“Never Give Up on God”
Not long ago, I was presented with a task which seemed absolutely impossible. In my mind there was no way I could accomplish it on time and in the way it needed to be done. As I got into the project, I realized it was, indeed, over my head. It was more than I could handle, and I was frustrated. A number of times, I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw in the towel and simply give up. Perhaps that has happened to you, as well. It is an overwhelming feeling, isn't it? We might even believe there is no use to try any more. Oh, there are times when we feel as if the effort is just not worth the time and energy. You may even feel that way when we see the pain and the problems in this world. We put forth the effort to make things right, we work hard with others to provide some solutions, and yet they seem to accomplish very little. We give our resources and money to meaningful projects, but it never seems to be enough. In our study today on "Key to the Kingdom", we will look at a story about how those very things happen spiritually. There are times in our life when we believe our efforts, our resources, and, yes, even our prayers do not make much of a difference. We wonder if God is involved in providing solutions this world needs, or if He is unaware of what is happening. When we think there is no hope for our lives, or even for this world, we might be tempted to quit, to give up. Jesus tells us something quite different. He wants us to keep on working for that which is good, and, above all, to keep on praying. I hope you will join us for this lesson from the Gospel of Luke. Open your heart and your Bible, now, as we study together.
There are two stories in the New Testament part of the Bible which seem to say basically the same thing. They are both found in the Gospel of Luke, and they contain the teaching of Jesus Christ. One is found in chapter 11, and the other in chapter 18. If we study closely, however, we see that there is a difference between the two. In chapter 11, we see God as being eager to hear our prayers and to give us what is good. Oh, we know that God is a good Father, He is our Good Father in heaven, and He longs to give good gifts to His children. Because that is true, we are to boldly and continually ask and seek and knock on the throne room of heaven. In fact, as Jesus gave that teaching, He was responding to a question that was asked by His disciples; and that was, "Lord, teach us to pray." Well, when we come to chapter 18 in Luke, Jesus is responding to a question, not from the disciples, but rather, from the Pharisees. They want to know about the coming of the Kingdom of God. These religious leaders had in mind a physical kingdom set up on the Earth that was ruled and controlled by a physical and visible king. Well, Jesus answers that question also, but He takes a different path in doing so. I want to go back into chapter 17 for just a moment, and notice this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. Listen to these words in verses 20 and 21. <On being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst."> Jesus tells these religious leaders that God's kingdom is not going to be like physical and earthly kingdoms. A physical king will not sit upon a throne. It cannot be identified in a certain geographical area, or identified by a certain group of people. But rather, God's kingdom is in your midst. Another term for God's kingdom is God's reign. God's reign is in the hearts of people, Jesus is trying to say, and then it will be demonstrated through that person's life. Well, based upon that teaching, Jesus now turns His attention back to His disciples, beginning in verse 22 and going through the end of the chapter. He tells them about His Second Coming. He tells them that it will be sudden and unexpected, and it will appear that God is not answering their prayers. Things will happen they do not understand, and they certainly were not expecting, and it will be as if God is completely ignoring them and their situation. And in the midst of all of that, some of them might even be tempted to quit following Jesus. They may give up on following Him altogether when they see Him being rejected and put to death; and, that very thing would happen within a week of Jesus sharing these words, as Jesus would be put up on a cross and He would die a very humiliating and painful death. And in the midst of all of that, the disciples might be tempted to simply give up on God altogether, and look for some other solution for their life. Well, Jesus, of course, knows this, and so He wonders if there is anyone on Earth who will be practicing their faith when He returns. Will there be anyone who has not given up on God? Will there be anyone who is continuing to pray to God? And that is the background to the teaching here, that Jesus now gives in the 18th chapter. I want us to read this story beginning with verse 1. <Then Jesus told His disciples a parable, to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "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 do not fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she will not eventually come and attack me!'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?"> Upon first reading this, we might think that Jesus tells us to never give up on a prayer request, that if we pray long enough, and if we pray hard enough, and if we continually beg God, then our prayer request will be answered. Well, that is not the point Jesus is making. Remember the story of the apostle Paul? He had what he called a thorn in the flesh. We don't know what it was, but it bothered Paul severely, and he prayed over and over again to God that the thorn would be removed so he could be more effective. God did not remove that thorn or that problem; instead, He told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you." Or think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was put to death. He prayed all night long: "God, I pray that this cup of anguish (or this cup of sorrow) would be taken away from Me." Jesus did not want to experience what was about to happen. He asked God for another option. And yet, there was no other option, even though God heard that prayer. Jesus, in fact, was then crucified upon that cross. And so with that in mind, as we read this parable, we need to keep in mind something very important: The unjust judge is not compared to our Father in heaven, but rather our Father in heaven stands in great contrast to the unjust judge. He is totally different. So the parable tells us we should not give up on God. We are to continue