Persevering in Prayer (Luke 18)

john-bunyon-prayer-quote

Persevering in Prayer
Scripture: Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 11/10/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

What can you do with a rubber band?
Rubber bands are elastic. So are Jesus’ parables- stories with a deeper spiritual meaning. They both stretch in many directions.

You can read a parable one day and hear from God. You can read them a month later or even years later and receive another important truth from God.

It reminds us the scriptures are living and active. God meets us exactly where we are in the Word of God.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
From the point of view of followers of Jesus as the widow
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus sets up a contrast between God and the unjust judge.

The judge is powerful, probably the most powerful person in his community. He’s worldly, corrupt, slow to respond, indifferent, disrespectful, unbelieving.

God is more powerful, attentive to injustice, quick to respond, faith-full, compassionate.

Even the ungodly relent in the face of persevering. How much more will God answer you when you pray!

Followers of Jesus are to be like the widow, the person with the least amount of power in the community. Folks would have laughed at the powerless widow getting the judge to do what she wanted him to do.

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
8 when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The widow had faith that her persevering would bring a result. Faith looks like praying always and not losing heart. Does God find you resilient and full of faith? Actively trusting in God and persevering in prayer?

How’s your prayer life?

  • Using prayer as a rubber stamp as you make plans to fix whatever needs fixing in your own strength?
  • Using prayer as a last resort when everything else you tried didn’t work?
  • Have you just given up on prayer? You’ve been praying about the same situation for a long time with no change. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose heart.

Luke 11:9-13
Luke 11:9 Jesus said, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

A Translation Closer to the Original Intention- Present Progressive Tense
Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and it will be given you, Keep on seeking and you will find, keep on knocking and it will be opened unto you.  For everyone who continues to ask, receives, and the one who continues to seek, finds, and for the one who continues to knock, it will be opened.  What father among you, if your son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, 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!”

Example of Persevering Prayers Being Answered

Name your persevering prayer. Keep praying, do not lose heart.

  • Reconciliation of relationship
  • The salvation of a loved one
  • An answer to a question
  • Deliverance from an addiction
  • The end of corruption, evil, injustice, oppression
  • Peace and plenty for all

Trust God is good. Trust God is near and attentive to your needs. Trust God will make the wrongs right. It may not be in this life, it may be in heaven. But it may be now.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Stretch the parable in a different direction, from the point of view of God as the widow and we as the judge.
2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Pleading Widow by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Our gender and power stereotypes told us to assume
the judge is God, which would make us the poor widow.
But wait. Who judges? Who cares neither for God or people?
That would be us. And who continually demands
that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

Sorry, we don’t get the high ground here, denying our privilege,
pretending we’re faithfully imploring God
with our persistent quest for justice.
We’re the ones deaf to the cries of the poor.

God comes in the voice of the vulnerable, the easily ignored
while we in our arrogance easily ignore.

How disconcerting that in this story
the ball is in our court, not God’s!
The demand has been made, over and over.

Jesus warns us: God can outlast us.
But when God comes, will God find us listening?

Prayer and Action
Prayer is coupled with action. If we are praying for that relationship to be reconciled, what are we doing for that relationship to be reconciled? If we are praying for our loved ones to come to faith, what are we doing to create an environment where they could hear the Gospel? If we’re praying for an end to evil, injustice, and oppression, what are we doing to end evil, injustice, and oppression?

The dual truths of persevering in prayer and prayer in action stretch me. I need to pray before I act so I don’t use it as a weapon. I need to persevere in prayer because God is the one who makes things new. I need both.

And I need the Holy Spirit filling me so I don’t lose heart when it seems like nothing’s changing. Persevere in prayer. Prayer and action.

Prayer-
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you hear us. That you want to have a relationship with us. You want to bless us, empower us, encourage us, forgive us.

Help us to talk to you. To talk to you honestly, openly, and often. Help us to persevere in prayer. Help us to not lose heart. Help us to trust you.

Help to know the path we’re on with you is the path of goodness and glory. Help us to know it’s the path of truth and humility, the path of light and life. We need that assurance so we can persevere.

In our praying, help us to hear if there’s an action we are to take. Grant us the courage, grace, and wisdom to act.

You are making us new. You are making this world new. Thank you for the gift of prayer. Amen.

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Persevering in Prayer © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

TED Talk Notes: The Three Secrets of Resilient People by Lucy Hone

Dr. Lucy Hone’s statement, “Adversity doesn’t discriminate” captured my heart. It revealed a truth I’d been living for a long time with those I serve as their pastor, the larger community and world I serve, and my own experience.

