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.

Blessed are the Meek, a Sermon from The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

Sermon Series beatitudes 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing
Message 2 of 4: Blessed are the Meek
Scripture:  Matthew 5:1-5
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 9/1/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Read Matthew 5:1-5
The beginning of the Beatitudes at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Jim’s Ride from The Man from Snowy River
One of my favorite movies growing up was The Man from Snowy River. In this movie, a rich Australian rancher buys a prize Arabian stallion. One day the stallion escapes and joins a mob of wild horses. The rancher rounds up as many hands as possible and the chase begins- thundering hooves shake the majestic Australian hills. Faster and faster they race until the mob bolts down a steep embankment. Let’s see what happens next…

The trained horses and riders will not follow the mob down the steep embankment. They stop. They know better. They call it a day.

Suddenly, one horse and rider blazes past the group and down the hill after the mob. (It’s one of the most exciting horse sequences ever filmed.) It’s our hero- Jim Craig.

He and his horse are not afraid. They move as one, a powerful team. They are strong. All watch amazed at what they can do together. The chase continues and in the end, Jim brings in all the wild horses.

How would you describe Jim and his horse?
They are one, synced, inseparable
Fearless, beautiful, strong

Man from snowy river jim horse

Together, Jim and his horse are a perfect example of meekness.

When you hear the word meek what comes to mind:
Quiet, shy, timid
Passive, Wimp, Doormat

We’ve lost the actual definition of the word “meek” and we must reclaim it. In Greek word for “meek,” praus, is used to describe a wild animal whose power was now disciplined for work, strength under authority.

We know we are at our best when we are disciplined and accountable:
You work with a coach and your game improves
There’s a reason why Weight Watchers and AA and Disciple Bible Study works
The structure makes us stronger- it’s a gift
We’re stronger together

The Natural Progression of the Beatitudes at work in a life

Blessed are the poor in spirit  
There’s nothing I can say or do or give to earn my salvation
I come as a spiritual beggar, I have nothing to offer God
I am in need of forgiveness and salvation. I know what I need.
I place my trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I receive the Kingdom
I’m now an heir, a child of the King

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn  
I stop trying to save myself
I take a good look at myself
I get honest about what a mess I am
I mourn my mess- my sin, my poor choices
Things said and done, and left unsaid and undone
How I’ve hurt myself, others, God.
I mourn. I surrender my burden to God.
I confess. I receive forgiveness.
The burden of my guilt is lifted and I’m comforted

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek  
Yes I am a spiritual beggar
Yes I am honest about my sin and need of forgiveness

If we stopped at this point, it would make sense to claim we are wimps and doormats. But if we stop here, we wouldn’t have the whole truth.

We must also recognize we are powerful
I am strong, gifted, talented, resourced

I place everything I have and everything I receive from the Holy Spirit, all my strength, under God’s authority. All that I am and all that I have I give to you and to your service. You are God and I am not. You be Jim, I’ll be the horse.

Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Snowy River Metaphors
Before we place our trust in Jesus we’re like the mob of horses- wild, rebellious, destructive, undisciplined. For some of us, we look wild and do wild things. For others, we may not look that way on the outside, but that’s what’s going on on the inside. We are unsettled, anxious, struggling.

After we place our trust in Jesus we grow to be like Jim and his horse. Strength under authority. One with God. Moving in concert with God. All of a sudden there’s direction to this power, direction to this talent.

We are more than we are by ourselves because we are one with God. We begin to understand we can be courageous, we can risk for the glory of God and the common good.

The last thing Jesus wants is for you to start following him and you become like the ranch horses- too safe, too careful, too tame, whipped, broken, timid, institutionalized.

That’s not meekness. That’s not who we really are.

All this talk of poverty of spirit and mourning our sin might make us think being a Christian is about being a wimp- passive, timid, doormat.

No! God is calling us to a life of adventure. We recognize we cannot save ourselves. We recognize we can hurt others and hurt ourselves. We place our strength under the authority of Jesus and now we are ready to join Jesus in the adventure of saving the world.

We’re in the right heart space to do it.

We’re ready to go where Jesus leads, in the way Jesus leads
Loving our enemies
Welcoming the outsider
Ending prejudice and oppression
Speaking the truth in love            ‘
Generous, sacrificial, joyful,
Compassionate, empathetic,
Powerful, and humble

We are now ready to be meek

2 Timothy 1:7
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said:
The meek love their God so much that they desire to obey even the least command that he gives, simply out of love to him. The meek in spirit are like a photographer’s sensitive plates, and as the Word of God passes before them, they desire to have its image imprinted upon their hearts.

Where are you strong and powerful? How are you bringing that strength under God’s authority and leading? So you may be one and join Jesus in the great adventure of the saving of the world.

The message ends with the prayer before Holy Communion.

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Beatitudes Sermon, Blessed are the Meek © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Prayer for Storm Survivors

Jesus Calms the Storm by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

Jesus Calms the Storm by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The knowledge that we are never alone calms the troubled sea of our lives and speaks peace to our souls. – A. W. Tozer

I am grateful Taylor Burton-Edwards for making excellent suggestions to improve this prayer.

A Prayer for Storm Survivors
Jesus, we see you calming storms-
storm-tossed seas and stormy lives.
Extend your power and grace again,
especially upon these most recent storm victims.

Speak peace and healing over bodies and spirits broken by the chaos.
Jesus, speak peace. Silence

Speak peace and hope over families and communities devastated by sudden loss.
Jesus, speak peace. Silence

Speak peace and unity over diverse groups of people
bring them together for greater provision,
just distribution, and effective rebuilding.
Jesus, speak peace. Silence

Speak peace and protection over rescue workers
as they reach out to those who are suffering.
Jesus, speak peace. Silence

Speak to us, moving our prayer to action⠀
Jesus, speak, we are listening. Silence

You are the Prince of Peace.
You are the Resurrection and the Life.
You are strong to save.
Our hope and trust are in you. Amen.

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A Prayer for Storm Survivors © updated 2019, Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please leave a comment below 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.