A Parable of Prayer
January 30th, 1966 @ 7:30 PM
A PARABLE OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-30-66 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Parable of Prayer. On Sunday night for a long, long time, and for years yet to come, we are preaching through the life of our Lord. And because of our "Tell Dallas" appeal and the prayer meetings that are being conducted in our homes, I have paused here. Having come to the parables of our Lord, I have paused here to speak of one in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. So all of us in our Bibles turn to the Third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, and we shall read together the parable, the first eight verses.
And Dr. Irving, I see you have Dr. James Landis, president of Hardin-Simmons University, and I see you got your Bible for him to read. And here is Stallingworth; I see you have got Bunker Hunt over there. Now does Bunker have a Bible? You have already got a Bible? Well, I was going to ask you to give him yours, but he has brought a Bible. Bunker, how did you know to come to church with a Bible in your hand? Do you always do that? Oh, that is glorious! Man, what a wonderful Baptist you would make. You really would. Now, if your neighbor does not have his Bible you share yours with him. The Book is made to be read out loud together, and we read the first eight verses of chapter 18, Gospel of Luke. Now together:
And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, nor regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?
I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?
Now this is one of the most unusual stories that the Lord could have ever chosen to illustrate prayer. He is talking about our perseverance, our importunity, our staying with it, our not fainting, our not being discouraged and quitting. So to illustrate that, that men ought always to pray and not to faint [Luke 18:1], He tells the story, the first part of which is very typical of Oriental life and Oriental justice.
He says there was a judge and that judge was a godless rascal. He was a superficiality; he was a question mark. There was nothing about him of solidity, of integrity. He was a born rascal. He didn’t fear God, he didn’t regard man, and he would sell out to anybody who would offer him anything, make any decision in favor of any litigant. That kind of a judge and that part of the story is very typical of that Oriental day.
And by the way, I might point out to you that when the Bible describes the glorious coming of the Messiah, the Book says He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, when He stands up there or sits behind the bar. He doesn’t look out to catch the eye of a man who might be there to see that He says the right verdict. He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears [Isaiah 11:3]. There won’t be somebody coming up the back step whispering to His ear what kind of a verdict He ought to render. But He will judge with righteousness and with equity [Isaiah 11:4].
Now the opposite of that is this judge that Jesus speaks of here in the Bible [Luke 18:2]. He doesn’t regard the Lord, he doesn’t regard man, he has no sense of righteousness or of justice. And he sells out to anybody that wants to bribe him.
Now the other part of this was also typical of the day of the Orient. There was a widow in that city where this man was judge. And somebody was abusing her and robbing her and coercing her and oppressing her [Luke 18:3], and if you have been conversing at all with the widows of the Orient, you know that kind of a situation.
In the days of William Carey, a widow had to mount the pyre that burned the body of her husband and herself. Be emulated, be offered there on that pyre. Ah, the horrible lot of a widow in an ancient day! When I was in India, I visited in the home of a widow in a village. And the preacher who was with me described the lot of that poor woman. She has no standing, she cannot control what little property she might possess, and she is ostracized from society. She was not accepted a widow, a woman without a husband has no place, no dignity, no social acceptance. She is an outcast and her life is hard indeed. And this widow was a young woman. The preacher was talking to me about it because of the tragedy of her life.
Now this widow was like that [Luke 18:3]. She was oppressed and coerced and robbed and cheated and abused. And the vultures swarmed around her to take advantage of everyday of her life. So in her need, and in her oppression, and in her want, she came to the judge of the city and asked for help. And what did that godless rascal do? There was nothing of the milk of human kindness in him, no tenderness, no sympathy, no anything that was good and right and just. And he wouldn’t do anything for her [Luke 18:4]. He wouldn’t listen to her; he wouldn’t help; he wouldn’t even offer a gracious hand of sympathy and encouragement. Now that part of the story is as it was, and as it is, in many places of this earth today.
But the rest of this story is something that Jesus…we would never think of illustrating a thing like this, never. She was not that kind of a woman who just let it pass by, and just allowed herself to be ground under foot, and with no help from that judge, who was appointed to the bench in order to help. She just wasn’t that kind of woman. What she did, she waylaid that judge every time he walked home, and accosted him, and told him of the unrighteousness of these that oppress her. And every time the court was open there she was, saying words to him, that he ought to be the right kind of a judge and defend her against these that oppress her. And every time he appeared in public, there she was, dogging his heels and talking to him. And she did it all day, and she did it all night. She never let the fellow rest [Luke 18:5].
It’s the same kind of a picture as if you might have a scene like this in, say, Chicago. And there’s a policeman and he’s on his beat. And there comes one of these loud-mouthed women and she stops that policeman. And she harangues him, and she lays him out! And the louder she talks, the more furious she becomes! And finally that policeman says, "I do believe this woman is going to claw my eyes out."
