Do you believe in the power of prayer? Why? What happens when you pray? Do you get answers? If not, why not? And what if the answer you get is not what you were praying for? Was that prayer ineffective? When should you give up praying for something? What is prayer supposed to do anyway? These questions are common in the life of a Christian, but so often we are reluctant to address them. In this episode, the Rev. Dr. Judy Kincaid discusses her sermon on prayer based on Luke 18, verses 1 through 8, and her insights may change the way you pray.
Table of Contents
- How Do We Say a Prayer
- How Much Would a Good God Do for Bad People
- Ideal Prayer Conditions
- Deepen My Prayer Life
How Do We Pray
Bob: Our guest today graduated from Tampa University with a degree in Psychology. She’s also from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, with degrees in both Theology and in Ministry, an MDiv and a DMin. Currently, she is a pastor at New Hope Lutheran Church in Menominee, Wisconsin, and Little ElkCreek Lutheran church in the same town. Our guest is often featured on the online preaching site called A Sermon for Every Sunday. Her sermons receive outstanding reviews.
Today we're discussing her sermon on that platform entitled, Is This How I'm Supposed To Pray? Based on Luke 18:1-8, the passage you may know as the Parable of the Persistent Widow or the Parable of the Unjust Judge. The link to this sermon is on our guest's Best Preacher profile on inspirationalsermons.com.
I am delighted to have on the podcast today one of the best preachers in America, the Reverend Dr. Judy Kincaid.
Dr. Judy: Thank you for having me here. I'm really happy to be doing this.
Bob: I'm glad you can join us. Pastor Judy, you start this sermon with a really neat story about a mom and a son that you saw at Walmart. The situation is really interesting because I think we've all seen this before. But the story is something that frames the rest of the sermon. Would you please recount that story for our listeners.
Dr. Judy: I try to look at the scripture for Sunday, early in the week, Monday, if possible. It's always in the back of my mind, but I was just shopping. I remember we needed new towels, something boring. There was just regular stuff.
A Really Good Negotiator
Dr. Judy: There was a little boy, he was maybe eight or nine. He was shopping with his mom and he was asking for a new bat.
His mom said, "No, we're not shopping for you today," and he just wouldn't let up. He said, "Please." He said he needed it. I admired him because he was a really good negotiator. He was just so specific and articulate about exactly why it would help him.
When his mom told him he already had a bat, he said, "But this one is for a home for me to practice. It'll really improve my game and please.” I saw him again later, but the bat wasn't in the cart, but he had it in his hands. His mom hadn't told him he had to put it back.
Bob: He wasn't giving up.
Dr. Judy: But she also hadn't. He was just carrying it with him. I could tell that she seemed to be softening a little. He was saying he would do chores to pay for it. I also know it's not really right to eavesdrop, but I just couldn't help it. It was such a little drama going on right there.
I could tell that he was probably going to get the bat when she said, "Ask your dad. Call him. See what he thinks." And so he did, and I could hear him saying, "Oh, it's on sale." But I had to get my shopping done and so I had to leave them for a while.
Is This the Way We Are Supposed to Approach God
Dr. Judy: Luckily we finished around the same time and when I saw that bat in the cart, I just wanted to cheer. You can't really talk to other people's children, and so I didn't. But I just wanted to tell him, "Way to go. You did it, you got your new bat." That made me think of the gospel.
Bob: Because it really brings up the question, at least for you and it does for me as well. Is this the way we are supposed to approach God? And is this the way we're supposed to pray? To have our arguments set and to just keep beating at them.
Dr. Judy: To just keep going, and going, and going until we get what we want. But it did make me wonder because I don't know, I don't like it when my children do that. I don't care for it, I have three, and so it did make me wonder. Is that really what we're supposed to do? That got me thinking.
Bob: The scripture that relates to this is the scripture you utilized in your sermon. It’s Luke 18, the Parable of the Persistent Widow or some people know the Parable of the Unjust Judge. This boy that you've witnessed is maybe a little bit like this woman in the parable. Do you mind reminding our listeners of what happens in this parable, what Jesus says?
Dr. Judy: It's the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. There's a widow in a town. She's been wronged and she wants justice.
How Much More Would God Do for Believers?
Dr. Judy: But the judge that she's going to is known for not caring about God and not caring about people either. So, he's a jerk and he doesn't care about her.
But she keeps it up and she keeps it up and she keeps it up until he says, basically, "I'm going to give her what she wants. Not because I care about her, but because she keeps bothering me." So she gets what she wants in the end. But God, at the end it says, "How much more would a good God do for bad people."
Bob: If an unjust judge will do this and he's not good, how much more would our good God do. So in Jesus's parables, it's oftentimes easy to see who the characters represent. Sometimes Jesus explains his parables, sometimes He doesn't.
But one of the things that's interesting about this is, there are typically some questions about who this judge is. Because one would think that, maybe the judge is God because that's who God is. But you say, "No, no, not so fast." That makes things a little more difficult when we're interpreting this parable.
