Your five year old daughter comes to you three separate times with three separate requests on the same day. Each time, that request is a specific request. These are the three:
"Please play with me!"
"I am hungry! Please give me something to eat."
"I am sorry you need money! Please take my piggy bank!"

None of these request were whinny attempts to gain attention.

All three requests were genuine and sincere. All three requests came from her heart. But, did you regard all three as equal? All three may be equal to her, but all three are not equal to you.

Her desire for you to be a playmate is deep, genuine, and earnest. When she made that request, she felt the need to play. At that moment, playing was extremely important, and it needed to happen right then. You were honored that she asked you to play, but you also understood that playing was not the highest priority for her well being. As important as playing was to her, other things were more important for her right then.

Her request to be fed (if it was meal time) was more important to you than her play request. If she was really hungry, if it was time for her to be really hungry, and if her hunger caused her genuine discomfort, her hunger was very important. You listened to her request to play, but you listen to her request for food differently.

If she overheard you talking confidentially to your husband or wife about a troublesome bill, if she understood your concern, if she understood that you had serious difficulty paying that bill, to her it is just a question of money. She had some money in her piggy bank. Money was money. If you cannot pay the bill by yourself, she will help you pay the bill. She will give you her money to pay that troublesome bill. And her offer deeply touches you. You are moved by her awareness. You are moved by her unselfish concern. You are moved by her desire to help you.

Three very different requests. Three levels of concern.

Our prayers often are requests. While God is attentive to every prayer, the nature of our awareness influences His level of concern. Never is God unconcerned when sincere requests come from hearts that belong to Him. Yet, some concerns are higher than others.

Luke 18 records two parables Jesus gave concerning prayer. I call your attention to both of them.

  1. The first of the two parables is given in verses 1-8.
    1. When Jesus gave the parable, its context needed no explanation.
      1. Jesus used a common situation everyone understood.
      2. What they understood about an everyday situation, we need explained because we do not live in their circumstances.
      3. We must begin with a clear understanding about the two principle people.
        1. A widow was a defenseless, vulnerable individual in their society.
        2. She had no husband to defend her, and she lived in a man's world.
        3. Many considered widows "fair game" and took advantage of them in unjust, horrible ways.
      4. The Israelite town judge was responsible to see that injustices were properly and fairly corrected.
        1. He was the person you went to see if someone wronged you and refused to correct the wrong.
        2. But this judge felt no responsibility or accountability to God--God was not a factor in his decisions or the cases he heard.
        3. He also did not care what other people said about him.
        4. The foundation of his actions was, "What is in my best interests?" That is all that really mattered to him.
    2. The situation:
      1. Someone continued to take advantage of the widow.
      2. Of herself, she was powerless to stop this unjust person.
      3. Her only hope for protection was to have this judge grant her legal protection.
      4. But the judge was completely unconcerned about what continued to happen.
        1. Her suffering because of the injustice did not adversely affect him.
        2. It the situation did not affect him, he had no reason for concern.
      5. But the widow was persistent.
        1. She came back again and again with the same request for protection.
        2. The widows persistence made her problem the judge's problem.
      6. Finally, the judge gave her the protection she requested.
        1. He did not act on concern for her.
        2. He acted on concern for himself.
        3. "If I do not do something, she will keep coming back to me, and I am tired of seeing her."
    3. The point of the parable must not be misunderstood.
      1. Jesus was not saying the God is disinterested when we wrongfully suffer hardships.
      2. He was not saying that God acts only in self interest.
      3. He said if an ungodly man can be moved to action by persistence, a godly person should understand that God will respond to our injustices quickly.
      4. The issue is not God's willingness to respond, but our confidence in Him.
    4. Level one of our prayers I would call prayers offered because we are distressed by the trials of life.
      1. That is likely the most common prayers prayed.
      2. Those are "what is happening to me physically" prayers.

  2. The second parable is given in verses 9-14.
    1. Again, the context of the situation needed no explanation to the first century Jews.
      1. But the context needs to be explained to us because none of the elements of the situation are common, everyday realities to us.
      2. To us, a temple experience is strange.
        1. Jewish people in or near Jerusalem commonly went to the temple to pray.
        2. While there were designated times to go pray, a person could go to the temple to pray at any time.
        3. Only priests actually went in the structure we would call the temple.
        4. People prayed in what we would call temple courtyards.
          1. A common stance: face looking upward and hands reaching upward--to them a stance of humility and dependence.
          2. With some, private prayers might be also audible prayers.
      3. The Pharisee was the symbol of a deeply religious person.
        1. He represented the common image of the devoutly religious.
        2. In that day, if anyone was concerned about God's commands and scripture, it was the Pharisee.
      4. The tax collector symbolized the wicked Jew.
        1. Because he collected taxes that benefitted the Roman government, many Jews regarded him to be an enemy of the nation of Israel.
        2. Since the Romans took away Jewish independence, collecting taxes to benefit them was regarded as an act of disloyalty to Jewish people.
        3. The tax collector had the power to assess how much you owed and the power to make you pay his assessment.
          1. The whole system was an invitation to corruption.
          2. Tax collectors often abused people, often took advantage of their opportunity and power.
      5. The contrast was immediately evident to Jesus' audience: a contrast between the symbol of the devoutly religious and the symbol of the truly evil.
    2. The situation:
      1. A Pharisee and a tax collector were at the temple at the same time praying.
      2. Jesus said the Pharisee prayed to himself (not to God).
        1. He thought that he told God what a godly person he was.
        2. He was so grateful he was not a wicked person.
        3. Two times a week he fasted (a declaration of humility).
        4. He gave God ten per cent of everything he acquired.
      3. He considered himself to be good and the tax collector to be evil.
      4. Though it does not say, he probably was as physically close to the temple as he could get to pray.
      5. The tax collector was consumed with his unworthiness and evil.
        1. Not only did he refuse to look up, but he stood far away from the temple structure and in grief for his wickedness beat on his chest in a sense of unworthiness.
        2. In nothing did he commend himself to God.
        3. He asked, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
        4. He knew who and what he was.
    3. The Pharisee's confidence was in his goodness; the tax collector appealed to God's goodness.
      1. The tax collector, not the Pharisee, left with God's justification.
      2. God completely destroyed the tax collector's evil.
      3. Jesus said quite simply that the person who exalts himself will be humbled and the person who humbles himself will be exalted.
    4. Level two of our prayers I would call prayers offered because we have reached the awareness of our own evil.
      1. Commonly, a Christian has to grow to the awareness of internal evil to pray such prayers.
        1. Awareness of God's incredible goodness.
        2. Awareness of how evil we truly are.
      2. It is much too easy to be blinded by our sense of goodness and rightness.

  3. For the third level, I simply want to read the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians.
    1. Ephesians 1:15-20 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.
    2. To me, some things in this prayer leap out in Paul's prayerful requests for them.
      1. May God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing Him.
      2. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened so you will know the hope of God's calling, the richness of the glory of His inheritance, and the great power He makes available to believers.
      3. May you understand the incredible things God did because the strength of His might was at work in Christ's resurrection.
    3. Level three of our prayers I would call the awareness of God's purposes.
      1. At this level we stop focusing on our desires and focus on God's objectives.
      2. We stand in silent awe at the realization that God can find anything to use from us to help achieve His eternal purposes.

Pray for your physical needs. Pray for your sinfulness. Pray for God's purposes to be reality. On every level with confidence, pray to God who hears. May the level of our prayers constantly mature, always rising to higher levels. May you always stand in awe of the fact that you can say anything that impresses God. Never forget that humble honesty moves God, but arrogant self-righteousness offends God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 5 May 2002

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell