TODAY’S READING: Luke 18
Luke’s travel narrative is much longer than the accounts in Matthew and Mark and comes to its conclusion in Luke 18. Given the reality that the gospel is a message meant to travel, it’s fitting that Jesus taught while he covered territory. It is also fitting that this missionary training of His disciples culminated with teaching on prayer as Jesus revealed two errors in missionary prayer.
Don’t stop asking in faith (18:1–8). To be importunate is to keep on asking even when denied. Thankfully for us we pray to a just judge who is delighted when we approach Him in prayer if we ask according to His will. It is eminently clear from the Bible that the will of God is for the gospel to be preached in all the world among every people group, so asking for that gladdens His heart. The prayer that representatives of every people group will surround the throne is not denied, just delayed. God in His inscrutable wisdom wants us to keep asking for it. Perhaps He knows that if we ask for it often enough, we will eventually start doing something about it. Let’s keep praying (believing!) that God will indeed fulfil His Revelation 5:9 promise.
Don’t trust in yourself or your prayer (18:9). The castigation of those who trusted in themselves is in the context of prayer, prayers that are self-congratulatory and arrogant. Shockingly the inference Jesus makes is that we can’t trust in prayer; in other words, we don’t pray to prayer. When we pray trusting ourselves, we effectually delude ourselves into thinking the power is in the act of prayer. It is not; that is animism at worst and legalism at best. The power is in God, not in prayer. If power was in prayer, then we could live in any fashion and then pray—and prayer would work. The fact that prayer only “works” when our spirits are right, when we pray the will of God, and when our trust is in God shows us that self-righteous prayer is useless prayer. We don’t pray for the nations from the posture of “we are right and they are wrong, so Lord, make them right like us.” We pray for the nations from the humility of “oh, Lord we are a mess and get it all wrong, and our person and our nation is wicked and rebellious, so Lord, have mercy on us all because we are all wrong and only You are right.” To ask Jesus to make the nations like us, or like our nation, is to pray self-righteously. God has no intention of making the nations look like me or the church abroad like the church at home. He has every intention of making them look like Him.
Sometimes prayer is just thinly veiled disgust. We don’t actually love the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan, secularist, or atheist we pray for; we pray for them in the haughty spirit of rejoicing that we’re not like them. But we are like them, more than we know. If we are to pray for the nations in a way that quickens the heart of God to answer, let us beat our breast and say: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and on my wicked and evil nation, and Lord, grant the same mercy to the Bobo Madare of Burkina Faso and beyond.”