Dr. Judy: It seems like that cannot be the case, because of my reading of the Bible. God is good and just and gracious and loving. So that unjust judge, that can't be God. But it is one of the things we like to do. We want to assign a specific role for each character in every parable when that's not always helpful. I'm pretty sure that's not how they were always meant to be taken.
What Makes a Prayer Inadequate
Bob: So Jesus sort of uses this, not as a way to say, "This is how you'd approach God," because God is also unjust. But rather to compare, that anyone in this position of authority who has the ability, the power to provide some relief. Anyone who's there, even an unjust person will eventually give in. So don't stop praying.
Is that what you feel Jesus is trying to tell us in this parable? What's he really trying to show us here?
Dr. Judy: He was trying to show us to never break that connection, to pray and pray and pray and trust that God is listening. Trust that God wants justice. That's what it says, "God will give justice." It doesn't actually say, "God will give you everything you want." But that is what we are to do in a relationship with God as our heavenly parent. We should always stay in communication and not give up.
Bob: So if I walk away from the sermon and I say, "That makes sense, Pastor Judy and I should pray and I shouldn't give up. Still in the back of my mind, I have this intuitive side. This logical side that knows my experiences and knows that I've prayed long and hard for things that I haven't gotten. How do I make sense of that? Or how do I frame those experiences and use those experiences?"
Dr. Judy: It is really hard and it's also dangerous when we preach it. Because then there are people who have asked for really good things, really unselfish things. Health for someone else or that a poor person will get a job, things that are just purely good. When it doesn't happen, it can make the prayer feel inadequate.
The Importance of Prayer
Dr. Judy: That is the last thing you want to do when you're preaching. To somehow put more of a burden on someone who is already burdened by their care. I also looked at it, it's not even a sermon, but the gospel of Matthew. It's verse seven where "Ask and you will receive."
You're thinking, "I'm asking God. I'm asking and I'm not receiving." But if you read it, it doesn't actually say that you will get what you asked for. You're going to get the Holy Spirit, you're going to get good gifts. That's why you are going to get the Holy Spirit and that is a huge comfort.
Sometimes I have sat with people while they died and sure, I've prayed that they wouldn't. But we got the gift of the Holy Spirit, we got peace and calm and love. We don't necessarily get exactly what we asked for, though.
Bob: In your experience as a pastor, what are some of the other barriers? Things that get in the way of people praying persistently, as Jesus points to here. Because when we read the Bible, we read about the importance of prayer. Jesus talks about the importance of prayer in the gospels.
Paul talks about the importance of prayer. So if we all know prayer is so important, what is the reason for the action gap? The difference between what we know we should be doing and what we're doing. What do you think are some of the things that get in the way there?
Ideal Prayer Conditions
Dr. Judy: There are a few things and one of them is, on television or in books and paintings, sometimes when you see a person praying, they're kneeling at the bedside or they're in a beautiful sanctuary. They have these ideal prayer conditions.
We don't always have that. So some people think that they have to do it a certain way, that there might be a wrong way. And so they are intimidated. They feel like they might feel silly. Like they have to kneel at their bedside and if that's not something they grew up with, then they're not comfortable with it.
Also, there are people who write beautiful prayers and pastors that are very eloquent and that is a wonderful thing. But then sometimes also that is intimidating to people because they feel like their prayers don't sound like that. So I would just want to say that prayer is communication. It doesn't have to be fancy.
Often it's just a plea for assistance or it's someone saying, "Thank you." It doesn't always have a certain formula. Even the disciples, they asked Jesus. They said, "Teach us to pray." Jesus taught them the Lord's prayer. That's a really good fallback because when I can't think of what to pray, I pray that over and over.
Bob: I think back on my life. Some of the most important prayers for me where I know I saw things change, have been nothing more than putting my head in my hands and saying, "Uh, help."
Dr. Judy: Help me.
The Importance of Trusting God
Bob: Yes, the groanings of the soul, the heart, God hears that. They certainly were not eloquent, but they were heartfelt. I knew where I had to go with them. To me, I knew. So what I like about your sermon too, is you analogize the importance of trusting God.
So the answer to this, why people aren't praying, is that sometimes they don't know that God's following through. That God is hearing. And what you're saying is, "A lot of this is not easy. There's no formula, but there's trust involved." You say it's a little bit like learning how to swim. What do you mean by that?
Dr. Judy: Sometimes we're trying to be in charge. We're even trying to formulate the right kind of prayer that would somehow force God to do what we want. I remember when I was a kid, I really wanted to learn how to swim, I really wanted to. I had lessons and nothing worked. I would just flail around awkwardly in the water and very determinedly try and try and have it not work.
Then finally, just relaxing and realizing that the water would hold you up if you just would relax. Trust that the water would hold you up. Trusting God, trusting that God is not laughing at your prayers or God is not judging your prayers. That God is there, that you're surrounded by the HolySpirit. I think that is what can lead people to deeper prayer life, thinking of God like that.
