6. Be Stubborn

28 03 2017

Chapter 5: The Museum’s Other Section: Rectangle B

“Affliction” by Edith Schaeffer, 1978.

(Part 6 of 13 posts)

Usually writing comes easy for me. When I feel compelled to write about something, the words are there. This chapter, however, stumped me. I started to write and stopped writing more than six times with long gaps in between. The words weren’t there. Last night I told my daughter Alecia (who is reading this book also) that I just couldn’t seem to tackle chapter 5 and I didn’t know why. This morning I opened my Bible to Luke 18:1 and smiled at the gift God gave me in the very first verse: “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up…” This, dear friends, is the theme of today’s blog.

Jesus is with His disciples with a very specific lesson He wants them to learn, something that would be vitally important for the future. Crucial. We already know the point of the parable before He tells it, that’s how clear He wants to be. There is no wondering when it comes to this story: the lesson is DON’T GIVE UP PRAYING. Wondering: if I have prayed about something for quite a long time, and I don’t see a change in circumstances, should I give up? Luke 18:1, totally clear, DON’T GIVE UP PRAYING.

Jesus tells a story, because stories stick.

The story is about a woman, a widow, with a legal problem. I think it is important to pause here, because in that day a woman was seen as weak and inconsequential. A widow without family? Invisible.  Both of these things did not put this individual in a place of power or influence. She was a person who could be easily swept aside. A woman. A widow. She had a small voice. She was alone. She was without advocates. If she had family, her son or son-in-law would have been the one at court. but no one was there supporting to help her in her time of need.

The widow had a conflict with someone who was actively going against her. Can you imagine how helpless she must have felt? I am not sure I can even identify with how terrified she may have been. I wonder how much anxiety she was experiencing. I wonder how many people had said no to her when she tried to find help? She was in trouble and she knew it.

She had two choices:

  1. She could let her adversary have his way and accept the consequences
  2. She could make a scene.

I have an easy time picturing this woman, because I think my mom was that kind of gal. She was normally a very quiet person, but if she was in a corner of some kind and knew it wasn’t right — she could get very stubborn for justice. Mostly, she got very stubborn with prayer.

I love the widow’s line in the NIV “Grant me justice against my adversary!” What a battle cry! I will write that on my wall as a reminder of a great line to pray, especially since our actual adversary is not another human being, it’s the Enemy, Satan. It’s so clear and so strong!!

The judge can hear her in the background and mostly ignores her, but she is tenacious! She just won’t go away. She stubbornly won’t let the issue die. She means it! “Grant me justice against my adversary!”

At first the judge waves her off but she is there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Sabbath. She is outside his house on Sunday and back at the office Monday again with the same demand: “Grant me justice against my adversary!” She keeps the issue alive!

The judge’s secretary is getting stressed out by now, “That lady is here again.”

The judge growls, “Do you think I don’t have ears?”

The secretary is like, “How long can she keep doing this?”

It is a sobering question. The judge quietly considers the potential of this woman never, ever, ever going away. She will be there in the morning when he arrives, and she will be there when he goes home. She will show up at his dinner parties. She will be on the corner when he goes for a walk. She is going to shadow him and she is not going to shut up, EVER.

He shudders. What are his options? He couldn’t care less about her or her problem, but he does care about himself and his problems. His quality of life matters to him and so he does what it takes, and gives her what she wants and not because it is the right thing to do! He just wants some peace and quiet.

She wins. One way or the other, she wins.

Jesus acknowledges the man was not a good judge. He even says he was unjust — which he was because he wouldn’t look into her case. The law and what was right did not really matter to him at all. Even so, in the end this guy inadvertently doles out actual justice and the woman gets what she was after.

Now, stop everything and think.

If that shabby judge did something decent, how much more will a fully loving, fully engaged, completely concerned, deeply caring, totally good, present and active and righteous and holy God do for us? Read Scripture. We do not have the kind of God you have to plead with, cajole, trick or appease. He is already FOR us!

Jesus says,

“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice and quickly…” (Luke 18:6-8)

There is more to that verse but I will stop there for now.

We can get hung up on how prayer works and even come to the place where we think there is no use in praying (“If God is all knowing…what’s the point?”). Schaeffer writes that this is “a turning away from what God has commanded — just because we lack an infinite understanding. We are meant to obey His commands and admonitions to ‘ask’ as much as we obey His other commands” (103).

Jesus invites our prayers, He doesn’t say “Make your best presentation and then leave it with me.” He knows we have so much inside of us, bursting in fact!  We have a desire to COMMUNICATE and He has a desire to COMMUNICATE, so much so that “communication with God was important enough for Jesus to die to make it possible” (103).

