Please read Genesis 32 v 22-32 and Luke 18 v 1-8 and then pray; Merciful God, whose word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path, guide us into the path of your will for our lives for the sake of your glory, honour, and praise. Amen.

When the apostle Paul was chained up in prison, he wrote several letters to different Churches, one of which was sent to the Church in Colossae. As he comes to the end of his letter to this Church, he highlights certain Christian personalities for special mention. One of these personalities is a member of the Church who has recently been at Paul’s side supporting him in prison. His name was Epaphras. This is what Paul says to the Colossian Church about his faithful friend and their fellow member.

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Today we will be considering what it means to wrestle and persist in prayer. We have two bible readings to help us in this quest – one of which is the story of Jacob whose name changed to Israel; he was the father of the 12 tribes of Israel and a pivotal figure in the nation’s history. He wrestled alone with God all night before having to face his brother Esau who he had selfishly deceived many years earlier. It was a wrestling match that proved to be an exhausting struggle which included physical pain – the dislocation of a hip. It proved to be a massive turning point in Jacob’s life.

Then there is the story we shall focus on more fully, the story contained in one of Jesus’s parables. This is the story of a desperate widow who wrestles with an unjust, uncaring, and uncooperative judge, but who in the end prevails and receives justice – the justice she deserves and fights for. This widow experiences vindication.

Jesus helpfully reveals the explicit purpose of this parable.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

And this is what this sermon is all about – a subject that Jesus cared passionately about and put into practice himself. This parable of the unjust judge is not the only parable about persistence in prayer. There is another one in Luke’s gospel that appears in the context of our Lord’s teaching on what we always refer to as “the Lord’s prayer” – and it is a parable which again speaks of persistence and boldness in prayer. This is the parable of the friend at midnight. Let me read it to you;

Read Luke 11: 1-13

Jesus clearly felt strongly about this subject. His disciples must never stop praying! Luke knew this to be a vital ingredient in the life of Christian discipleship, and so persistent and pressing prayer features a lot in his gospel and in Acts. For Jesus to present two parables on this subject must be an indication of its great significance and relevance.

In both parables we hear of individuals under pressure and who keep badgering and bothering another individual to give them something they desperately need and seek. In one case the need is bread, in the other it is justice. But the individuals they bother and plead with are initially uncooperative and not interested in helping. But eventually they do help – but only because of the constant persistence of the ones who would not take no for an answer.

The parable of the unjust judge describes this constant and persistent pestering in quite graphic terms. When we are told that the widow wore the uncaring judge out, the word figuratively refers to the fact that she gave the judge a black eye. She wrestled with this man and would not give him a minute’s peace. She was back in his presence, in his face, time and time again. She wrestled with him with her persistent verbal request. She was determined and would not be put off or ignored. She did not allow herself to lose her battle for justice. She would never give in and the judge realised this. He ended up being so fed up with her pestering presence that he gave in. He surrendered. She prevailed. Not because he was kind and doing what he should have done from the beginning – but because he craved some peace and quiet. He was exasperated by her unflinching determination. And the widow got what she wanted in the end. Justice triumphed because she prevailed!

Just as she refused to “let go” and “give up and give in” – so did Jacob. He wrestled with God all night. We see the same determination especially through his daybreak cry to God– I will not let you go unless (until) you bless me. He clung on, even with his injured hip, and God did indeed bless him, and the nation that would come from him – Israel!

Now let us explore this lesson, this very important teaching about wrestling and persistence in prayer which is a great challenge to us, and to every single Christian; never give up praying; never give up clinging to God through prayer; never give up asking, seeking, and knocking on heaven’s door. Express faith in God through continual, persevering, faithful, and focused prayer. This forms a major part of what is sometimes referred to as the “fight of faith.” As the hymn writer puts it; Fight the good fight with all thy might. That fight must include persevering prayer throughout the whole of life, a struggle to pray with all the energy and grace that God constantly and lovingly supplies us with.

We must though remember that a key part of the teaching is that God is not one bit like the unjust judge. God is kind, caring, righteous, good, just, and full of love and compassion. God is our loving, caring, and faithful Father. The contrast could not be greater. When we pray, we approach the endlessly loving and kind Father God. That is emphasised in both parables and in all biblical teaching about prayer. If earthly fathers who are far from perfect can and do give good gifts to their children, how much more will our perfect heavenly Father grace us with all the things that we truly need and when we genuinely need them. (Luke 11:11-13, Romans 8:32)

That does not mean to say that our heavenly Father instantly gives us everything we believe we need and should have. There can be delays. There can be waiting. There can be periods where we may feel God is not listening – but He most certainly is. It would not be right for good earthly parents to give in to all the demands and requests coming from their children. Sometimes children must wait for things however hard that is for them. Sometimes they will not get what they request because they want something that is not good for their wellbeing. It can be the same for us in prayer. But generally, while we wait, we should still cling to God prayerfully as Jacob did. We do not let go. We maintain faith! We do not give in. We keep asking, seeking, and knocking. We know and believe God is forever good and loving and his justice will prevail – and it will totally prevail and have dominion at Jesus’s return. (Luke 18:8)

In what areas of our lives should prayer be ongoing, persistent, persevering? When should we wrestle in prayer? In what areas of faith and life must we never quit praying?

