Parenting with the Parables – The Persistent Widow

“Now Jesus was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.  There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”  For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” ‘  And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; likewise, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?  I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ ” (Lk 18:1-8).

Jesus lays out the point of this story in the first verse.  Jesus is teaching His followers to pray at all times and to not lose heart; to not give up.  The widow in this parable is honored for her persistence.  And Jesus connects her persistence to our own persistence in prayer with His promise that “likewise” God will bring justice to His children who call upon Him.

If we focus too strongly on seeing God as represented by the unrighteous judge, we may conclude that our prayers “bother” God to the point of forcing an answer out of Him.  But that is not the point at all.  Jesus is not comparing God to the judge.  He is contrasting God with the judge.  And the key to understanding this is the little “likewise” comparison is verse 7.  A better translation of that connection would be “how much more” (see Matthew 7:11) rather than “likewise”.  God is not like the judge – answering our requests out of an attitude of annoyance – but is much more in favor of answering our prayers out of our relationship – we being the elect or chosen ones.

In short, our prayers do not “bother” God; they “honor” God.

Let’s turn now to the words “will He delay long” and “quickly” since quick is not always our experience.  We know from the rest of Scripture that God’s “delays” are for our good, not out of obstinance like the unrighteous judge.  They are rather designed to teach us two lessons which this parable highlights.

First, we need to be persistent in our prayers.  As Dave Gibson has shared many times, “When it comes to prayer, it is never too late to start and it is always too soon to quit.”

Second, we need to pray in faith.  This requirement is given in the end of verse 8.  Regarding our prayers, Jesus asks, “Will I find this kind of faith on the earth.”  Will He find those who pray persistently and expectantly?  Will He find those whose prayers are infused with faith?  We have written many times in these pages about the importance of faith in living the Christian life.  And here, Jesus highlights it as invaluable to this aspect of living the life; our prayers.

So what lessons does this parable have for our children?

  1. We honor God with our prayers.
  2. We need to be persistent in our prayers.
  3. We need to pray in faith.

As our lives and schedules get busy and overbooked, it is easy to send family prayers to the back burner.  Please fight that inclination.  Teaching our children to pray and teaching them Jesus’ lessons on prayer will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Parenting with the Parables – The Two Sons

“Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, ‘What do you think?  A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.”  And the son answered, “I will not”; but afterward regretted it and went.  The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?’  They said, ‘The first.’  Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him’ ” (Mt 21:28-32).

The second son in this story represents the religious establishment of Jesus’ day.  They loudly proclaimed their commitment to God and in theory were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.  But when John the Baptist announced the coming of the kingdom, they rejected him.

The first son represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, a class of citizens often referred to as “sinners”.  They had been rejecting God’s call on their life.  However, when John appeared, they responded enthusiastically to the announcement of the kingdom of God.  They ultimately were the ones who “did the will of the father”.

How does this apply to our parenting?  We are all familiar with the smooth talking kid; the polite child who sounds obedient but never seems to follow through.  They are like the second son, saying “yes” to obedience but going their own way.

This parable teaches our children that the right choice is obedience like the first son.  Even if they are not excited about it, they are to follow through on their commitments.  We want action, not just talk.  We want doers of the word, not just hearers – or talkers.

We want obedience even if that action is not accompanied by a good attitude.  In our early child training years, we concentrated more on obedience than attitude.  Even begrudging obedience was better than a cheerful attitude that never quite got around to finishing the job.  Does this mean that attitude is not important?  No, and in fact we will get to some parables that teach a godly attitude while doing our jobs.  I am just saying that attitude is more of a long-term project while obedience is easily measured in each situation.

I will also add, on a personal note, the value of modeling the lessons of the parables that we are trying to teach.  My wife, Rhonda, is a stellar “doer of the word”.  There is not a person I know who takes this charge more to heart.  Her compassionate “doing” rather than “talking about it” was a great example for our children.  And I say as humbly as I can, they caught the message.

Teach and model for your children the obedience of the first son.  Even if the attitude still needs some work, reward the obedience.

Parenting with the Parables – Introduction

As parents, we have a mandate to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).  The backbone for accomplishing this training program is through the pages of Scripture.  And one of the themes that Rhonda and I found particularly appealing in teaching our children were the parables of Jesus.

When Jesus was here in the flesh, He primarily taught His followers in three ways: through direct instruction (the Sermon on the Mount), by His example (washing His disciples feet), and by storytelling (the parables).  Each of these methods has an appropriate time and place in how we teach our children.

In this upcoming series of posts, we will focus on what we learn from His storytelling; what we learn in the parables of Jesus.  The parables are a description of what living in God’s kingdom looks like.  Many of the parables begin with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or its synonym, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”.  And the wide range of stories that Jesus told give us insight both into the theology of the kingdom as well as its everyday application.

