If you had access to one of the greatest powers in the universe, and could legitimately use it any time you wanted, 24/7, and it had the power to bring you peace of mind, what would you do? Well as a matter of fact we have such a power but for some reason we human beings struggle to use it. The power I am talking about is prayer and is the topic of Jesus’ words in the first half of our New Testament chapter for the day, Luke 18.
First a quick note about the Pharisee and tax collector (vs.9-14) which isn’t specifically about prayer, although Jesus does use prayer as an example of the contrasting attitudes of mind of the two men. In the parable “two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector”. One was self-righteous and the other recognized his sinfulness and prayed for mercy. This is a continuation of the contrast between the two groups Jesus has continually been illustrating throughout Luke’s gospel. What’s intriguing about the language Jesus uses is when you search throughout the New Testament for anyone else who prayed in the temple, you’ll only find one other occurrence. Of course, many people would have prayed in the temple but only this one other specific person is recorded. This one occurrence is also recorded by Luke in Acts 22:17 – “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple”. What is interesting is it’s talking about the apostle Paul, relating to events just after his conversion. Here is a man who is represented in the parable as the kind of person he was both before and after his conversion. What this tells us is while we might be like the Pharisee we can change and be like the tax collector.
In the first parable in Luke 18 Jesus tells us we ought always to pray so we don’t “lose heart” (v1). God doesn’t want us to be discouraged. The same word is used in 2 Cor. 4:16 at the beginning of one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible – “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” But maybe that’s our problem with prayer: we’re praying to someone who can’t be seen. The temptation is therefore to turn to those things we can see, even though they are transient. Whether it’s escapism using Netflix or the liquor cabinet or finding solace in any number of transient things, we tend to look for peace of mind in things that have no power other than to dampen our anxieties for a moment.
How about demolishing our anxieties for eternity? Wouldn’t we rather have that? And we can have it by taking advantage of the gift of prayer. The parable at the beginning of Luke 18 makes the point: if the unjust judge finally responded to the widow because she wouldn’t stop bothering him, how much more will God respond to us who are his beloved sons and daughters? He wants us to communicate with him. He wants us to lay it all out to him, all our worries and anxieties. And even though we don’t receive a verbal response and are praying to an unseen power, faith tells us that God is ready, always ready, to answer our prayers and help us through the things of life that might otherwise cause us to lose heart.
The question is, Jesus asks at the end of the parable, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (v8). I wonder about that verse every time I read it. The context is about the kind of faith we’re talking about – faith in an unseen God who answers prayers. It’s the kind of faith we struggle with because we’re so accustomed to those things we can detect with our five senses. And perhaps the more we feed our minds with the visual stimulants provided by 21st century technology, and find escape in those things, the more we lose focus on that which cannot be seen but is powerful and eternal. So, what does that verse mean – will Jesus find faith on earth when he comes? Do we look at it as a resignation that when Christ does return, he will find a people who have lost the faith illustrated by the woman in the parable? Or do we look at it as a challenge? When the Son of Man comes faith will be a rare commodity but let’s respond to the question, each of us individually, with a resounding “yes Lord, you will find me faithfully seeing that which is invisible and trusting in the unseen eternal God!”
Simi Hills, CA