A Harmony of Desires

Series: Lord, Teach Us To Pray

 “A Harmony of Desires // Message @ JRCC – Sunday, Nov 6, 2011

Text: Luke 18:1-8 // Series: “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”


Good morning, everyone, my name is Brad Sumner, I’m part of the teaching and leadership team here at Jericho Ridge.  It is our privilege to have you with us here today as we continue our exploration of the fascinating and complex and sometimes frustrating topic of prayer. 

I want to remind us of where we have been and where we are going in our discussion.  In Mid October, we began the series with a message entitled:

Week 1 – Why Pray?

We took questions on Twitter and via e-mail and I appreciated the robust conversations and feedback it generated.  Then in week 2, Pastor Keith Reed led us through an examination of

Week 2 – Unanswered Prayer

Reminding us that prayer is a way of connecting with God, not about getting what I ask for.  Then last week, we looked at the question

Week 3 – What is Prayer?

And we saw from John 15 that prayer really is a partnership that God invites us into where we come to will that which is willed.  Now today, we’ll look at some of the mechanics of  

Week 4 – How Does Prayer Work?

Then next week, we’ll have a family friendly gathering which will involve a

Week 5 – Panel Discussion

And we’ll conclude our series on Nov 20th with a morning where we practice learning to listen.   

Week 6 – Listening Prayer Service 


But I want to go back to some of our questions that were asked on prayer, specifically questions of HOW prayer works or The Mechanics of Prayer. 

There is a lot that could be explored here but one of the most poignant questions I think about the topic of prayer is  

?) Do our prayers ever change God’s mind? (e.g. Moses pleading with God not to punish Israel & He doesn’t)

Here we have fascinating Biblical texts that seemingly argue both sides.  For example, in Exodus 32 we have that instance that this question references of the people of God worshiping a golden calf, God says to Moses in almost parental language ‘that is it.  I have had it with these people.  I am going to get rid of them and start over with you Moses.” And Moses, instead of being honoured by the option, prays and pleads for God’s mercy and Ex. 32:17 says “So the Lord changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on his people.”  Then in the book of Jonah, God is going to punish the wicked city of Nineveh for their horrible crimes.  But before He does, God sends them a prophet who tells them what is on God’s mind.  Their response?  Prayer. The people of the pagan city cry out to the only true God in repentance and ask for His mercy and Jonah 3:10 says “when God say what they had done and how they had put  stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” So here are 2 instances where the prayers of human beings have a profound effect, not only on God, but also on the very course of human history and our story.


But then on the counterpoint, you have texts which remind us that God is not fickle or like a puppet that we manipulate by our prayers.  Numbers 23:19 says “God is not a man, so he does not lie.

      He is not human, so he does not change his mind.

   Has he ever spoken and failed to act?

      Has he ever promised and not carried it through”


Or again in the book of Job 23:13 – “But once [God] has made his decision, who can change his mind? Whatever he wants to do, He does.”


Which can potentially confuse us…  How should I pray?  As if I can expect God to change His mind or as if His mind is made up and firmly fixed. And nothing I say or do will alter it?    


Part of this question speaks to another cluster of questions we received:

?) How can I differentiate between the prayers that God won’t answer and the prayers answered but not the answer we wanted?

What aspect of God’s characters should I be appealing to in my prayer?  The people of Nineveh were throwing themselves on God’s mercy in active repentance – so he answers that prayer, but my family member still dies of cancer.  And people in East Africa go to bed hungry again tonight?  What does God want me to pray for or not pray for?    


And not only that, but perhaps more importantly, HOW does God want me to pray?  Are there any good examples from the Scriptures that can guide us into a deeper understanding of how God anticipates I will approach him? 

?) What prayers in the Bible should we model our prayers after?

          Questions from Twitter @jerichoridge

Well, to help us gain some clarity on these and other great questions, today we will be looking at Luke 18 and exploring on of my favorite parables that Jesus tells.  It’s all about prayer and how one of God’s greatest desires is not for me to change His mind, but to learn what is on His mind so that my prayers become an expression of

[title slide] Prayer: A Harmony of Desires


During his earthly ministry, Jesus tells only a few compelling stories on prayer.  He prays a lot.  He teaches on prayer a lot.  But he only tells a few of his signature teaching parables about prayer.  And the ones that he does tell are so intriguing but so puzzling at the same time!  Luke 18 has got to be my favorite of these parables.  Here we have two compelling characters – a judge who is very un-judge-like and a widow, who is very, very, very persistent.  Let’s look at our text together:

[Scripture slides – 2]


Now Jesus gives us the take away of the parable before He begins.  He is in a discussion at the end of chapter 17 with the Pharisees about the kingdom of God and the disciples want to know ‘when’ will see this kind of peace and justice come, not only in my life but also in the world?  And Jesus’ response is to tell them a story about patience.  Or more accurately, about persistence in prayer. 


One of first things we learn from this text about How Prayer works is that

  • It requires persistence and perseverance

         “Keep on asking… Keep on seeking… Keep on knocking.” (Lk 11:9)

Oh how I wish that this were not the case!  Because, frankly, this is NOT an area of strength for me.  I am not big on doing the same thing over and over again.  Personality wise, I am wired up to like variety and new things and to always be thinking about something fresh.  To go over and over and over the same thing time a time again for an undefined period of time is not my favourite activity.  It’s like that motivation poster on Persistence that reads “Now that we’ve exhausted all possibilities… let’s get started!”  Culturally, we are wired up to expect very short term, almost instant results for almost anything in our lives.  But by its very nature, prayer requires persistence and perseverance.  It requires you to keep sharpening the pencil.  To keep approaching God in conversation with your needs and requests.  I love the parallel story that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 11 with a slightly different set of characters – and he concludes that story with these words about prayer.  “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.”  My usual problem in prayer is not theological, it’s practical.  It’s that I don’t have the patience for it because of the persistence and perseverance that it requires.


And not only that, but Jesus wants us to understand from this story that prayer requires a certain level not only of persistence, but also guts. Prayer

  •  It requires boldness; almost shamelessness


Prayer requires us to lay aside or timidity and our tentativeness and get some nerve.  In Luke 18, this woman with no husband, in her time, is a marginalized person.  Her request of the judge for justice probably involves some kind of monetary issue where she has been taken for a ride and has experienced wrong at the hands of another.  And so this judge has a cultural, a moral and positional obligation to help her.  To hear her case and to see that justice is done.  In the Roman judicial system, as in some places today like Tanzania, judges were paid by a combination of salary and bribery.  And so those with the most resources at their disposal, were the most likely to receive a verdict in their favour.  But this widow has no resources, except for one – her boldness and shamelessness.  You see, she wants something very reasonable: justice!  But she knows that is it likely to be denied her.  Unless she can muster up the guts to get up every day, to stand in line to be heard.  To again and again and again present her case to this unjust judge.  And the judge ignores her for a while.  But after some time, he lets us in on a secret.  That this woman is crazy!  She keeps badgering him and pestering him and reminding him to the point where he chooses to act, not because he is a good judge or has a heart for justice or even because he thinks it would be a good publicity stunt.  This judge doesn’t care a stich about any of that.  But he does care about one thing – getting this crazy lady off of his back!  The Greek words uses to describe her persistence can also be used of someone that is getting beaten down, pummelled until they are black and blue and they relent.  They say “uncle, uncle!”  I give up, I give up!” 


And Jesus says “learn a lesson from this unjust judge…  Not about God’s character – that He is somehow unjust.  But about the practice and purpose of prayer.  That it is not for the weak or faint of heart.  You see, often times, we are too shy or timid in our conversations with God.  Sometimes we come to him and we grovel – we say “I’m very sorry to bother you, God.  I have something that is on my heart and my mind.  If it isn’t too much trouble, could you maybe, possibly, only if you have time and are not super busy, consider the outside possibility that perhaps, again, only if you think it might be not a bad idea, to perhaps think sometime about the remote possibility of perhaps listening to me?”


That is not the kind of prayer that Jesus models for us or invites us to participate in.  Listen to the mechanics of prayer described in Hebrews 4

 “Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”   (Hebrews 4:16)


In this way, God is nothing like the unjust judge.  Jesus says “if even that guy listened, how much more will your Father in heaven respond to you?” 


This is the picture that we get from the parallel story in Luke 11:11 – a parenting picture.  Jesus says “you fathers – if your children ask for bread, do you give them a stone?  If they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion?  Of course not!  So, if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”


You see there are kind of two things going on in every prayer dialogue.  The first is that I am trying to move God’s hand to accomplish something.  I am inviting Him to do something – in me, in the world.  But the other, perhaps more powerful thing that is going on in prayer is that God wants to mold and shape my heart.  Just like a good parent does when responding to requests from their kids. 