I like to think of our families as little outposts of God’s kingdom here on earth; a place where God’s reign is evident.  With that picture in mind, I propose we launch off into our series with an eye toward what we and our children can learn about kingdom living from the parables of Jesus.

The Transaction

On a recent trip, I had the joy of seeing many people make “the transaction”; a conscious choice to embrace the good news of Christ, a choice to believe that Jesus paid the price for their sins on the cross and in so believing crossed from death to life.  The scriptural foundation for the transaction is found throughout the New Testament and is maybe best summarized by Jesus Himself in John 5:24, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned but has crossed over from death to life.”

I bring this up because in recent years it seems that an increasing number of Christian authors have sought to downplay the transaction.  In the vein of feeling the need to see some fruit to verify belief, these writers question the biblical basis for this one time decision, often accompanied by what we call “a sinner’s prayer”.  I think the angst boils down to the intellectual difficulty that reformed-minded teachers have with someone making a decision for Christ and then not appearing to follow through.  This reality does not fit their “once saved, always saved” theology so they are forced to conclude that without some fruit to show for it the decision did not really happen.

I think we make a mistake when we interpret the transaction in a “once saved, always saved” vs “you can lose your salvation” debate.  I prefer to interpret it in terms of the parable of the sower.  And I prefer the term “falling away” (as per Jesus’ example) for those who do not follow through rather than the idea of “losing one’s salvation” as if it happens by accident, like losing your keys.

Falling away is by choice, not by accident.  In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), Jesus outlines four types of soil as a picture of the various responses to the “word of the kingdom”.  Let’s go straight to Jesus’ interpretation of the seed that fell on rocky ground.  “The one on whom seed [the word of the kingdom] was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Mt 13:20-21).  When temporary happens, it rocks our theological boxes.  But it happens.

I had a friend in college who lived in my dorm.  After over a year of discussion and prayer and interaction, he prayed to receive Christ.  There was no reason to believe he was insincere.  However, after a trip home to see his Jewish family over spring break, he told me that he had changed his mind and abandoned the faith.  There is no joy on my part that somehow because he made a decision at one time it must last forever so he is really still a believer.  There is also no reason to think that his decision was not sincere in some measure.  The bottom line: he chose to embrace the faith, but just like the seed in the rocky soil that temporarily flourished, he made a conscious choice to go back on his decision.

There may be some theological disagreement on whether my friend was ever “saved” or instead always had seeds of doubt that eventually led to him rejecting the faith.  I like to think of the transaction, when it is sincere, as receiving a ticket to heaven.  That ticket cannot be lost, cannot be stolen, cannot be left in a drawer and forgotten.  You cannot lose your ticket.  It is completely safe and protected.  Can you ever, of your own free will, return your ticket and proclaim that you are no longer a Christ follower?  For various reasons having to do with the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, I lean toward the idea that when temporary happens there were seeds of doubt, salvation never took root, and the transaction was never finalized.

But just because temporary happens, we should not downplay the importance of the transaction.  I think it is best to describe salvation as a process.  For many, a one time decision often accompanied by a prayer completes the process in several minutes and like the seed that fell on the good soil, they move forward into the Christian life and never look back.  For others, they appear to believe with an initial decision only to see the new life never take hold.  They do not follow through on their decision and the new life dies before it has a chance to take root.  Our prayer is that someday they return and embrace the good news for good.  Others make the decision over a long period of time and one day realize without much drama, “I believe”.

The role of the lost is to believe.  The role of the saved is to plant the seed.  Only in the faithful planting can we be assured that some of the seed will land on good soil.

Does all this suggest we need to see some fruit to confirm one’s decision.  I don’t believe that is what the Bible teaches.  The message of the New Testament, as amplified by the story of the prodigal father (as Tim Keller points out, it is really the father who is the prodigal since he acts completely out of expectations by unconditionally forgiving his son) is a message of the “beautiful unfairness of grace”.  The son, upon his return and repentance, was completely forgiven by the father’s grace with no probationary period to see if he was sincere.  There was absolutely no works requirement.  His salvation was instant and beautifully unfair.  That is how grace works, and it is how our salvation works.

Jesus drives the point home even more directly in the gospel of John where He states over and over that believing in Him is the path to eternal life.  The crowd even asks what work they can do to get in.  Following the feeding of the 5000, Jesus said, ” ‘Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.’  Therefore the crowd said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ”  (Jn 6:27-29).  Believe is the operative word.  There is only one work required to obtain and confirm our salvation; to believe in the One [Jesus] whom God has sent.

Salvation may be a process, but somewhere along the way a transaction takes place.  Somewhere along the way we choose to believe, and by believing we cross over from death to eternal life.