to pray, even when it appears God has failed us or even abandoned us. When it appears there is evil all around us, and there does not appear to be a solution in any way, never give up on God; continue to pray, continue to put your faith in Him. Now, obviously, there are times when we do pray long enough and hard enough that our prayers are answered the way we want them to be answered; and, no doubt, all of us have our stories. However, in the midst of that, we might be tempted to give up hope that God's goodness will ultimately prevail. We might be tempted to give up on God, or to simply quit praying when things are not working out. Oh, they may be as possible as this widow, who is looking for some kind of justice from a judge who really does not care about her. And yet, Jesus reminds us of the importance to never quit praying and to never give up on God. We continually pray for His will to be accomplished, in our lives and throughout this world. We continue to pray for His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, we never quit praying. Now, with this story, Jesus is preparing His disciples for some injustices that will soon take place. They will be praying, trying to understand what is happening. They won't understand about His death. They won't be clear about His ascension into heaven. They will be a little bit confused about all of the things that are going on. Their hopes and their dreams are not going to be fulfilled and realized as they hoped they would be realized. Yet Jesus says, "Don't quit praying. Don't give up on God." And so everything that Jesus shares with His disciples, beginning with verse 22 and going through the end of that chapter, is a response to that exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. Let me read it once again: <On being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst."> Yes, Jesus tells them that the kingdom of God, or the reign of God, will not be a big event that is seen by everybody. Instead, it will be a slow and a steady movement that will overtake the hearts and the lives of people who submit themselves to God; that, God begins to reign in their heart. Their lives are then lived in such a way that they are living in submission to the Lord God Almighty. And that reign, or that kingdom, is something that cannot be identified outwardly. It is something that happens within a heart, and in the life of those who submit to the Lord. Now, Jesus also states that no one knows for sure how or when that will take place. Some will be a part of that, while obviously, others will not. In other words, God's kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms, and that is the point that we need to keep in mind. God's reign is not like the reign of some kings or presidents that we might identify with today. God's reign and God's kingdom is in our hearts, and demonstrated in our lives. Now, with all of those things in mind, I want us to go back now and look at chapter 18. Look at this parable that was just read. In Jesus' day, people lived in what we call a guilt-based society. When people did something wrong, they felt guilt. When they made a mistake, they felt embarrassed by it. When they did not act the way they were supposed to act, then they felt shame. And not only did the person feel that shame or that embarrassment or guilt, but sometimes it was translated over into the family; and, maybe even the entire community was affected by it. Well, the judge we read about here in chapter 18 is beyond shame, isn't he? Not only is he willing to do that which is wrong, he really doesn't care what other people might think. In fact, did you notice in the text that Jesus said this unjust judge does not even care about God? He doesn't care what people might think or say about him, and he certainly does not care about this widow who continually has the same request. Oh, this unjust judge is going to do whatever he wants to do, and he doesn't care. Well, the widow comes to him because she has no other option. She has no money with which to bribe him. But she has a complaint, she has a request. She basically says, "Judge, I want you to vindicate me of my adversary. There is someone who is bothering me, there is someone who is making my life very difficult, and only you can do something about it." She has no power. She has no authority, as most women did not have in that society. She had no male representation to stand up on her behalf and to make her plea even more credible. She is presenting her case all by herself, and she is hoping against hope that somehow the judge will hear and he will respond in a very favorable way. We don't know what has happened to this lady. Perhaps her husband has just recently died. Perhaps the people around her were trying to take advantage of her, and run her out of her home, or take possession of the land which he had left behind. We don't know exactly what is going on. But, here is the point: A weak and vulnerable lady will not give up asking for help from an unjust judge. She has no other option, and so she presents her request to him day after day after day. And it is the same request over and over again: "I need some help. I want you to vindicate me of my adversary." Well, when the judge says, "You are wearing me out," it literally means, you are giving me a black eye. He is tired of hearing from her. He feels as if he is getting beaten up verbally. He is tired of putting up with her, because she will not leave him alone. And so, he gives the answer "no" time and time again, until finally he realizes there is no other option: "I have to say yes." That is exactly what this widow wanted to hear. Finally, she gets her way, because of her persistence. She continued to do what seemed useless until she finally got the answer she wanted. Now, what is the message in all of that? A corrupt judge who does not care what people think about him can be motivated to give justice to a powerless widow. That's what we just saw. That's what happened. This unjust judge finally gives in to a powerless widow. She finally gets the justice she needs. He finally gets tired enough of hearing from her that he gives in and he provides the answer. That's what happens with the unjust judge. Now, remember when we said that Almighty God in heaven stands in contrast to that, instead of in comparison to him? With that in mind, how much more, then, will a loving and a just God, who is eager to hear our prayers, make things right? And that describes God, as Jesus points out here in chapter 18. He will respond to the needs of His children, and He will do so quickly. Yes, in contrast to