I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately. Last week I wrote about the difficulty of unanswered prayers, and how they become for our good in many ways. Today I turn to the simple concept of prayer itself, and making adequate time for it in our lives.
“I have so much to do that if I didn’t spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done.”
This quote is often attributed to Martin Luther, and it shocks me every time I see it. Mainly because, I just don’t see it connect with my own experience (sadly). “3 hours a day? I can’t even wrap my head around that.”
I think this quote has less to say about Luther’s practices of prayer, though he certainly had them, and more about the primacy of prayer we should strive for. Truthfully, we often treat prayer the way kids treat their green vegetables – we know it’s good for us, we know it will help us be stronger and grow better, but we mostly pick at it. It takes some sort of crises moment, whether drastic weight gain or a severe episode of malnourishment, to cause us to turn to it.
Luther understood prayer as so critical, so necessary to the Christian’s diet, that we cannot afford not to pray in and for and through all things. Again, that’s not so much a verbal prayer over every single event and action in life, and more like a disposition of communing with God. Paul makes mention of this sort of prayerful attitude at many points in his letters to the churches (Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17).
Jesus told his disciples a story in Luke 18. He was famous for telling these kinds of stories, parables, and he often used this style to do so. He would tell the story and then conclude that if A was true, then how much more B will be true. You could call it a “lesser to greater” argument as some theologians do.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:1-8
From the get-go in verse 1 we see that persistent prayer is the point of this parable. Jesus begins his story by drawing out the two characters: the unjust judge (he respected no one but himself), and the poor widow. The widow is untiring in her requests for action from the judge. At first the judge refuses, but finally gives in to have rid of the woman.
Then Jesus turns to us, who have an almighty, sovereign, compassionate, and holy Judge, and asks us, “If such a judge could grant the unceasing pleas of this woman, how much more will your loving Father grant your unceasing pleas?” Jesus follows up his rhetorical question with a promise. Not only will he answer, but God finds our requests urgent. Again, as I hinted at last week, God’s definition of urgent often seems different than our definition. Yet we have it on Jesus’s perfect word that this Judge whom we call Father is always in the bench, with gavel in hand, and we have the advocacy of Christ at our hand (1 Jn. 2:1).
Jesus ends this story with a final question, and importantly, a question that goes unanswered in Scripture and thus turning to our own lives. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” As Thomas Aquinas said, “Faith holds a middle place; it surpasses opinion insofar as its adhesion is firm, but falls short of science in this because it lacks sight.” Are we ready to use our prayer lives to communicate this kind of faith in Christ, a faith that is already and not yet, a faith that is unwavering yet is hopeful?
Show me a man who has spent time communing with God in an attitude of unceasing prayer, and I will show you a man of rock-solid faith. Show me a man who says with Luther that he cannot afford not to pray, and I will show you a man who has true trust in the Lord. There are so many things we desire to do as Christians – trust God’s plan, be faithful, affirm that he is in control. I don’t think we truly arrive at these places short of prayer taking a primary place in our lives. We must always remember that even though our circumstances always surround us, Jesus always surrounds our circumstances. Our Advocate is in control, and has invited us to trust Him and walk with Him.
Will He find faith in your heart today? Can you afford to get through the rest of this day, this week, this month without prayer? We know the answer.