This special collection of stories illustrates how much the Lord loves us and how important it is that we exercise faith through constant prayer. Whether we are praying on our knees or in our hearts, in public places or in our closet, the Lord is waiting for us to petition Him so He can bless us with answers.
Reading Assignment: Luke 18:1–8, 35–43; 19:1–10; John 11
The Need to Pray
In Luke 18:1 the Lord says He gives the parable of the woman who prayed to the judge because “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” I think of the word faint in the context of a woman who is too hot and swoons or someone who loses blood and passes out. But what does it mean to faint in spiritual terms?
When we faint it is because we have lost the use of life-sustaining blood, or we are overcome by an overpowering force, like heat. We can also faint because of the lack of oxygen. All of these things can be likened to losing faith, doubting, becoming confused and forgetting where we can go for answers. In this context the parable makes more sense to me.
In this parable a woman has been wronged and wants justice done. She goes to the judge, who the parable specifically states fears neither God nor man. The woman is persistent in her pleas that he help her with her case. Eventually, the judge decides that in his own self interest he had better help this woman or she will never stop wearying him with her cries for justice.
The Lord makes the point that if this man, who fears neither God nor man, is willing to help this poor woman, how much more so will God help and recompense His people who have been wronged by others. This is very much like the lesson we learn from Luke 11:11-14 where the Lord teaches about His ability to show His children mercy.
11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
In these verses we are told that if we know how to give good gifts, being weak and sinners, how much more so shall we be blessed by God who is neither weak nor sinful. In the parable in Luke 18:1 – 8 the Lord is assuring us that He who knows how to give good gifts will indeed avenge the wrongs done to His people. But the most important lesson in this parable is that we need to pray continually to Him, like the widow petitioned the judge.
Here is a quote from James E. Talmage:
“Jesus did not indicate that as the wicked judge finally yielded to supplication so would God do; but He pointed out that if even such a being as this judge, who ‘feared not God, neither regarded man,’ would at last hear and grant the widow’s plea, no one should doubt that God, the Just and Merciful, will hear and answer” ( Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 436).
The Lord is just and merciful. He has told us that he stands at the door and knocks, just waiting for us to open up to Him so He can come in and be with us. God wants to bless us, but it is we who have to seek Him out and initiate the conversation. We do that through prayer. We need to turn to prayer and become accustomed to keeping God in our thoughts always.
Our baptismal/sacrament covenant is that we will always remember Him. If we are not thinking of Him then we are not remembering Him. The purpose of prayer is the open a channel of communication with the divine. We do it because we need His help, His comfort, His direction, His love in our lives.
All Prayers are Answered
When we seek help and direction from the Lord we need to remember that He always answers our prayers. But there is a catch. Here is quote from the lesson. Elder Richard G. Scott said:
“It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately. Some prayers require considerable effort on our part. . . .
“When we explain a problem and a proposed solution [to our Heavenly Father], sometimes He answers yes, sometimes no. Often He withholds an answer, not for lack of concern, but because He loves us—perfectly. He wants us to apply truths He has given us. For us to grow, we need to trust our ability to make correct decisions. We need to do what we feel is right. In time, He will answer. He will not fail us” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 38; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 30–31).
Sometimes the answers we seek will come to us as we apply the principles of righteousness we have learned. Sometimes the Lord does not need to tell us anything at the moment because He knows we will learn the answer we seek as we live the truth. Either way, our prayer is answered. This approach to prayer means we need to have faith that the answers we seek will always come in one form or another. They may come in the form of a yes or no, or a stupor of thought. They may come from the scriptures, from the behavior or comment of a neighbor. They may come from a life lesson. They may not even come for many years. Sometimes we need to grow up some before the answer will make sense to us or have real meaning for us.
Just because we don’t receive an immediate response, it doesn’t mean we should just give up and stop offering up our petition to the Lord. Some requests for help or direction require a certain degree of faith be shown before we earn the right to our answer. So don’t be weary in well doing. Pray on!
The Lesson of the Blind Man
In Luke 18:35 – 43 we learn of a blind man on the side of the road who, when he heard it was Jesus who was passing by began to clamor to be shown mercy by the Son of God. There are a couple of points about this story that strike me. First, that even after being rebuked by Jesus’ disciples for being loud about his request, he persisted. This is how he showed his faith, his certainty that Jesus could in fact show him mercy.
The second point is that Jesus did not go plowing through the crowd seeking this person who was shouting his name. He stood still and required that the man, though blind, come to Him. I wish I could find the quote I am thinking of, but in one of the General Authority talks in a General Conference, the comment was made that the Lord does not move. We must come to Him on His terms, and conform to His law. He is all merciful, and all loving, but we must seek Him out. He does not go running after us. (If you happen to know the talk I am referring to, please put the link in the comments below so we can all benefit from that talk. Thanks!)
When the man finally got to Jesus, He asked the man what it was he wanted Him to do. The man asked to be healed of his blindness, and the response was, “Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.” This former blind man was consistent in his faith. As he had believed in Jesus before the healing, so after the healing he followed Jesus praising Him and giving glory to God in gratitude.
When we receive the answers we so persistently seek, do we take the time to follow Jesus more devoutly, giving praises and glory to God for those blessings we have received?
A Few Points About Lazarus
This lesson ends with the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were siblings, and all were loved deeply by Christ. We don’t usually think of Jesus having a social life or having “best” friends, but he did have people he deeply loved, as shown by this story. About the time the message arrived telling Him that Lazarus was very sick, Lazarus was actually dieing. Jesus was aware that he was dead, and had a point to delaying His arrival at their home. The Lord needed to use his death as a lesson to all about the power of God, and Christ in particular.
As you read through John 11:1-54, note how limited the vision of these three beloved followers of Jesus was. He kept trying to help them see the big picture, but the things Jesus was talking about were so far out of their scope of understanding that they just didn’t get it. I’m sure the lessons He was trying to teach them sunk in over time as they reflected on the experience and the words of Jesus, especially after Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.
Also note how patient Jesus is with His friends. He sees how distressed they are over having lost their brother, and even though He knew precisely where their brother was at that moment, and knew that He was about to raise him from the dead, He was still moved with compassion for their sufferings, and He wept with them. What a vision of kindheartedness and empathy.
The Common Thread
There is a theme, a thread that weaves itself through all of these stories. The Lord is compassionate. He is loving. He wants to answer our cries for help. He does answer our cries for help. He understands that we don’t have a perfect understanding. He wants to help us understand more than we do so we can exercise more faith in Him and receive even greater blessings.
We need to remember this loving heart when we offer up our weak prayers. We are like Mary and Martha, we have some knowledge, and some faith, but we don’t see the big picture like Christ does. The purpose of Jesus’ behavior was to demonstrate to us the love of our Father. He welcomes us wearying Him with our prayers. He longs for us to remember Him in our behavior and thoughts. The more we remember Him, the more we will approach Him and learn of Him. Then, and only then can He work the miracles in our lives that He desires us to have so we can have great joy in this life and in the eternities with Him.