May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many times when we pray, we ask God to protect us, we pray that we might be spared from illness, that we may gain wisdom, to deal with a bad situation, that he may guide us out of our despair.
We pray the Devil would not be able to touch us in the struggle for our souls. When we pray like that, we consider God to be on our side.
But there are times when our prayers take on the form of intense wrestling match with God. We don’t understand God and the circumstances that befall us There are times when God seems to remain absent, or at least silent, times we can’t speak those words ‘Thy will be done’.
When we don’t understand where he is trying to lead us or what he is asking us to do. Everyone of us could tell a story or two from our life’s experiences, when God didn’t make sense.
Times when the unfailing love of God seemed to skip a beat.
Times when we gazed up to the stars in disbelief and asked ‘Lord what do you really want from me’
There are times in every believers life when our prayer takes on more of an urgent nature when we try hard to reconcile our understanding of God’s love and mercy with our negative experiences in life.
Take, for example, the cry of understanding from a young person’s soul whose heart has been broken, or a husband or wife, abandoned for someone else.
Think of a young student who has all the potential in the world to become a world class professional but hasn’t the financial dreams to turn that into reality.
Think of Syria, the refugees, think of all those affected by recent storms and hurricanes. Or take for example the widow in our reading, this morning, stripped of here right for justice, because of her social status, and the fact that she is a woman.
These are times when our prayer goes beyond those mechanical utterances of words that we think God would like to hear from us.
Jesus tells the parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18 so that his followers may be encouraged to persist, despite unanswered prayer.
The parable tells the story of a Widow who demands justice for herself . The corrupt and selfish Judge makes excuses and obviously doesn’t care about the Widow’s concerns, but she persists in her demands, she really gets on the Judge’s case, exhausting his patience The word that’s translated as ‘wear me out’ literally means ‘to beat black and blue’ or to hit so hard as to cause bruises.
Jesus seems to humour his audience by emphasising just how intolerable and annoying this Widow has become. You can picture the scene Jesus is describing: this little old lady, the judges shadow wherever he goes she tugs on his robe, forcibly tapping him on his shoulder embarrassing him in front of his peers and so on.
The Judge, ready probably, to jump off a cliff, gives in to her insistence not for her sake but for his own peace. The Widow has endured in the struggle, and as a result has reaped justice. Jesus seems to imply that if we want something bad enough we have to persist and not give up.
It seems to me that Jesus is saying that God really enjoys an intense dialogue with us. God is not afraid of our questions and our arguments. Perhaps he wants us to argue with him and maybe with ourselves first is what we are asking for really the best [unclear] outcome for all those involved not just ourselves
I firmly believe that God has a great desire for our companionship and our trust. Indeed God desires an honest relationship in which we have the courage to ask those hard and difficult questions, and where we grapple with the answers he provides.
In the history of God’s people we have many good examples of men and women who have stood their ground and not let go before their intense quest for truth and God’s blessing is satisfied. In these stories we perceive their deep desire to experience the love and blessing of a God whose ways are far above human understanding in these stories we hear the cry of a bare soul demanding answers from the one who has no need to answer
One story is the story of Jacob, who wrestled with God until daybreak. The experience takes place at a time in Jacob’s life when he is going through some deep spiritual searching. All his life he has had to deal with the reputation of his name. Jacob means the one who deceives, Jacob was holding onto his twin brother’s heal when they were born.
All of his life Jacob was the one who struggled hard to gain the approval and blessing of his father. He always felt second best. He tried to buy the birthright from his brother. But he always felt he was on the back foot – the one who wasn’t good enough and it led him to deceive and to lie.
Jacob had lived with this name, this demon from his past for many years, and the time had come to settle the score. He was now on his way to meet his brother Esau, and while he was anticipating the encounter with his brother, Jacob was scared stiff. He sent gifts of sheep and livestock, ahead with his servants, to try and appease. He took measures to protect his family in the event of a violent confrontation, and then he stayed up all night wrestling with God.
In fact the story says that he persists until daybreak and would not let go without it. Jacob would not be satisfied with pat answers. ‘I will not let you go until you bless me’ As he is given his new name Israel, Jacob comes to terms with his past, and he determines to take hold of this new God given identity you will no longer the deceiver, you are no longer the one who has been robbed of God’s blessing from now on, your name will be Israel. God prevails. At sunrise Jacob names the place ‘Peniel’ which means ‘I’ve wrestled with God face to face and my life has been spared — and he has the limp to prove it.
In the New Testament, we have the example of our Lord Jesus himself The night he was betrayed, he wrestled with God in the garden.
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him and he said to them my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me going a little further he fell on his face, and to the ground, and prayed ‘My Father if it is possible take this cup from me yet not as I will but as you will…’ and when he finished praying he found his disciples sleeping and he went back to pray the same prayer two more times.
We can be certain that Jesus bargained with his heavenly Father, to find a different way to reconcile mankind with God. His struggle was intense, and in the end, Jesus prevailed. He didn’t change but he found the strength and inner peace to obey the will of his Father
Maybe these stories describe how you have felt about your relationship with God
Maybe you carry a burden for a loved one who has made some bad choices in his or her life and you are pleading with God that he would have mercy on them,
Maybe you are wrestling with demons from your past, a bad reputation, a nasty habit, a decision that you can’t change
If you’ve reached the end of your rope – then you have come to the place where angels fear to tread; and I urge you, take off your shoes, because you are walking on holy ground. Let the words of Jesus in the parable encourage you, to persist in your petitions before God knowing that the Almighty can handle your arguments and search for truth, peace and a deeper understanding.
Soren Kirkegard said ‘Prayer does not change God, but changes him who prays’. When we honestly wrestle with God we will be transformed for ever, our lives will be changed, like the Widow, and Abraham, and Jacob and Jesus’. God seeks to make his love and compassion known to us.
Let us persist in our wrestling with God – let us persevere and we to will rise up with a deeper understanding of God’s will and ways for us. We may be dusty and limping at the end but we will experience God’s blessing. Amen