If adversity is a universal experience, could it be resilience is also universally accessible?

I and Dr. Hone agree. Yes!

After sharing her own experience of crushing loss, Dr. Hone says, “I didn’t need to be told how bad things were. Believe me, I already knew things were truly terrible. What I needed most was hope. I needed a journey through all that anguish, pain, and longing.”

She offers these strategies for rising up from adversity, for accessing resilience.

1. Resilient people know suffering is a part of life for all humans.

2. Resilient people carefully assess situations, knowing what they can and cannot change. We are hardwired to notice the negative. “Our threat focus, our stress response, is permanently dialed up.” Resilient people notice both the negative and the good. Focusing attention on the good, such as practicing gratitude, brings perspective and higher levels of happiness. Finding the good takes intentionality and effort.

3. Resilient people ask themselves, “Is what I’m doing helping me or harming me?” This powerful question provides boundaries and control over decisionmaking.

She closes with, “I won’t pretend that thinking this way is easy. And it doesn’t remove all the pain. But if I’ve learned anything over the last five years, it’s that thinking this way really does help. More than anything it has shown me that it is possible to live and grieve at the same time and for that, I will be always grateful.”

flower breaking through concrete

What strategies help you grow and stay resilient? 

From the official TED Talk Notes: “Dr. Lucy Hone is a director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience, a research associate at AUT University, a published academic researcher, best-selling author and contributor to Psychology Today, the Sunday Star Times and Next magazine.”

Dr. Hone’s book is Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything.

Micah 7:8, ESV
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 ESV
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed

Romans 5:1-5 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

All Saints Remembrance


I am not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.
– Nelson Mandela

Holiness only appears to be abnormal. The truth is, holiness is normal; to be anything else is to be abnormal. Being a saint is simply being the person God made me to be. Saints at the end of the day are not really strange or odd or misfits. They are simply real, or normal. They actually are what we all are made to be, what we can be. – James C. Howell

ALL SAINTS REMEMBRANCE
1 Corinthians 1:2-3 NRSV
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

The followers of Jesus in Corinth had some serious problems, infighting and immorality to name a couple, yet Paul calls them saints. A saint is not a perfect person. Saints are simply persons who know their deep need of God- they know they’re sinners- yet they haven’t stayed there. They’ve placed their trust in the marvelous grace, forgiveness, and healing of God through Jesus Christ.

If you love and follow Jesus, you are a saint.

And so my brothers and sisters
Let us remember who we are in Jesus- saints set apart by God and for God
Let us remember our purpose- to lead a devoted life
– A life worthy of the calling to which we have been called
– A life which inspires faith in others
– A life ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven

Let us recommit ourselves to this life,
by first honoring the lives of those who have inspired us
– The heroic and humble who ran the race before us
– The martyrs who sacrificed all for the sake of Jesus
– And especially those who we have known and loved who led us to Jesus and encouraged us to deeper faith and service

Let us pray…

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
You surround us with witness after witness to your transforming love
Inspire us and empower us to persevere
Fill our hearts with courage

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
You weep with us in our heartbreak and loss
Comfort us and protect us in our mourning
Fill our souls with hope

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
You cry out in victory over sin and the grave
Raise us and release us to fulfill your calling
Fill our lives with faithfulness and good works

Raise your voices and speak their names now …

Persons are invited forward to speak the names of those they are remembering into the microphone, to choose a carnation, flower the cross, and pray at the communion rail 

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All Saints Remembrance © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Lament, an essential spiritual practice for our violent times

mourn sorrowHow do I stay resilient in the midst of so much violence, evil, corruption, need, and pain? Is there a way to stay awake to the needs around me without becoming overwhelmed and despairing?

I wish I could’ve asked these questions in such a thoughtful way, but I couldn’t. I was crying and had lost count of the number of tissues I’d used.

My spiritual director listened with great compassion and then asked a simple question. “Do you practice lament?”

I didn’t. I didn’t know much about it. I learned and started that same day. It’s become an essential spiritual practice for me as I stay on the front lines with so many in need.

What is Lament?
“Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.” – Emmanuel M. Katongole and Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things

Common Fears of Expressing our Anguish to God (Fear of Practicing Lament)  

  • I don’t want to appear weak. I have to be strong for myself and others.
  • I don’t want to burden my loved ones and friends.
  • Fully expressing my pain will only increase my pain leading me down the path of despair rather than the path of hope. What if I can’t stop the floodgates once I get started?
  • It feels unfaithful to question, complain, doubt. (Here’s the good news, it isn’t!)

Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because deep down we know that our relationship with God is real. God cares. God understands our pain. God can and wants to help. 

Psalm 130: 1-2, The Message
Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.

Lament in the Scriptures
We find laments from the beginning to the end of the Bible. From the ground crying out over the murder of Abel in Genesis to the martyrs crying out for justice in Revelation.

  • 1/3 of the Psalms are laments
  • Much of Job is lamenting
    • Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?”- Job 3:11
  • The Old Testament Prophets often lament. The prophet Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet.
    • For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no healer there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? –  Jeremiah 8.21-22
    • If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.”- Jeremiah 9:1
  • An entire book of the Bible is called Lamentations- written concerning the fall of Jerusalem

Jesus Lamented
Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. This reminds us we can lament our personal pain.

Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. This reminds us we can lament people not recognizing the gifts of God’s grace and salvation. We can also lament the brokenness of society. If they only knew the things that make for peace (Luke 19:42)

Jesus weeping all night in the Garden of Gethsemane. This reminds us we can be totally honest and totally vulnerable. No feeling or thought is taboo.

Jesus crying out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” from the cross.

How to Practice Lament

1. Rest

  • To lament, we must stop. Feel it fully. Recognize what we’re up against.
  • We medicate with activity. Busyness keeps us distant and the pain at bay.
  • Rest is “not an invitation to become unconcerned about the conflict and chaos in the world but to imagine that the salvation of the world does not ultimately depend upon us.” – Katongole and Rice
  • Rest enables us to cease from grasping, grabbing, striving, trying to be God

2. Direct our cries to God

  • “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1)

3. Make your Complaint

  • express your anger, pain, heartache, sadness- Uncensored feelings
  • ask heartfelt questions
    • “How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2-3)
    • I do not understand what is going on. This makes no sense. How long? Why?
    • Questions can be more than requests for information, they can also be cries of pain.

4. Make Your Request

  • Describe the affliction. It might include rage against your enemies
  • Look toward me, and have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.  Put an end to my affliction and my suffering, and take away all my sins. Behold, my enemies are many, and they hate me violently. Preserve my life, and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. (Psalm 25:16-20)

5. Affirm your trust in God

  • God’s presence
  • God’s power in the past
  • The attribute/character of God
  • The promises of God that you’re thankful for and that you are claiming

Psalm 130:5-7           
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord, there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.  

What spiritual practices help you stay resilient? 

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Lament Article © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

Prayer for the Beginning of Treatment

Chemotherapy Vials, photo by Bill Branson on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons

Chemotherapy Vials, photo by Bill Branson on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, via Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this prayer in July of 2013. The husband of one of my clergy friends had cancer. He was preparing to receive a triple lumen cath followed by 4 days of chemo before receiving a bone marrow transplant the following week.

I admired how transparent they were about the whole experience. She posted on social media, “With a healthy dose of fear and much hope, we are walking this path together with the support of each of you and the grace of God to lead us.” She also posted his words before receiving the cath: “and so it begins.”

And so it begins… so much in so few words.

Their faith and the promises of God inspired this prayer.

Over the years, I’ve sadly returned to it. Every time my heart hurts. Every time God remains true and near.

This week my prayers begin for a sixteen-year-old I’ve known since she was a baby. She has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

May this prayer be a blessing to her, to you, and to all at the beginning of a medical journey. – Lisa <><

And so it begins,
the wondering
the diagnosis
the treatment

You are The Alpha and Omega
The Beginning and the End
The First and the Last
Unmatched Majesty, yet you draw near
to this beginning
to my frailty, my brokenness
my unknowing
closer than breath
closer than pulse

You are with me
You are for me
Jesus

You are Spirit
Animating, Leading
Pioneering, Perfecting
Way, Truth, Life
Glory Itself, yet you walk with me
on this small path
through the shadowy valleys
unknown or anticipated
My Guide and Guardian
Every day of my life

My eyes are open to my need
You make space to feel it fully and honestly
You meet me there with
Goodness and Mercy
Help and Wholeness

Holy One
You are my Hope and Peace
I love you and trust you and place myself into your compassion and care
Today and Tomorrow
Amen

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Prayer for the Beginning of Treatment © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia.
Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.