That’s exactly what Jesus says here. Now you don’t see it in this English translation but the judge says, "I better do something about this situation. I better do something about this woman cause if I don’t she is going to hupopiazō me." Now you got it translated with a weak and lame word, "lest she weary me" [Luke 18:5]. Isn’t that something? "Lest she weary me." Hupopiazō, hupopiazo means to bust the guy in the nose! That’s what it means. That is exactly what it means. Hupopiazō, to black his eye, just to bust him one, just like that. That’s what that means.
Not used very often in the Bible, but I’ll show you another use of that word. Paul is using here, in the ninth chapter in the first Corinthian letter, he is using language of the athletic world. And he is talking about running a race. And he is talking about fighting in the arena. Then it says, "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep my body under subjection; lest after I preach to others, I myself should be a castaway" [1Corinthians 9:26-27]. Now there you have it translated, "but I keep my body under subjection." There’s that word hupopiazō. I bust it one! I blacken his eyes, I keep my body down. That’s the word this unjust judge uses here in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke [Luke 18:5].
He says, "This widow, why, I believe that female would scratch my eyes out. I don’t know what she might do." So, Jesus says, the judge reasons thus, "Though I do not fear God, and though I do not regard man, yet because this widow day and night dogs my heels, I am going to give her what she wants" [Luke 18:4-5]. Now she was not wealthy, she didn’t have any high-class lawyers, she didn’t have any money to hire fine legal counsel, but she got what she wanted because she stayed with it. She was importunate; she didn’t weary.
Isn’t that unusual? You see, the Lord will take a story, and He will put side by side with it a great heavenly instruction, reasoning from our bad to God’s good, reasoning from our littleness to God’s greatness. If this godless rascal, who didn’t regard man or deity, yet did this thing for that oppressed widow, how much more will God listen to the importunate appeals to those who cry day and night unto Him? [Luke 18:6-7]. Before the Lord God, justice and judgment are His habitation; and mercy and truth go before His face [Psalm 89:14]. How much more will God answer their importunate prayers? [Luke 18:7]. "He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought to pray, and not to faint" [Luke 18:1].
Now I don’t think there is anyone among us, no one among us, if you have traveled the pilgrimage of this Christian life, there’s no one among us but that knows the frustration of this poor widow. Taking a thing to God and asked and asked and asked, and prayed and prayed and prayed, and the heavens are brass and the earth is iron, and there is nobody that listens and there’s nobody that answers. And we’ve asked and asked, and there’s not any reward, and not any moving, no gracious hand, no gift, no answer from heaven; every one of us has had that experience. And that’s why the Lord is speaking the parable. Men ought always, always, continually, always, to bombard the gates of heaven and not to faint; always to pray, and not to faint [Luke 18:1].
Remember, delay is not denial, first the blade, then the ear, then the grain of corn. Remember that the plowman takes ten thousand steps, and sows ten thousand seeds, and finally a harvest. Like the waters impounded by a dam; they rise and rise and rise and rise, and finally in the fullness of God they are powerful unto the great sovereign purpose and work that God hath chosen for us. So, in our importunity and in our persevering, staying with it before God; if it is right, and if it is just, and if it is sovereignly pleasing in His sight, don’t give up. Stay before the throne of grace, knocking at the door, believing the promises of God [Hebrews 4:16].
One of the most magnificent illustrations that Paul uses in the Book of Romans concerns Abraham, to whom God promised a son of his own flesh, out of his own body should he be born [Romans 4:13-22]. And Abraham became seventy years of age and eighty years of age and ninety years of age and a hundred years of age and no child was born; and Sarah, the wife by whom God promised that seed [Genesis 18:10] became seventy years of age and eighty years of age and ninety years of age and no son was born [Genesis 17:17]. And Paul, using the illustration, says, "Against hope Abraham believed in hope [Romans 4:18], and staggered not at the promises of God" [Romans 4:20]. Imagine it, imagine it! A hundred years old, and his wife ninety years old still believing that out of his own bone and out of his own blood and out of his own flesh and out of his body God would give them a child [Romans 4:19]. Ah, ah.
Our intercessions are too often frivolous, our prayers are too often perfunctory, our asking is too often at the fag-end of the day. And the Lord bows down His ear to hear, and the Lord looks down from heaven to see, and He finds no reason to answer, no reason to bless, no reason to be moved. There’s no agony in our prayers, there’s no importunity, there’s no begging and pleading. They are peripheral and superficial. They are lightly said and as lightly dismissed. Ah Lord, O Lord!
