Persist in Hope. Pray in Faith.

This past week at ICC, I taught a message on faith. I want to continue here with a word on the practical expression of faith in our daily lives.   I’m concerned that many of us say we have faith but few of us live by this faith we proclaim. Our faith “talk” often doesn’t translate into faith “walk”….and talk is cheap. Only acting… living…. in faith counts for anything (see Rom. 1:17).  I want you to truly know what it means to live by faith and truly trust & experience God. I hope you will read & consider God’s word from Luke 17 & 18 as it relates to your own life.

The Essence of Faith

Jesus’ words in Luke 17:5-6 are meant to challenge and encourage us: “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Jesus reminds us that we need faith.  Greater dependence on God is a constant need in our lives. We are to live in dependency on God, not self-sufficiency.  The more we know of ourselves & God, the more we’ll call out to Him.  You were never meant to operate apart from God.  True “normalcy” is dependency on Him, leaning on His presence and operating in His power.  Something I read once is so true: “You cannot.  He never said you could. He can. He has always promised that He would.”

Faith is the one thing that Jesus is after in your life.  More than your activity, He wants your trust.  He wants you to trust and believe in Him, in His Word, and in His promises.  Our faith is not blind.  It rests in a person – God.  He knows all things.  He holds all power. He has never failed. He is always faithful.  Every promise He makes He keeps.  He cannot lie.  When He speaks, you can believe Him.  When He promises, you can trust Him.   According to Hebrews 11, this is the essence of faith. Faith is the assurance of God.  Faith is the conviction that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. Faith is taking His promises to the bank, because you know His person & believe He’s good for what He’s promised.  This is what God desires from you – to believe & trust Him.  And in fact, “without [this] faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

Total reliance on God is the key mark of spiritual maturity, not the opposite. Do you live in faith? Is your life marked by self-sufficiency or dependency?  God is not honored when we fail to live in awareness & acknowledgement of our need and His power.  So…. how is our life to evidence such faith & dependency?

The Expression of Faith

Now let’s get real together.  In our daily life, how does faith work itself out?  A lot of people say they “have faith” but few truly live by faith.  Practically, what does it look like to live in total reliance on God?  What are the markers of trust?  The Bible is clear: The greatest evidence of faith is persistent, persevering prayer.  From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God’s people are recognized as those who “call out on the name of the Lord” (see earliest evidence in Genesis 4:26).   I want to point this out today through a passage from Luke 18:1-8….. one that follows soon after Jesus teaches his disciples on faith.  There is so much correlation.  First, the passage:

18 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?”

Faith and prayer are inextricably related.  They always go together, like Fall and Pumpkin Spice Lattes (thank you Starbucks; actually, you should be thanking me).  The person who truly believes will be praying always (1 Thess 5:17).  They will be talking, sharing, communing, living & moving with God day & night.  Understanding and trust in God always leads to persistent prayer.

This is what Jesus shows us in this parable.  He tells the parable to encourage us to “pray always” and “not lose heart” as we await His return (see verse 1).  So let’s see what He’s trying to say to us. The main character of the story is a woman who is asking for justice against her adversary.

A couple of things about her you need to notice (hint: this woman is picture of us):

  1. She is poor.  She has no money to hire fancy attorneys or bribe the judge.
  2. She is a widow. In Jesus’ day and culture, it was a man’s world.  A woman alone in a man’s world with no male advocate had no hope.
  3. She has no position of authority.  She has no rights or bargaining power.
  4. She is in a messy situation.  In fact, she is being persecuted.  She is a bad place in life, a major predicament.  Someone is taking advantage of her and seeking her harm.

As I hinted earlier, Jesus intends for us to see ourselves in this widow (if we could only just see life as it really is). This is us.  Beyond the veil of false control that money, materials, jobs, etc. bring us…… we are just like this woman.  Some sense it more than others and are blessed.  As we go through life, we too are poor, helpless, with no authority, no ability to control, facing obstacles, needing help.  So here she is…. and here we are.  What happens?  She turns to the only one who she believes can help her - the judge. And does the only thing she is able to do – cry out for help.  Now the judge is not a kind or compassionate man.  He did not have a heart for God or people.  Initially, he was determined not to hear her.