When the Bible says you don’t have because you don’t ask it is

“meant to prod us into moment by moment communication in the areas of spiritual and intellectual needs, psychological and emotional needs, physical needs, the need for help in our work of creativity, the need for guidance, the need for planting and tending a crop and harvesting it — in our local gardens and farms, as well as in the realm of teaching or answering questions in the ‘gardens which consist of people’. We are meant to be asking for strength to go on, not just once in a while but throughout all our days.” (104)

Do all of our prayers get answered quickly? Luke 18 uses that word. It depends what you think an answer ought to look like? I know what I think it ought to look like: R-E-L-I-E-F.

I would prefer to not suffer. I don’t mind doing hard if I don’t have to do hard for too long. I like rounding that corner in short order, resolution within the week, relief fast. But if you look me in the eye and tell me I my prayers will not change anything noticeably and I am going to be dealing with some really hard thing for a year, the colour will drain from my face. If you tell me I will keep praying but I will still be in a fairly painful place for five years, I will have to sit down. If you tell me that I might not even see relief and resolution in my lifetime, I will tilt. Tilt, by the way, has a great definition in the (questionable resource called) The Urban Dictionary:

Tilt: Usually a term in video games (though it can really be used in any activity or hobby), tilt is an emotional state when doing the exact same thing activity over and over produces negative results. It’s an emotional breakdown and frustration of your hard work not resulting in the success that you crave so desperately. When you or someone is in a tilt state of mind, the best thing to do is take a break from that activity and try not to think about it as much.

I have taken breaks like that. I have sat around stunned, not saying or hearing anything because that’s what you do when you are tilting. Usually there is anger that comes along, and judgement and fear. How could God allow this? And in that place, the activity of prayer when it is not resulting “in the success I crave so desperately” becomes harder and harder to engage in.

What is going on with all those prayers we pray when we are waiting for God to save the day? What happens when we don’t see any visible change to our circumstances? Is anybody out there?

Edith writes,

“There is no promise that all our requests are to be answered by a change in the circumstances, because the Bible so very fairly gives us a balanced understanding that the faith which asks and receives the answer of ‘sufficient grace’ to go on without a change is no greater than the faith which asks and receives an answer whereby mountains are removed and cast into the sea. There are to be answers to prayer which demonstrate that a child of the Living God…has real access to God the Father and to His power to do all things.” (92)

Isn’t this the hardest lesson to learn (or is it just me that feels that way)? Am I OK with that “sufficient grace” while God does His work in the background? What if none of it makes sense to me?

I liked these lines from “The Shack” by William P. Young. He says it so well. This is the character who represents God in the book:

“…you really don’t understand yet. You try to make sense of the world in which you live based on a very small and incomplete version of reality. It is like looking at a parade through the tiny knothole of hurt, pain, self-centeredness, and power, and believing you are on your own and insignificant. All of those are powerful lies… [you see] God as the ultimate betrayer, or perhaps at least fundamentally untrustworthy. You dictate the terms and judge My actions and find Me guilty. The real underlying flaw is that you don’t think I am good. If you knew I was good, and that everything-the means, the ends, and all the processes of individual lives-is all covered by My goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust Me. But you don’t.” (“The Shack” by William P. Young)

How true that is.

From some vantage points, God’s Great Plan looks and sounds amazing. But when God’s Great Plan is viewed from a place of personal suffering it is harder to be excited about; pain is painful, after all. Rejoicing in the Lord ALWAYS (Philippians 4:4) can feel like work.

I am thinking right now of John the Baptist, when he was in prison and sent word to Jesus, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” What a lot of weariness and discouragement is in that question. I am sure he never imagined that being involved with Jesus would involve incarceration and ultimately death. John was doing so well, and the next thing you know, he was in prison. I am sure John had a hard time believing this was a part of God’s Great Plan. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to come and SAVE people? John’s birth was a miracle, he had an incredible calling on his life, he was a powerful voice in a world-changing movement…but then he ended up in isolation in a smelly, dark jail.

I wonder, did it help John to know he was in the middle of a larger thing? I have been asking myself this too. When I am suffering, does it help to know that suffering is not in vain and, in hands of God it will actually serve a purpose? Does it help me to know that even if my prayers aren’t providing immediate relief to me in the way I want them to, God is giving me what I need to continue on while he answers those prayers keeping His entire good plan in mind?

It’s all a lot to consider, how John or any of us fit into the larger plan of things. In prison, I am sure John couldn’t wrap his mind around how all of this would look in the bigger historical scheme and when it all came down to it, all things would work together for good (as the Bible says in Romans 8:28). Good doesn’t always feel good.

Jesus’ response is so very thought provoking: “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.” This is not a scholarly and studied commentary on that line, but when I hear that line I hear something that Jesus might say to me today.

“In your suffering, in your confusion, in your questions…don’t give up on me. I know you don’t understand all of this, will you trust me to know more than you, see more than you, do more than you could ask or imagine?”