the unjust judge, God wants to hear from His children. In contrast to that unjust judge, God wants to give good gifts to those who belong to Him. He wants us to depend upon Him. He wants us to see Him as the One who provides for the needs in our life. And that's a great thought, isn't it? And so we see the contrast between our loving, good, Father in heaven and this unjust judge who doesn't care about people. There is coming a day when Jesus will fix our messed-up world. There is coming a day when He will come back and He will set things to right. We don't know when that day will be. Not even the angels in heaven, not even Jesus, himself, knows the hour or the day of His coming. And yet we know with full confidence that He will come back. When He does, He will set things in order, He will make things right. And that day will be something far beyond our expectations, far beyond anything we could possibly imagine. Until that day comes, however, we are to continue to pray and put our trust in Him. And that's the way Jesus began this parable. Even when things do not seem to be right today, continue to pray to God today. Always pray, never give up on God, have faith in God, and know that He will make things right, according to His own time schedule, whenever that might be. And so that is why we never give up on the goodness and the justice of God. We keep praying for Him to set things right in our life, and around the world, in His own good time. Even in light of all of the unjust things going on in the world today, the message is; do not give up hope, do not give up on God, and when I return, I want to find faith in your heart. And that comes when we submit ourself to God's kingdom. That comes when we submit ourself to His reign in our heart, and when we live by that reign. And so with that, we ask a couple of questions, as we draw our lesson to a conclusion. Do we believe that enough to keep on praying? Do we believe in God enough to never give up on Him, but to always pray? Verse 8 seems to be the key: When Jesus does return, will He find us faithfully praying for His will to be done? That's the question, isn't it? Oftentimes, I think in my mind, if Jesus was to come back today, He can start right here with me in my house, because I'm going to be praying. I'm going to be one who has faith in God, and I have never given up on Him. Can you say the same thing? Oh, it is easy sometimes to complain about the way things are in this world. It is easy to point our finger at leaders, or at nations, or situation in this world, and to blame other people for what is happening in this world. Yet the answer lies in never giving up on God to make things right. We may be in a position where we can make some kind of change, and make some kind of good difference in this world; but, we can never do it like God does it. We do what we can, but we trust God to provide the ultimate solution, knowing without any doubt that He ultimately will. And so, are we praying for God's kingdom to come into the hearts and into the lives of more and more people, as they submit to the reign of God, and as they change their ways to make this a better place in which to live? And, are we praying for His will to be done throughout this world? It may not make much sense now, but we know that He is working behind the scenes in ways that we may never know about nor understand. And so the message is, always pray, never give up on God; and, when Jesus returns, make sure that we are people of faith who put our hope and our trust in Him.
Some things in this world are just not right. There is all kind of injustice and poverty in this world; and, that's everywhere, no matter where we might live. People need help, people cry out for help, people are overlooked and abused. They live in situations that we can hardly even imagine. And as they do, we have two options, or two alternatives we can take. We can ignore the way things are and accept them; that they will always be like that. Or, on the other hand, we can keep on praying for God to come back and make things right. We keep on asking God to intervene and to set right those things that are wrong. And if we take that approach, then perhaps He is calling upon us to do something to make that happen, calling upon us to help those who are in difficult and trying situations. When I think about the poverty and the poor, I remember the words of Psalm 9, verse 18: "The poor shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of those who are neglected will not always be forsaken." Yes, the poor and the forsaken of this world, God sees them. He knows what is happening. And it is our role to not only step in and help and intervene and make things right, but also to keep on calling upon God to do that; we keep on approaching God, we keep on knocking on His door, we keep on asking and praying and hoping that God will make things right in accordance with His will. I hope that you will join me in that effort; to keep on asking God to intervene in the injustice and problems in this world.
Thank you for watching today's episode on "Key to the Kingdom." We certainly do not know how things will turn out in this world. We do not know what will happen at the end of time. We do know, however, that God will make things right at just the right time. He knows the outcome, and that is good enough. Until that time comes, we are to keep on praying. This lesson is available on our website, keytothekingdom.com. You can easily download it in a variety of formats, without any cost or obligation. There are a number of other lessons on the site, as well, and I encourage you to find those that might be of interest. At the end of this lesson, you will find a series of questions designed to give you additional insight into the message and to assist you in making some application in your own spiritual life. I hope you will take advantage of these study questions. Short devotional thoughts and inspiring messages are also on the website. They provide some practical ways in which you can apply the teaching of the Bible and grow in your walk with the Lord. Other ways to access this mission effort is through a free app for smart-phones, Roku® television, and even Facebook®. I hope you will take advantage of the social media outlets which are of interest. The phone number on the screen is one way to contact us. Please call and leave your name and phone- number, and we will be happy to get back to you, as soon as possible. Again, let me say thank you, for taking time to be our guest today. Join us again next time as we continue to study the Bible, on "Key to the Kingdom."