"Don't Give Up!"
March 21, 2021
Don’t Give Up, 3.21.14
I enjoy reading. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. I tend to read only two types of books. As you my expect, I read books on Christianity—first a foremost I read the Bible, and I also read books on theology, Scripture, history, ministry, etc. That is what my main diet of reading consists of. The second type of book I enjoy reading is of the self-help genre. I mentioned this in last week’s “From Pulpit & Paper.” I enjoy reading self-help books. When I read these books, I do read them trying to find salvation. They usually get the answer to that question very, very wrong. Nonetheless, they still have benefit, even though they don’t answer the most important question correctly. I enjoy reading these books because they are usually easy reads, and I find their suggestions very helpful for the practical matters of life.
One of my favorite self-help books is a book called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. If you’re looking for an easy yet enjoyable read, I’d encourage you to grab this book. In the book, Duckworth, who is a trained psychologist, investigates the question, “What is it that makes the successful people in life successful?” Why is main characteristic that leads to success in life? characteristics and attributes lead to success in life? She spends a lot of time discussing how many people that that what leads to success is talent or intelligence, some inborn character or quality. She argues that this type of thinking is misguided. What leads to success, she argues, is what she defines as “grit.”
Grit is the ability to be and stay passionate about a specific goal over a long period of time. Grit is the ability to persevere in pursuing a goal that you have in light of ongoing, repeated difficulties. Grit is “courage and resolve; strength of character.” It is the “firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”
This quality, Duckworth argues, is essential to have to success in life. This is the quality that all successful people have, to varying degrees. To success in life, to do things that matter and are important, Duckworth argues, you have to have grit.
Now Duckworth is not arguing from a Christian perspective but what she says has tremendous relevance for the Christian life. Over and over again, the Bible tells us to not give up, to keep going, to persevere in trial, to continue serving the Lord and blessing other people even when it is difficult. As we read the passage in Gal 6:9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” That’s grit. Paul there is talking about grit. The Bible spoke of grit a long time before contemporary psychologist spoke of it. To be an effective Christian, you must keep going. You cannot give up. You must be gritty.
This is true for the Christian life as well as for our prayer lives. Our prayer lives are a microcosm of our Christian lives. If we are thriving in the Christian life, we are going to be thriving in prayer. Prayer is key to living a life that glorifies God. It is absolutely key. If you want to persevere in the Christian life, you must persevere in prayer. In fact, the way to persevere in the Christian life is by persevering in praying.
We all know, though, the difficulty that we experience in prayer. Specifically, the problem of unanswered prayer. Many of you have had a specific prayer request that you’ve come to God with over and over, for many years, and God has not answered. This is a situation more for older saints than for younger ones. While it is also true that the longer we live, the more blessings and mercy we experience, it is also true that the longer we live, the more burdens we carry, the more struggles we have, the more difficulty we face. As we experience these difficulties, we pray. We ask God for help. We ask God to solve our problems. We obey the Lord and we take our needs to God. And yet these needs to unmet. We might see God work a little bit in a situation but the deliverance is not total. We pray and ask God to deliver us, and he says no. Maybe he has said for 10 years. And so we become discouraged in our prayer lives, and our discouragement leads us to prayerlessness.
The Lord Jesus has something to teach us this morning regarding this reality. Dear friends, what you lack, God supplies. In our discouragement, in our weakness, in our giving-up in prayer, the Lord Jesus provides a powerful teaching this morning. Let’s go ahead and up to Luke 18. We will cover vv. 1–8. The title of this parable is, “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” The Lord Jesus says this,
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
My sermon will have two sections this morning. In the first section I will explain the parable, draw out it’s meaning. In the second section, I will apply the parable. Kapeesh?