There was a Scots preacher by the name of John Welch. And he prayed so much that his knees were calloused. And I read this story about him, and I have heard it repeated many times. He lived in a little town in Scotland named Ayr, A-y-r, Ayr. And many times, his biographer says, many times John Wells would rise at midnight, throw a plaid over his shoulders, go to his church, by which he lived next door, get down on his knees and cry to God in prayer all the remainder of the night, and said this: "There are more than three thousand souls in this town, and I know not how it is with them."
I know nothing of that kind of intercession, I just know I need this sermon, I need this parable, I need this text. "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" [Luke 18:1]. I wonder if it was of John Welch of Ayr, Scotland, who prayed through the night, that a poet wrote these words.
A call to prayer – I cannot sleep
A midnight vigil I must keep,
For God doth call. I but repeat
To prayer, to prayer, prevailing prayer!
The need for such is everywhere.
It covers earth, it fills the air
The urgent need for urgent prayer.
To bended knee, to bended knee!
God’s call to you, God’s call to me,
Because what is, and is to be
Shall reach throughout eternity.
Oh, folks! I say, and again I say.
A truth has burned in my soul this day!
It’s the need of prayer. Let come what may,
We shall overcome if we watch and pray.
Awake, awake! Ye saints, awake!
Your place of prayer, believe, and take.
Stand in the breach, for Jesus’ sake
Ere souls be lost, too late, too late!
"And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" [Luke 18:1]. God forgive me, God forgive me.
Now do you notice you have a chapter division here? Of course there were no chapter divisions when Luke wrote this blessed word. Got a chapter division, and that’s unfortunate, for the first part of the eighteenth chapter is part of the seventeenth chapter, and the last half of the seventeenth chapter is an apocalyptic discourse on the coming again of our Savior [Luke 17:20-37]. And He closed that apocalyptic discourse with this parable of the importunate widow [Luke 18:1-8].
And it begins, the apocalyptic discourse begins with a question from the Pharisees. They ask Him, "What kind of a sign do You give us?" [Luke 17:20]. And the Lord closes the discourse with a question, "When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?" [Luke 18:8]. God’s people become weary; God’s people lose hope; God’s people fall into despair. Everything runs against us, and we’re not equal for this conflict and this battle. And they grow faint and weary.
And I can understand why. Did you know after 2000 years we are still losing this battle against the population of this world? There are about twenty-two percent of this world’s population that is now Christian, nominal Christian. Before you die, that number will drop to less than two percent. The world is becoming increasingly pagan, and heathen, and lost. And there is no glorious kingdom. The tide seems to be running against us. These belligerent and blasphemous atheists in this whole world stand up and defy God and man. And they head governments and lead vast armies. And we quail before their atomic arms and power.
O Lord, where is the kingdom? O God, where are these things that have been prophesied of the glory of the Lord covering the earth like the waters cover the sea? [Habakkuk 2:14]. O Master, it seems as though we are losing this battle. "And He spake a parable unto them to this end," this closes that apocalyptic discourse, "that men ought always to pray and not to faint" [Luke 18:1].
"And when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith in the earth?" [Luke 18:8]. Why, my friend and my brother, we are sometimes halfway persuaded, and most of the times act as though God is dead, according to these latest sophisticated theologians. We act that way, and we half believe it, that this universe is out of control, and it doesn’t lie in the hands of an almighty and sovereign God, and that we’re losing this battle.
In the Book of Habakkuk, living in a day when the Assyrian hordes had destroyed the northern ten tribes, and prophesying the destruction of the Southern Kingdom, and the waste of Jerusalem, and the burning of the temple of the Lord God in Jerusalem, Habakkuk living between those two, what ought to happen, and the other was prophesied. And describing the coming of those bitter and ruthless and hasty Babylonians, those Chaldeans [Habakkuk 1:5-6], Habakkuk took his case to the Lord God and said, "O Lord, Thou art of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity: why then doest Thou look upon these who waste Thy people, who blaspheme Thy name, and who defy Thy power in the earth? Lord why do You not strike them dead, why do You not intervene in human history?" [Habakkuk 1:13]. As Isaiah cried, "O God, why dost Thou not rend the heavens and come down?" [Isaiah 64:1]. Habakkuk asked that. O Lord! And the Lord God said to Habakkuk, "Wait, you wait," and when the words of answer from heaven fell upon the ear and soul of Habakkuk it was in this sentence: "The just shall live by his faith" [Habakkuk 2:2-4]. Wait a while, wait a while, wait a while, faith on his knees, and faith importunate, and faith in prayer, and faith believing the promises of God shall be victory and triumph in God’s day, and in God’s time, and in God’s sovereign hour.