Let me start by saying that whatever we are significantly burdened by – this should be taken to God repeatedly in prayer until we sense the burden easing and being lifted away. This widow clearly had a financial burden that was causing her deep distress. Whatever serious burden or anxious care you possess, “take it to the Lord in prayer.” That is precisely what Jesus encourages us to do. As I so often read at the beginning of Communion services;

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Or as the apostle Peter encourages burdened persecuted Christians:

Cast all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:7)

As we come to our God in prayer, we find grace and mercy in our time of real need. (Hebrews 4:16). Even if the burden is not immediately lifted, we find grace and strength to help us cope and know peace in tough situations. Some burdens we will be taking to God in prayer for long periods of time – months and even years – but the message remains – do not stop doing that. Keep praying. Keep presenting the issue to God and discover grace in your weakness and struggle. His grace will be sufficient for you. (2 Corinthians 12:9) And part of the ministry of the Church is to carry each other’s burdens and heavy loads in prayer. This is the great blessing and advantage of being a member of a local Church. We can prayer for and with each other. We can carry each other’s burdens and support each other prayerfully. (Galatians 6:2) The faithful work of our prayer chain is very important.

Other areas where we should never stop praying include all the areas highlighted earlier in that memorable Lord’s prayer. (Luke 11: 1-4 and Matthew 6: 9-15)

Remember again that the Lord’s prayer encourages to use the words “Our Father.” We approach a loving, kind, and generous Father in prayer who desires the very best for us.

We must never cease praying for “God’s will to be done” in the world and in our own lives as it is in heaven. We must not stop praying in the way that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane – “Thy will be done – not mine.” And this is where we may well find we have to wrestle with God because God can and does call people to do things they may not want to do. He may call you to quit certain behaviours which are not part of his will for your life. He may call you to end a relationship you want to cling to. God may call you to sacrifice in ways which are hard and very challenging. We may have to wrestle in prayer with God’s will as Moses had to when he was called to lead his people out of slavery, or as Jesus did in the garden of tears, and as so many others have done. As Christians, we must endeavour to obey God and do his will – all our lives. This may involve wrestling and then finally submitting to God through prayer. This is what Jacob did at Peniel. Remember what Epaphras prayed for his Colossian friends – that they “may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.

We must never stop praying for daily and weekly needs for ourselves, our families, and our Church. “Give us this day our daily bread.” For most Christians around the world who live in relative poverty and often with persecution and situations of economic injustice and discrimination, this is a vital ongoing prayer. They must never give up. We must never give up when we are hard-pressed. We must give thanks continually as our needs are met by our loving heavenly Father. That can sometimes happen at the 11th hour as our Father tests our faith and love for Him.

“Forgive us our sins” – is to be prayed regularly and we must, once again, never give up seeking God’s grace and forgiveness for failings whether they be minor or major ones. Confession is to be embraced for the whole of life. Repentance must be a daily activity – daily dying to ourselves and living for Christ and for the glory of his name!

“As we forgive others.” Now here is where true wrestling and fighting may have to take place, perhaps over a lengthy period of struggle. Jesus teaches that we cannot be forgiven ourselves unless we forgive those who have sinned against us. To release forgiveness to someone who has hurt you badly, and perhaps more than once, is very challenging – some might say impossible. But God calls us to forgive others just as he has forgiven us in Christ – and we must pray for grace to do this when it becomes necessary – otherwise we suffer from the ongoing agony of emotional internal bitterness and resentment. So, wrestling in prayer over the issue of releasing forgiveness is essential – and we must not quit in this area until God’s grace in us has triumphed. Jesus forgave his enemies and calls us to love and forgive ours and pray for those who persecute us. Praying for our persecutors – and perhaps over a long period of time is a terrific challenge. Great grace is needed but it can be found through prayer.

“Lead us not into temptation.” Surely this is an area of life where the Christian must wrestle in prayer continually and never give up. This is what Jesus did in the wilderness for us. There is an ongoing battle with temptation for all of us – and we must wrestle, fight, and pray. Jesus said that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – pray that you do not fall into temptation. Temptation from the devil cannot be defeated in our own strength. We need strength and grace through wrestling and persevering prayer. We are all tempted in different ways; only prayer can ensure we prevail, and when we fail, we return to God in prayer for forgiveness and begin again. We must not throw in the towel. Our Father is gracious and forgiving!

“Deliver us from evil.” Again, the battle with Satan and evil requires vigilant, wrestling prayer. We are in a real spiritual dogfight. Paul teaches that “our struggle, our wrestling, is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) Because the battle in this world of evil never ends – prayer should never cease. We must fight through prayer because it is a powerful spiritual weapon – which is why Paul after listing all the separate pieces of armour at our disposal, then writes;

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests. With this in mind, be alert and ALWAYS KEEP ON PRAYING for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

And then the Lord’s prayer ends with that final battle cry – which we must never give up proclaiming and praying!

For your is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen!

We must never stop praying for the glory and the dominion and the final coming of God’s Kingdom. Thy Kingdom come must be a continual cry! Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha! (Revelation 22:20) Always, continually praying for the final, powerful and decisive coming of God’s Kingdom so that there might be complete justice, perfect peace and glorious righteousness visited upon our world. This is not just to be prayed for by the beleaguered and persecuted Church – but by the whole body of Christ – from now on and until Christ returns – and then we will witness the ultimate and final execution of justice and righteousness across all creation. There will be the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:21) Christ will come again but will he find faith expressed through prayer on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

What have you learned today about the ways in which you should always pray? What has the Spirit said to you specifically about enduring in certain areas of prayer for your life and for our world? Do you need to reignite your prayer life? Do you need to repent because you have given up praying or even given up on Jesus? Do you need to offer to pray alongside others who are struggling and carrying heavy burdens? Will you stand alongside me and pray persistently for the growth and prosperity of this Church? Will you wrestle to understand what God’s will is for you in all areas of your life and Christian service? As one hymn writer so aptly puts it; Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath…

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and NOT GIVE UP!

He who has ears – listen to what the Lord says to his people who he has called by name! Amen.

Revd Peter J Clarkson  (16.10.22)