But – what do we see (in verses 3-5)? The woman was so desperate, realizing the judge as her only hope, she came and persisted in her plea.  She kept knocking.  She kept calling.  She did not give up.  She came again and again.  As he came in, she was there asking for help.  As he went out, she was there asking for help.  She did not stop with her requests.  She waited patiently.  She made herself known again and again.  Picture a mom with a deathly ill child waiting at the door of the only doctor in the world who knows how to make the child well. She will do anything to see her baby well.  This is persistence.  This is faith.

Faith has its eyes set on the One who offers our only help and hope in time of need.  Faith believes.  Faith hopes.  Faith perseveres.  Faith begs and pleads and waits.  Faith is not content until the answer comes.  Faith is confident.  Faith is persistent.  Faith is always expressed in prayer.  

The Outcome of Faith

So what came of this widow’s faith and persistence? What was the outcome?  Eventually, the judge (though he cared nothing for her or God) listened to her plea and granted her justice. Why? Verse 5 says he did it “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”  Ha!  He was just trying to get rid of the annoying lady that wouldn’t stop bothering him.  Nonetheless, she received the outcome that she pleaded for.

With this, Jesus concludes his story and turns to the crowd for a moment of teaching.  He’s about to bring this home for us.  We need to hear. Listening?  He says:  “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.”  In other words, if an uncaring, unrighteous, godless judge will do that for the poor widow who comes in persistence and faith……you better believe that God will hear and answer you.  Unlike the judge of the story, God is righteous. God is just.  God is all powerful.  God is compassionate.  God is loving.  God hears and knows all need.  God keeps His promises. God is good.  And unlike the widow in the story who was unknown & a “nobody” to the judge, you are known, chosen, & loved by God.  How much more will God hear & answer your cry of faith on His promises?  Consider this: He has given His only Son for you!  There is no greater evidence that He is committed to love & do good for you now and forever! (Romans 8:28-38).

God’s message is simple and vital for us today:  Listen – you need to have faith!  You have all reason to have faith!  Don’t lose heart!  Don’t give up!  Don’t stop asking and waiting and pleading and praying!  Trust God.  Know and bank on His promises.  He is good for every one. Give yourself to Him.  In the right time and in the right way, He will answer your cry for help.  There is hope with Him.  

No matter what obstacle you’re facing….. there is hope in God.  In fact, He’s your only hope.  Don’t try to solve this on your own or take this into your own hands.  It won’t get you what you’re looking for. Come to God. Present your requests to Him. Wait confidently and expectantly on His reply. No matter what it is, be ready to accept it as the right answer, a good gift when it comes. He always knows best. He has promised good. Day and night – do not give up hope. Maintain faith.  [Note: I am not saying you should go out today and “name it and claim it” as some might lead you to believe God wants us to do.  am saying that you need to trust God enough to claim what He has already named as yours.  Present your problems. Stand on His promises. Ask for His power. Trust His person. He is faithful.] 

The Question of Faith

After Jesus tells this parable & calls us to renewed faith, he asks a question:  “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (v.8).  Despite God’s reality, goodness, and faithfulness …. few will persevere in faith.  Most will lose heart, give up, try it their own way, get tired of waiting, and/or operate in self-sufficiency.  Most will fall away and fail to attain realization of the promises of God.  However, some will keep faith.  Some will persist. Some will persevere.  Some will believe.  Some will receive the fulfillment of the wonderful promises of Christ.  Where are you today?  If Jesus returned today, would he find faith in you?

Hebrews 10:38-39: “‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay, but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

When you are in a place where your only hope left is God & His promises, you are in a good place.  In fact, you are in the best place.  God is waiting to work for those who will depend totally and completely on Him.  

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in His word, I put my hope.”  Psalm 130:5

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