Jesus tells the parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge (Luke 18:1-6) in order to encourage us to pray - and not give up. He starts by tackling the idea the idea that our prayers have no impact: he talks about an unrighteous self-centred judge who answers petitions just to shut up a helpless widow so that she won't bug him any more - and then contrasts the unrighteous judge with the righteous judge of the world - God.
He then gives three encouragements to pray - and in so doing turns the whole question around:
“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 a speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8)
- The inductive: "And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?" A rhetorical question - given all that you already know about God, why would you doubt that he'll answer?
- The explicit: "I tell you, he will give justice to them a speedily."
A strong affirmation that God isn't hanging around here - he's not busy and leaving you to go to answerphone - he's strongly committed to justice.
- The implicit: "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Our knowledge of God leads us to be confident that he'll answer; the assurance of Jesus is that he'll answer so what's the real question? The real question is whether we'll pray.
Jesus' has turned the question on it's head: our real concern about prayer is shouldn't be about whether God will answer - but whether we'll even call. We can be confident that God will be faithful - but we can't assume that we will too.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul starts by greeting his readers and warning them of the gravity of the gospel; the severity of the judgement of God on unrighteousness. He impresses upon them the need to endure the suffering that engulfs them. And he prays for them:
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
-- 2 Thess 1:11-12
Paul then warns his readers about the necessity of clinging to truth in the face of a strong delusion that will come. And about the opposition that will come. He instructs them to stand firm; to resist any loosening of their hold on the gospel. And he prays for them:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
-- 2 Thess 2:16-17
He ends by instructing them how to live as a community of the redeemed: first implicitly - asking for their prayers - then explicitly asking them to be diligent, and warning them to give busybodies a boot up the backside.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
-- 2 Thess 3:16
Each time he places a burden of responsibility on their shoulders he prays for them. And he lets them know (a) that he's praying for them and (b) what he's praying for them.
Every so often I get a text from Keith. And it reads: "Thinking of you and praying for you." Invariably it comes at a time when I need encouragement.
How do you encourage and instruct the Christians that you know; that you care for? Is there a friend you're praying for that doesn't know? Do you communicate your burdens for people horizontally - to them - as well as vertically - to God?