What is Jesus saying here in this parable? To answer this question, we must first answer the parable question. What is a parable? “Parable” is a biblical word. It comes right from the passage. Luke uses it in 18:1 to summarize what Jesus is doing in the portion of Scripture. Verse 1,
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
As Luke specifies, a parable is a teaching device. A parable is like an illustration. So in this passage, Jesus wants to encourage us to keep praying and to not give up. To do this, he shared a story with us. I don’t take it that this story is really happened. I’m sure it happened somewhere. But that is not the point. The story could be real or made up. The truth of this passage does not hinge on the whether this story actually took place. Rather, it is an illustration. Sometimes I make up illustrations, stories to illustrate a point. I take it that Jesus is doing something similar. A parable is a story that illustrates a teaching usually by means of comparison.
Lesser to Greater
Comparison is key. Jesus in this parable is comparing the reluctant action of an unrighteous judge to the hasty action of our just heavenly Father. This is a comparison from lesser to greater. Jesus is saying that, if a godless, unjust judge will consent to the persistent request of a widow, how much more will your heavenly Father provide you what you need. If the principle of persistence in true on a lesser scale—with a widow and an unjust judge—how much more will it be true on a greater scale—the elect and God the Father. That’s the argument.
Now let’s look at the specific characters in this parable. The first that is introduced to us it the judge. Look with me at v 2. Here we are introduced to the judge.
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.
The characteristics of this judge are that he is godless and he doesn’t like people. He did not obey the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving people. He did neither. His overall characteristic, Jesus specifies, is unrighteousness. Look at v. 6. Jesus says that this judge is “unrighteous.”
Despite his unrighteousness, he still does the right thing for the widow. Look in v. 5. The judge says, “Enough already, lady. Fine. I’ll give you what you want. Stop bothering me.” It took him a while to get to that point, as v. 4 specifies, but nonetheless, he ended up coming to the right decision.
The second character is the widow. This is a woman. Women in the ancient world had less rights than men. Further, she had lost her husband. She had lost her social support. This widow was on the lowest end of the social ladder. The judge was at the highest—a male with an important job. The widow was at the lowest—a woman who’s husband had died. The widow represents the poor, the needy, and the oppressed of society.
Further, notice that the widow has someone who is treating her unjustly. Look at v. 3. This is what the widow says to the judge,
Give me justice against my adversary
This word “adversary” could also be understood as a foe or an enemy. This is a courtroom word. Someone is trying to harm this widow by means of the legal system. Jesus doesn’t elaborate here. I guess we think of someone who is very powerful unjustly suing someone who is poor in today’s legal system. A legal bully. That’s what is happening to this woman. She is being bullied by someone.
Despite her situation, this widow is marked by persistence. She doesn’t give up. She’s a fighter. She is not a quitter. She hasn’t give into her discouragement. She keeps going, seeking justice for herself. Look in v. 3 again. This woman,
Kept coming to him [the judge]
She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She showed grit. She showed perseverance and determination. Despite the circumstances she found herself in, she did not wallow in self-pity and victimization. No. She took action, again and again and again. Her persistence wore out the judge, and the judge consented to her request.
God the Father
The third character is God the Father. Jesus compares the unjust judge to God the Father. The main attribute that is stressed here in relation to God the Father is his justice. Jesus asks to questions in v. 7. He says,
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
Dear friend, what is the answer to those to question? The answer to the first question is, “Yes.” The implied answer to the second question is, “No.” We know that because of what Jesus says of the Father in v. 8. Jesus says,
I tell you, he [God the Father] will give justice to them speedily.
What Jesus is saying is this. God the Father is just, unlike the unjust judge. If the judge acted this way, the Father will act in an infinitely superior way to the judge by providing what his people need in a hasty manner.
The last character is “the elect.” Jesus mentions this group in v. 7.
And will not God give justice to his elect
“Elect” here is the church. “Elect” stresses God’s choosing of them. It touches on what we reviewed last week in Acts 4. God has chosen, he has elected his people. Therefore, they are the “chosen” ones. They are the elect.