A To-Do List for God
Bob: I'm thinking in my own ministry. Even of the idea that God doesn't need your help figuring out the solution that you bring to him. Like, "Yes, God, I need some help here, but I've already got an answer in mind. I've already got the solution in mind.”
“If you would just get on my plan and make this work. I can use a little bit of power here, but I've already got this figured out. So you just do this and we're good." Sometimes that isn't really full trust, that God's, he's got His plan. His plan is better than your plan.
Dr. Judy: I once found it's helpful to keep a prayer journal because you just write down things you're praying for. I have looked back on my prayer journal. Prayers that I thought went unanswered, they were answered. They were just answered in a way that I never imagined because God is so much greater than we are.
I do think sometimes the problem with our prayers is that they are a to do list for God. "Here you go, God. Here's what I want you to do today." And there might not be enough quiet asking or asking for guidance in our prayers.
Bob: What comes to mind, especially since you went to Luther Seminary is the time when Martin Luther's friend asked him what he was doing the next day. He said, "I'm going to be working from morning until night. In fact, I have so much I have to do, I'd better spend the first three hours in prayer."
Deepen My Prayer Life
Dr. Judy: I love that story because it's true. If you have important things to do and hard things to do, sometimes it's hard to remember to pray or to calm down. For me, I get pretty worked up about a lot of things, and then to just take a breath and say your prayers.
This worldwide pandemic, the one thing that it's done for me is deepen my prayer life somewhat. Because another impediment to prayer is constant busy-ness. When you're forced to slow down, to not go to a lot of meetings and things, you see that you do have more time for important things like prayer.
Bob: That's very interesting. Pastor Judy, you end your sermon with a true story about your life, where you didn't get what you prayed for. Could you tell our listeners about that?
Dr. Judy: I adored my mother, I know everyone says that about their mom. But she was kind and funny, and smart and beautiful, and always prayed for me. I lived about a 13-hour drive away from her. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and that's where she was.
I was in the upper peninsula of Michigan where I lived at the time and she had just turned 68. She had some health problems, but not anything where you would expect that she would die. I got the call that she had a bowel obstruction.
She could not be treated due to all the different things that were going on. They were pretty sure that she would pass away that day. It was awful and I just prayed and prayed and prayed that she would not.
Trust That the Water Will Hold You Up
Dr. Judy: When that didn't seem like that was going to be a yes, I prayed that I would get there in time. That I would see her, and that didn't happen either. There’s someone that made sure I got to talk to her on the phone, but I didn't get to be there. Once I was there, I really liked to just get things done.
It's really hard for a pastor to let someone else be in charge with a funeral. To not just get things done. So I prayed and prayed that we would just get it over with. We'd just get the funeral done and there was a tornado in Omaha and the power was out. So many things happened that made me have to wait, just wait.
I really didn't like that. I stayed with my father and I brought my little children to the apartment. In my struggle there, I did receive some real blessings. My dad was not the person I usually chatted with on the phone. He was a good dad but he left that emotional stuff to my mom. We really just made a connection. He told me all kinds of stories when I was younger and when he was younger.
Things I never knew. I have three kids and the two girls were the younger ones and they didn't know how to swim yet. We had absolutely nothing to do. So we went to the pool at the apartment. I remember teaching them to swim and telling them, "If you just trust me and let me just help you a little. Just trust that the water will hold you up."
What Does Prayer Really Do?
Dr. Judy: I remembered that thing that I had thought about prayer and the Holy Spirit and not always getting what you asked for. But at that moment, I just really felt like, "I'm not getting what I asked for. But I am getting gifts from the Holy Spirit. I'm getting some peace and calm and a deeper relationship with my father and my children."
Also, the biggest thing was just the knowledge in that moment that my mother was okay. It was really good, and I think prayer can help you with that. Even in those times that feel so bad when you don't get the things on your list.
Bob: So, if I have to trust in God to bring about the good things in my life. In the right way at the right time, regardless of what I'm praying for. The question is, what does prayer really do? What you're saying is prayer will bring about change. It may not change the circumstances on your to do list in the way that you want them changed and when you want them changed, but the changes that take place may be just inside you.
Dr. Judy: They might. I am not discounting the idea of miracles. It's that a miracle by its very nature is something rare. Sure, you might pray for a miracle and you might get it. But also when you pray, you always, always get a connection to God. That is so valuable, and it's definitely worth it. Even if you don't get the thing that you're asking for, the specific thing.
Pray and Never Stop
Bob: That is why we are to pray and never stop. Pastor Judy, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Anyone who would like to see your sermon in its entirety can just go to inspirationalsermons.com, find the link. It's actually on YouTube, linked to your profile box on the Best Preachers page. Reverend Dr. Judy Kincaid, may God continue to bless you in your ministry.
Dr. Judy: Thank you so much. This really has been a wonderful experience.