When my kids come to me and ask for something, I usually have 1 of 3 responses.  Yes.  No. Or later.  Now, later can mean something different to different people.  For example, we had some friends over at Thanksgiving and their kids asked me if we could go swimming at the pool and I said that I would think about it.  Immediately, their little guy raced up the stairs and announced “Uncle Brad says that we can go swimming on Sunday after church!”.  I said, later, which to him, meant ‘yes.’  Our kids know, however, that later usually means they are going to have to ask again a few more times.  For example, our daughter believes that any day where the sun shines is a day that is permissible to wear shorts.  So she will come to me in the middle of winter, when it is bitterly cold outside and ask if she can wear shorts to school.  Or if she can get the backyard pool out and turn the hose on.  When it’s like this weekend, I say to her “later, Sophie” – which really means just that.  That there will come a day when it is wonderfully appropriate for us to break out the water toys.  That day is NOT today.  But between now and then, she will keep coming to me and asking me and asking me and asking me.  And it’s not that I am opposed to swimming outdoors in December.  It’s just that I’m opposed to pneumonia.  Because as a father, I want what is best for my kids. 


No self-respecting parent says yes to every request that their kids bring to them.  Can I eat 2 pillowcases full of Halloween candy in one sitting.  Sure – go ahead!  How about firecrackers in the house at 2 AM?  No problem.  Be my guest.  Can we put all of Christmas 2011 on our credit cards so that we can be happy and have everything we want but don’t need?  Sure thing, sweetie.  Sometimes as a parent, it’s your job to say NO.  But sometimes it’s your job to say maybe.  To say, that’s not going to happen today but it will happen. 


And this is Jesus’ point about how prayer works. Prayer is designed not for me to get what I want all of the time.  That would be bad news.  All of us can likely think of something we prayed for and then when God answered in a different way we thought “wow – I am sure glad I didn’t get what I asked for in prayer!”.  More than a mechanism for inviting God to move, prayer is designed to deepen and develop my relationship with my heavenly father.  In other words, much more importantly and deeply than changing God’s mind is the reality that prayer

  • It changes me more often than it changes God

The reason for this is simple and answered by Jesus at the end of his parenting story in Luke 11…  That the greatest gift God can give us is Himself.  To change our hearts and our lives as He fills them by his Holy Spirit. 

         “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy spirit      to those who ask Him.”   (Luke 11:13)

So often we pray and we ask “God, would you change this situation at work.  My boss doesn’t get it, I am so frustrated.” And God doesn’t change the situation, but He does give you the patience and graciousness to turn the other cheek and to speak kindly to people who have maligned you.  “God, would you heal my grandmother of dementia.  And God instead uses that illness to transform your character.  This is also why God often says in response to my prayer - “later, Brad”.  Because He knows that these hard edges of my personality and my character that He wants to reform take time.  And so sometimes we persist in prayer because the answer is later.


But there is a profound danger that exists.  Because God doesn’t seem to answer my prayers how I want them and when I want them, that you and I simply give up and walk away.  That we exit the process of transformation because we feel like God’s mind isn’t being changed fast enough.  Jesus speaks very specifically to this in his closing phrase in Luke 18.  “But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”  Which implies that many of us will give up long after we have received God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit but long before we see the specific answer that we desire.  But this delay is not a denial of justice or of our requests.  It is God’s

  • It is a mechanism whereby I develop faith

How much trust would or could I have in a God that simply said ‘yes’ to my requests all of the time for everything?  God’s deepest interest, like a parent, is to see our relationship grow and develop.  And so delays in answers to my prayers are a key tool that God uses to cultivate deeper faith in Him.  


The challenge is that I’m not so good at that kind of waiting.  Because some this waiting isn’t just for a few days or a few years…  All of my prayers are heard and answered.  Some might be answered yes, some no, and some later.  And for some of my requests, Luke 18:8 teaches us that ‘later’ isn’t going to be until the point when Jesus comes back again to the earth.  Vindication will come.  Justice will come.  An answer will come – but God’s time table is often vastly different than my timetable.  “God, I pray and ask for the salvation of my friends and neighbours.”  God, let justice be done and peace and shalom come to East Africa.”…  Vindication will come.  Justice will come.  But in the meantime, many will have given up hope and given up praying because of the seemingly endless delay. And so the question Jesus finishes his story with is where we will finish today:

          How much of that kind of persistent faith will Jesus find? (18:8)


As we conclude, I want you to reflect on two questions For Reflection & Application:  The first is this:

1) What kinds of things do I pray about? 

  • Do they resemble this woman’s concerns? 
  • What things have fallen off my prayer list but are still deeply on God’s heart and agenda? 


2) With what level of persistence do I pray?

  • What is your plan to grow in consistency? 
    • What is your plan to grow in boldness?



  Because more than anything, the point Luke 18 and Luke 11and indeed, the point of prayer 

The Point:

Prayer is not about getting God to change His mind…  It’s about persistent faith that results in a harmonizing of my desires with God’s desires.


Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.  Let’s pray. 


Does prayer change God's mind? How long should I have to pray about something? And what's really happening when I pray anyways? Find out as we explore the parable of the persistent widow and discover why God sometimes says "later" to our prayers
November 6, 2011
Luke 18:1-8

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