It lies in His elective purpose and choice, the run, the bend, the turn of human history. But our part, "The just shall live by faith" [Habakkuk 2:4]. Our part is to cling to the promises, to take our case to God and to believe that the answer of God from heaven shall be by fire and by blessing upon His people. And when we get to the end of the way, and the dÃ©nouement of human history is unraveled before our eyes, and we see the King in his glory, and the kingdom in its splendor, we shall say to one another, "Why did we ever doubt, and why was it we were ever weary, and why did we stagger at the promises of God?" For the Lord is faithful, and the Lord will not forget the cries of His people. And he has fitted for us in His sovereign goodness, an incomparable triumph and a celestial blessing. It is for us to pray, it is for us to believe, it is for us to wait, it is for us to bombard the gates of glory with our prayers, our intercessions, our pleadings, our asking. And the Lord, looking down upon us, shall fit for us that glorious and incomparable blessing for which we ask. "And He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" [Luke 18:1].
So don’t you give up, never. Talk to the Lord about it and mention it again. Take it to the Lord in prayer and ask Him again. Get down on your face before Jesus and get down on your face again. Plead the case before the Lord God in glory. Plead it again, and the Lord will answer by fire. O God, grant it.
Friday of this last week in a restaurant, in a restaurant, I sat down with a group of young preachers. Ah! Every one among those boys fight against insuperable odds. They have the hardest frontier assignment in the world. There are no difficulties; there are no problems that those young fellows do not face. And every last one of them believes ever syllable of that Book. And every last one of them believes in the mercy and the power and the presence of God. And every last one of them preaches the gospel of the atoning grace of Jesus.
Well, how are they and what are they like? Why, my brother, you would think, you would think, that tomorrow they were going to sit on thrones judging the whole earth! That triumph and victory are theirs. When I think of our folks down here, so many of us weak and anemic, giving up, it is too difficult and too hard. And those young fellows up there. Well, anyway, what I was going to say was, when I was down on my knees in the restaurant praying with those young preachers, those young preachers and pastors, there was a boy right back of me, just especially, there was something in his voice and in his prayer. Well, I just was heathen enough to open my eyes and turn around and look. That boy was down on his face in the restaurant, down on his face in the restaurant pleading the mercies and the help and the presence and the power of the Lord God, down on his face, and the tears fall on the rug covering that restaurant floor.
And when it was over I asked the executive secretary, "You know that young fellow back of me? He was down on his face, and praying in an agony and with many tears. Who is that boy and where does he preach?" And the executive secretary said to me, "That boy has one of the most difficult assignments in this frontier state. But one of the most glorious, triumphant, victorious preachers that I ever saw in my life, and he is building a great church."
Why man, it can be done anywhere that people are willing to take hold of the promises and the presence of God. "And He spake a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" [Luke 18:1]. God be good to us, and the Lord bless us, and the Lord see us as we lay hands upon the altar and claim before the Lord God, "O Lord, I will not let Thee go until Thou dost bless me" [Genesis 32:26]. And the blessings will come. God liveth in assurance and in faithfulness.
Our time’s gone and we must sing our song. And while we sing the song, somebody you give himself to Jesus, a family you, coming into the fellowship of the church; as the Spirit of our blessed Savior might speak to your heart, make it tonight. In this balcony round, somebody you, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." In this lower floor into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, preacher, I make it tonight. Give my heart to Jesus, give my life to Jesus, give every vision and dream of my soul to Jesus. In eternity, give all of eternity to the love and praise of Jesus. Live for Him now, live for Him then. Happy, gloriously glad, coming into Jesus." Do it. Putting your life with us in this glorious congregation, however the Spirit of the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, come tonight, make it tonight, "Here I am, preacher, here I come," while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The story
A. The judge
1. Typical of oriental justice; sell-out to bribes
2. Did not fear God; did not regard man (Isaiah 11:3)
B. The oppressed widow
C. She did not give up, but persisted (Luke 18:4-5)
1. "Lest she hupopiazo me" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)
A. The two pictures side by side (Psalm 89:14)
B. We are not to cease or to be discouraged (Luke 18:1)
1. Delay is not denial
a. Abraham (Genesis 15:4-6, Romans 4:20)
C. Our prayers often too perfunctory; peripheral and superficial
1. John Welch
2. Poem, "A Call to Prayer"
III. The context
A. This parable a conclusion to apocalyptic discourse (Luke 17:20 – Luke 18:8)
B. The discouragement our Lord foresaw
1. God’s people become weary (Luke 18:8)
IV. The meaning for us
A. The just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 1:13, 2:2, 4, Romans 1:17)
B. Our part is to cling to His promises; pleading again and again (Luke 18:1)