My pastor last Sunday gave an excellent sermon on the parable of the Persistent Widow (check it out, here) which goes like this:
“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
Apparently, this little widow was also a fierce mama bear even this particular judge was afraid of.
And what’s even more astounding is Jesus used this firecracker of a widow as an example of how we should pray.
It’s almost as if God wants me so fed up and desperate about an injustice that I throw caution to the wind, all the pleasantries are done away with and I just get down to business.
And when I think of most of my prayers in comparison, they seem subdued, cautious, wishy-washy and borderline Laodicean.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Replace the word ‘works’ with ‘prayers’, and it hits a little too close to home for me. Apparently, God likes things at a certain temperature, maybe even my prayers.
I read an article a few years ago about a soldier who had come home from Iraq and was explaining how different the culture is from the west. He gave an example of a simple trip to the convenience store and wanting to buy a candy bar. He said, if you went up to the store owner and didn’t bother haggling the price, you were not respected and therefore charged more money every time you went in. The soldier said he got so good at haggling the prices the store owner began to love him and gave him outrageous discounts – even throwing things in for free.
Compare this to my shopping trips which are planned by convenience and how efficiently I can get in and out without making eye contact – not to mention my allergic reaction to coupons and the hassle that goes along with them and we get a stark contrast of values.
In the middle east, the value is placed on the interaction with the owner of the store – in the west, the value (for me, at least) is convenience while keeping the teller at a comfortable distance.
When I think back to the time where I didn’t really value prayer it was when I was coming to a distant God I hardly knew with a list of requests. When I began to change and start looking forward to times of prayer, it was a direct result of my relationship with God having been reinvigorated.
When prayer became more of a relationship and less of a transaction, it became alive for me.
When I’ve had the most breakthrough with God, it usually came after a time of prayer where I laid it all out before him. Whether it was seething anger, bitter disappointment, paralyzing fear, pain, anguish; it was in that place beyond words, where prayers were in the form of tears, runny snot and a red, swollen face. It wasn’t pretty. It was ugly and messy but brutally honest.
So, where is prayer like this modeled in Scripture? Prayer that is on one hand bold as lion, ugly and honest, yet asserts a deep intimacy with the Creator?
Psalm 22 is a great example.
1.)He begins with honesty.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
He tells God what he is feeling, his fears, and what he is experiencing. He isn’t concerned if what he is feeling is right, true, or doctrinally sound. The point isn’t to be right, it’s to be honest.
2.) He remembers who God is.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
This is where he proclaims aspects of God’s character, where he remembers past stories of God’s faithfulness, and his own history with God.
3.)He explains in detail what is happening.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouthd is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
The problem or need is described here. He tells God how desperate he is, how vulnerable he is to the problems he is facing.
4.) He makes his request.
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
David, out of his intimacy with God, born out what God has done historically, or past personal rescues, he makes his request.
5.) Prophetic announcement of what God will do.
I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
Out of his intimate knowledge of who he knows God to be, David begins to prophetically declare what God will do and what David will do when God helps him.
6.) Triumphant praise.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
Now David is pumped up. No longer is he focused on his problems but he is caught up in a prophetic ecstasy. You can actually feel him soaring above his problems now and has begun to see the bigger picture of God’s ultimate triumph in which David is destined to share.
David’s model of prayer is a model born out of desperation and the trenches of war.
Whether I find myself in deep affliction or persecution, a feisty widow crying out for justice, or a desperate neighbor in need of provision, I need to get honest with God. In the end he just wants what’s in my heart. Even if it’s just poison and pain, or shattered into a million pieces, he’ll take it and turn it into something beautiful. If it’s dried up and dead and there’s no love left in it, and it barely beats for myself let alone anyone else, he’ll take that too. I can let it all out. I can rest in knowing that not only can God take it, but he wants it as well.