The fact is, dear Christian, we can’t pretend we didn’t know suffering was coming. The Bible hides nothing. The Bible is explicit in telling the stories of those who have suffered — just look at Jeremiah for example –– and in pointing to the absolute fact that we WILL suffer along with the suffering, broken world. Jeremiah described his suffering so explicitly in Lamentations 3:1-20 with every bit of pain and confusion and complaint one could have. And then…he stares the reader straight in the eyes and says this to everyone who would come after him:

21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:21-23 (KJV)

Those are pretty amazing “last words.”

We have never been promised a pain free life. But no matter the road, Schaeffer reminds us that God has promised we will be given what we need to travel it. Is it enough for us for now to hear God say “Is there anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:26-27) and to keep walking with Him, and talking to him, not knowing exactly where it will all go?

What if we would step back from our “knothole of hurt and pain” and trust that where we are is OK because God is with us, and helping us minute by minute so that….so that we can persist in prayer and NOT GIVE UP. Schaeffer writes,

“We each need to be given the help of the Lord to recognize the sufficient grace and to not complain against him or compare our lot with others. We also need to turn away from that peculiar form of bitterness and unbelief which is mingled with the “Whats the use of praying?” kind of attitude. We will be tempted by Satan in his particular type of accusation which can take two forms…

  1. Attempt to cause us to complain against God or curse him and turn away from him because of our deluge of affliction
  2. Tempt us to take an academic view of prayer, excusing ourselves, by hiding behind God’s sovereignty, from ever asking anything in the wide areas God has specifically told us to ask — with faith as a grain of mustard seed and expecting changes in history as titanic as the removal of mountains. Both attacks are against the victory of Christ’s sacrificial death — attempts by Satan to spoil, mar, devastate and vandalize the perfection of Christ’s victory. And marvel of all marvels — without understanding it could be — we matter it in the battle..” (109)

Back to the widow. We, like her, are small and vulnerable in this world. But we have not been forsaken or forgotten. We matter to our heavenly Father. He tells us that we are part of a plot is so much deeper and wider and greater than we ever imagined and by “great” I mean large. Our immediate circumstances are significant in the history of our universe and in God’s plan of redemption and

“…a part of what He paid for was a moment-by-moment access for us to the Infinite God. Each of us has been given another portion in the fabric of history which our individual thread is meant to weave…” (101)

Jesus said we could and should ask for “anything” for this very reason and Schaeffer responds,

“I do believe that there will be a literal fulfillment of the ‘anything’ in the total collection of all the answered prayers in all space and time. It will be demonstrated that, in the total collection of incidents throughout all the aeons of history’s centuries in all of our lives (we who are the people of God and who have looked to Him, feeble and imperfectly, but with a measure of faith and trust and love) Satan will be defeated by some life at every place where his devices have been attempted….” (93)

The story I wrote about at the beginning of this blog applies to us. We cannot give up on prayer ever and “He asks us to remember that He is God and to act on that fact practically, not just in theological discussion” (109). When we are suffering, we need to be more stubborn than ever. Something is going on in the world, and our Father invites us into an even more intimate conversation with Himself during these times because we know

“…we affect history in the geographic spot where we are meant to be in God’s plan, and to have victory in the heavenly battle as we trust God in the midst of affliction and persecution right up to martyrdom, but we are to be having results two feet away from us in prayer — and also two thousand miles away…In what realm can one expect answers to prayer? In all realms.” (102)

And, as we walk and live out our faith — which holds us up in a way it hasn’t been challenged to in calmer times — we get even more persistent before God and…before others too. Psalm 78:4-5 says

We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.  For he established a testimony in Jacob…”

I would change that last line to say, “For he established a testimony in ___(insert your name here___” because that is exactly what He wants to do in your story and mine.

Again, read the Bible with eyes to see and ears to hear. In all these stories there are guideposts and mentors!  I love this verse about Abraham in Romans 4:20-21 (KJV)

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God…”

I love the language here, the more I read it, the more I want to be like Abraham!

“Put out your hand and grab hold. We aren’t going to drown! Instance by instance there is eternal purpose, and whatever is going on counts and matters in a perspective beyond ours…” (110)

There is so much more I could write about this chapter, but it is an overview and I can’t really do it justice. So I will end with where I started in Luke 18 and finish verse 8:

“God’s people cry out to him day and night. Won’t he make things right for them?…I tell you, God will see that things are made right for them…But when the Son of Man comes will he find people on earth who have faith?” 

There is the call friends, will Jesus find people here who have faith? The point of persistence with a GOOD GOD is not to convince Him but to keep us convinced in His power. We persist and keep battling against the attrition of the enemy and the temptation to believe we are all we have. We keep persisting because we are part of a collective of prayer on this planet. We keep persisting because we have no idea the broader effect of those prayers but one day will.

So…will Jesus find people on earth who have faith?

Let it be you and I.

Be as stubborn as you can.

— Teresa Klassen