They threw him in the lions’ den, and he just cuddled up and made a pillow out of that furry mane and went to sleep. You say, “The lions weren’t hungry.” Then why, when the king realized that he had been hoodwinked by those guys and threw them in, do we read that they didn’t even hit the floor and there was not a bone left? Those lions sounded hungry to me. Someone said they didn’t want Daniel because he had too much backbone. What I want to say is he spent so much time on his knees that he had no fear. We’ve got too much fear.
Prayer brings a sense of His presence. Prayer brings new power. And then, prayer is a means of helping others. The actual Lord’s prayer in John 17 is, “Father, keep them from the world.” I have prayed basically this every morning. I pray for my son and daughter-in-law and my daughters and their husbands. “Lord, please keep them from the world.” I almost start crying thinking about it. “Sanctify them through Thy word.” Jesus was praying that the Father would keep us and preserve us. As we read this, we ought to have reason enough to pray for each other. If Jesus prayed it, surely we should. I don’t think we pray for each other enough. In all the books of the Bible that Paul wrote, except one, he asked that the church pray for him. “Church of Rome, please pray for me.” “Church of Corinth, will you pray for me?” “Church of Ephesus, pray for me.” “Titus, Timothy, pray for me.” It’s a privilege that we pray for each other. We’re told to pray without ceasing. We’re told to pray for those in authority. We read, “God forbid that I should sin… in ceasing to pray for you.” You sin when you don’t pray for your children and, I believe, for the children of the church, for the teens, and college students as they are away. We pray for them while here. I hope you pray for them when they are away. Pray for the sick, for the pastor, and missionaries. Withholding prayer is a sin. That’s what the Bible says clearly. You don’t have to be a theologian, do you? A. J. Gordon said, “There’s more that you can do after you pray, but there’s nothing you can do until you pray.” Our Lord prayed for us. Paul requested all those churches to pray for him. We should pray and want to pray for each other.
And then last, in closing, let me say that if we are to be successful in prayer, we must pray earnestly. James 5:17, “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.” John Knox prayed, “Give me Scotland, or I die.” Why shouldn’t we be able to pray, “Help me raise my children, or I die.” “Oh, that my unsaved husband might be saved, or I die.” How can we have deep problems with our children, our unsaved mate, and not walk the floor for hours through the night, “Oh, God, I don’t want to live if you don’t answer this.” “God, give me power as I teach my class. I don’t want the blood of those children on my hands.” “Oh, God, be with me as I head this bus or as I pastor this church, or I die.” “Give us revival, or I die.” Not, “God, I hope somebody stumbles in and makes me look okay and comes down the aisle. I haven’t had anybody down the aisle.” When we get as earnest as John Knox, we will get his results. I believe that. God is not going to trust His work to someone who is not serious.
Turn back to Matthew 7:7. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished by the prayers of the half-hearted. I see people in our church who are more interested in guns, or more interested in the job, or more interested in fishing, or whatever it might be. More are interested in the Cubs, or the Bulls, or the Sox, or whatever it is. I can see them get more excited about that than anything else. But their children are going to the devil. They always think it’s going to be okay. “Just make it look good. It will be okay.” How can you have a husband that is in real sin and not agonize in prayer until he is right with God? Wife, in a situation like that, I believe this is your responsibility. I pray for him. All you pastors can understand this. I pray for him, but I’ve got a lot of people to pray for. You ought to be walking the floor, and I believe God will answer your prayer if you believe.
So many souls are going to hell. So many children in our churches are living for the devil. It ought not to be. Not one of our kids ought to live for the devil, not one. But we have them in our church, and you have them in yours, because we don’t believe. Look at Matthew 7:7. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” I know we memorize these verses, but this is God saying that to us. Now listen to His illustration, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” Of course not. What’s our problem? We give our kids too much. We’re not going to give him a stone if he needs bread. “…Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Of course not. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Our problem is unbelief. It’s not the Bible. The Bible is so clear. He says, “Just ask.” He tells us how to ask, but we just don’t have faith to keep on going. What He’s saying is that prayer is like a boy asking his dad for food. There’s no mystery about it. If you love your child and you have food, you will give it to him. There’s no question. So why do we question God? Why do we go on with a husband who is not right with God? Why do we go on with our kids not the way they ought to be? Why do we go on with no souls being saved in our churches? Our heavenly Father owns and controls all and says, “Ask, believing.”
I fought the call to preach for 10 years. I don’t mean you ought to do it, but as I got older, I started thinking maybe that was good, because by the time I said, “Yes,” I believed. I was positive. I just said, “God, You are going to have to do it. I’ll be a clean vessel, but You are going to do it.” He had to pay that rent. He had to bring in that food, or I would have stopped being a preacher. I would figure our deal was broken. I never drank in my life, I’ve never sipped beer in my life, I’ve never danced in my life. I’ve never done any of those things in my life. But before I surrendered I was as backslidden as a dog—I wasn’t right with God. I was saying, “No,” to God. When you get right with God, the Bible opens up to you. And do you know what opened up to me? As much as anything, these verses on prayer opened up to me. Remember the illustration of the friend asking for bread to feed a visitor? The man inside (depicting God) said, “No, I’m in bed. Come back tomorrow.” But he kept on knocking. He said, “Go away. My family is in bed. Come back tomorrow.” Read it. The man kept knocking. And the Bible says the man inside got up and basically asked, “What do you want, wheat or rye?” Because of the man’s importunity, he gave him bread. That’s what the Bible teaches from cover to cover. God said this is prayer.
And in the middle of all this teaching on prayer, Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” And then in verse 33 it says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Seek Him first. We have to be serious. I suggest to you this afternoon to get serious about prayer. Read Matthew 6 and 7. Get serious, and He will withhold nothing. Your marriage can be wonderful, your children godly, our churches can have revival. You can see souls saved. But the key is we have to be earnest. Even though the unjust judge didn’t care, this widow got her prayer answered because she was serious. Fathers answer prayers. The guy in bed got up. Why don’t we believe that God will answer if we are serious and persistent?
In closing, I want to point out that we’re not persistent in order to make God answer our prayer. We’re persistent because we believe He hears us. If you make a date to meet someone at a certain place and he’s a reliable person, and then he’s not there, you don’t wait there to make him come. You wait there because you believe he will come. We believe Jesus will answer our prayers. We’re prone to faint, to quit, to give up. But God says, “Don’t quit. I will answer.” This is a great privilege. I don’t know any greater one than to go to God, and He will answer our prayers. It’s worth more than millions and millions and millions. He can give anything and not deplete His goods. I love the passage, “…open thy mouth wide…” I don’t think He does it when we’ve got our teeth gritted together. “…open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Don’t just ask for some bubble gum. Open wide. That’s a promise of God. That’s a promise to each one of us if we are saved.

“...men ought always to pray, and not to faint...”
Luke 18:1

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