Notice the “his” before “elect.” They have a special relationship with God the Father. They are his possession. The widow did not have this status. The elect have a superior standing to God the Father than the widow did to the unjust judge. He is our Father. We are his chosen ones. We are his possession.
What do the elect do? They persist in prayer day and night. Jesus says that the elect are those, looking again at v. 7,
who cry to him day and night.
The elect persist in prayer. The church persists in prayer day and night. This means they pray all the time.
Jesus is here making a comparison between the widow and the church, and the unjust judge and God the Father. If a widow—an outcast of society—is heard by an unjust judge who cares nothing about her, if that is true, which it is, then it is also even more true that God the Father, who is infinitely just, will hastily answer the requests of his people. If the lesser is true, then the greater is true. That’s Jesus’ point. Now let’s apply it.
Here we are transition to talking about what the text meant in the ancient world to what it means for us today. What relevance does Jesus’ parable have for us in our fight to persevere in prayer? What’s it mean for me pastor in the here and now? That’s the question I want to address now. What I’d like to do is to first point out some theological observations. Then, I mention some points of application. We’ll move from the theological to the practical.
First, as a matter of theological observation, I want us to see that Jesus understands how we feel. Jesus understands that persistence in prayer is really hard. Looking back at v. 1. The reason why Jesus shares this prayer is to exhort us to always to pray and to not lose heart. Why does Jesus say this? Why does Jesus teach us to not lose heart in prayer? Jesus says this to us because he knows how strong the temptation is in the Christian life to not pray and lost lose heart, to throw in the towel. Jesus gets it, dear friend. He himself experienced this in his earthly ministry. Often he went to prayer, and these times of prayer were riddled with difficulty and trial. Often Jesus was tempted to give up in prayer.
In our day and age, the notion of solidarity is important. Solidarity is the idea that a group of people are in the same struggle; they are focused on the same cause. Someone who shares solidarity is involved in the same struggle that you are in. Sometimes when we struggle, it’s hard to share our burdens because we don’t feel like anyone knows how we feel. And when we share, people respond in a way that demonstrates to us they just don’t understand. You ever have that experience? I’m sure you have. We all have. We won’t someone to help us who knows what we are experience, who has been through the same struggle as us. We want that. We crave that.
Y’all, Jesus knows. Jesus knows. Jesus knows about the difficulty and frustration you have had in your prayer life. He knows the discouragement you feel. He gets it, completely and totally. His humanity allows him to sympathize with us. He was just like us in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 says this,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Often when we read that passage we say, “Well he was God. He had to have had an easier go of it.” No, dear friends. Jesus knows what you’re going through. He does. He himself went through the same type of experience. Jesus tells us to not give up and prayer because he knows how easy it is to give up. He gets you. He understands you. He is exactly who you need encouraging you to faithfulness.
God the Father Hears Your Prayers
Second theological observation: God hears your prayers. Sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out. Sometimes we can grow cold to the routine and obvious. That God hears our prayers is one of the basic affirmations of Scripture. It is so basic that you might say, “No duh, pastor.” But let’s think about this for a minute. “Pastor, you’re telling me that the infinite God, who is perfect, holy, good, and true, you are telling me that he always listens to me? You’re telling me that through all of life’s frustrations and difficulties, through all of the unanswered prayer I’ve experienced, that God is still for me? That he listens all the time? And that he cares for me?” Yes!
Verse 7 mentions that the elect cry to him day and night. How does God know that? God knows that because he hears the elect’s cry. Those prayers you share with God through tears, those burdens that only God might know you carry, those prayers you give to God in private, he hears. He knows.
Never take God’s lack of answering a prayer request as an indication that he does not hear that prayer request. That’s atheism. We don’t want to be atheists. Do not take God’s lack of answering a prayer request as an indication that he doesn’t here. No. He hears. He hears your cries. In the difficulty and loneliness, God’s ear is always receptive and always listening. For the elect, this is the promise that we have because of the blood of Jesus Christ. God always hears your prayers.
