Luke 18: 1-14.
To Pray or to Faint.
by J. R. Rollo
THE passage set for our study contains two parables which with the parable of the friend at midnight in Luke chapter 11 form a trio on prayer. The Lord adds a moral to each in turn.
In the first, chapter 11: 9: "I say unto you, ask and it shall be given you: seek and ye shall find: knock and it shall be opened unto you." Here we have the Reward of Persistent prayer.
In the second, chapter 18: 1: "Men ought always to pray and not to faint." Here we learn of Renewal in Persistent prayer.
In the third, chapter 18: 14: "Everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted''. Here is emphasized Reality in Persistent prayer.
For the purpose of this article, we are not concerned with the parable of Luke 11, but with the twin truths of reality and renewal in prayer. The Pharisee's prayer is a sad example of unreality. He prayed with himself—self-occupation and self-deception. He thanked God for what he is not—a matter which is certainly not important. There is not a word of what he is. He did not know this himself. Then he compared himself with the publican to the latter's disadvantage. This was very wrong. He was adding blindness and pride to his sin. God does not want peacocks but penitents in His temple. Then he told God what he did—but there was no confession or sense of need. He went home as he had come. The lessons are plain. Saying prayers is not praying. A sensitiveness to the holiness and true character of God will correct our estimate of self and lead to a humble approach to His presence, devoid of all humbug and hypocrisy. Prayer is not what comes out of the mouth but out of the heart. The assembly prayer meeting would be a richer experience if the normal prayers were shorn of phrases which have long lost fresh meaning for those who hear, and there descended upon the company a new awareness of trafficking with God. Younger men growing up in our churches would do well to avoid outworn jargon and covet reality in prayer. Their contributions to the gatherings would be invaluable. It need hardly be emphasized that this form of help would be welcomed not only by responsible and spiritual elders but by long-suffering sisters whose acclimatization to dull routine is in many places wearing very thin.
The whole of the Bible reveals a divine nausea to unreality, self-parade and humbug in occupation with holy things. The measure of such reality in public prayer may well be a true indication of the sincerity of the secret prayer life and is one of the things in Christian practice which cannot be counterfeited.
In considering the first parable, we find, here as elsewhere in studying the Scripture, that the simplest explanation is the most profound. In this passage, some have laboured to see in the widow crying for vengeance, a picture of Israel robbed of her land and waiting upon God for restitution, comparing the Shunammite widow of 2 Kings 8. We shall be content to examine the arresting alternatives—to pray or to faint—to live a Christian life which is dynamic or anaemic. In the last analysis, this is the root difference in the church between helpers and hangers-on, between those who live at the core and those who loiter on the fringe. Each word should be weighed carefully—ought always to pray and not to faint. The root meaning of the word to faint is to give in to evil, to turn coward, to lose heart, to behave badly.
By importunity, the Lord does not mean much speaking, but often coming. The one is a weariness, the other a joy. Men experienced in the art of petition, vouch for the truth of this statement. God is not unwilling to bless, nor must He be persuaded to be gracious, but His people's trust is dear to Him, and faith must be tested. Also, there must needs be the preparation in the heart of the one who prays, before the answer can be received. When He keeps us waiting, it is not for our impoverishment but for our enrichment. He bids us pray as those who are determined to be blessed. He would have us be importunate.
Our Lord puts His finger unerringly upon the pulse of things in the searching statement. Well He knew the forces which would combine to sap the spiritual vigour of those who cease to pray. “Look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen.” Materialism and spiritual vision are not true yokefellows. Such spiritual vision gives a sense of proportion to life. The true disciple of Christ is characterized by "aboveness", unlike Bunyan's man with the muckrake. Moses endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
Central to all this, is the fact that the Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary. He giveth power to the faint. Those who wait upon Him will obtain a marvellous addition to their resources, a new power to rise with wings, no longer grovelling to the mean and the petty. Instead of fainting, they experience God's strength in three particulars— mounting up, running and walking. Here is the Christian in communion, in conflict, and in constancy—in the secret place, in the battlefield against sin and on the daily path. This is God's provision for victory in all departments of the Christian life—an inexhaustible reservoir of strength available to those who wait upon Him.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1961