God the Father Will Answer Speedily
Third, God the Father will answer your prayers speedily. Look with me at v. 8. It says, this is Jesus talking of the Father,
I tell you he [God the Father] will give justice to them [the elect] speedily.
To understand what Jesus is saying, let’s try to understand what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not saying, “The Father can give justice to them.” Or, “the Father might give justice to them.” No, dear friend. It says, “the Father will give justice to them.” That’s a promise. That’s a sentence that you can base your whole life one.
I was listening to an interview of John Piper this week. During the interview, he and the interviewer were talking about certain books that have changed your life. Piper mentioned that it isn’t so much books that have changed his life, changed his perspective on God. It’s more sentences. Sentences have changed his life.
This sentence right here should change your life. This sentence should radically alter your hope and belief in the power of prayer. In your discouragement of unanswered prayer, hold onto this promise. God will give you justice. He will answer your prayers.
Likely the hardest portion of this parable for us to believe, at least it is for me, is when Jesus says that the Father will provide justice to the elect speedily. Jesus asks, “Will God the Father delay long over them?” “No,” Jesus responds, “God the Father will give justice to them speedily.”
Maybe you read that and you scratch your head. You say, “Uh, God, I’ve been praying about this specific request for years, and you haven’t answered. How is what Jesus says here true?” That’s a good question, a question I have though a lot about.
The timing of an event, whether it comes quickly or slowly, is dependent upon someone’s perspective. The same event can be interpreted by one person as taking forever and by another person as not taking very long.
Take, for example, how quickly life goes by. If you ask a young child, a year is like forever. If you ask someone in their 80s, they’ll say a year goes by in the blink of an eye. Even more so, if you are an elderly saint you will say that life flew by.
The wiser we become, the more we see that time passes away so quickly. We will have this perspective when we are in heaven. We await that perspective. We await to have the mindset that God’s justice comes hastily. We accept it by faith. We might not feel it. We might not see it. But we embrace God’s word by faith. In the meantime, we embrace God’s perspective by faith.
Persistence Prayer is the Calling
Next, persistence prayer is the calling for Christians. I want you to notice that in v. 1 there is an embedded commandment. Jesus wants to encourage us with this parable and command us. The command is to pursue persistent prayer. That is the calling of the Christian life is persistent prayer. We don’t have an option to not follow the Lord Jesus. We mustn’t lose heart. Prayerlessness is never an option, dear friend. Regardless of how deep the valley or how dark the clouds, we must persistent in prayer. It might be a cross you have to bear sometime. Nonetheless, it is what the Lord Jesus calls us to do.
Don’t Give Up
We end with where we begin. The title of this morning’s sermon is, “Don’t give up.” The last point of application is don’t give up in prayer. Keep going, dear friend. Keep praying. In all situations, in the highs and lows, in the valleys and the mountain tops, keep praying. Don’t lose heart. It is worth it.
To conclude this morning, I’d like to end with a story of a mother who persisted in prayer for her son. A praying mother is such an effective tool of ministry in this world. When we get to heaven, we will see how all of the praying mothers of this world radically shaped the trajectory of eternity. Moms, if you want to make a really radical impact in this world, pray relentlessly for your kids.
This story comes from this book, Devoted. It’s by Tim Challies. Husbands and kids, if you are looking for a good Mother’s Day gift to get mom, this would be a great book to get her. In this book, Challies surveys how the mother of godly men shaped and impacted their lives. It’s about moms and sons.
One story is about Angela Yuan, the mother of Christopher Yuan. Christopher is a published author, conference speaker, and Bible teacher. In his life before Christ, Christopher lived a life as a gay man. During one specific terrible time during his life of sin and debauchery, Angela spent specific time praying for her son.
Moms, God wants to use you. He wants to use you to make this happen for your kids. Persist in prayer.