Billy Graham, the most influential evangelist of our time, passed away earlier today at the age of 99. In the days to come, I look forward to reading accounts from the many people whose lives were transformed by Reverend Graham's ministry. Personally, as I reflect on Billy Graham’s six decades of ministry, four words stand out.
Any time you are in a relationship, the other person is going to confuse and contradict you. It’s why the first year of marriage is often so hard. When you start to date a person, psychologists tell us, you get to know a part of that person—and you like that part—and then you fill in all the gaps of what you don’t know with what you want that person to be. This all gets shattered, of course, in the first six months of marriage, because the real person is usually not like your imagination. Real people in real relationships do things that surprise and contradict us. If that’s how it is with another human, then how much more so with God?
Most Americans want a God who is only a slightly bigger, slightly smarter version of us. But the God of the Bible is something altogether different. And here’s the irony: Only a God like that is capable of sustaining our faith, igniting our passions, and giving us the confidence that we need to face suffering and the hardships of the world.
The last thing I want you to carry away from this short series is the moral that God is a cosmic vending machine, with endless goodies to give us if we just mash the right buttons with the right intensity. Yes, God wants us to approach him with shocking desperation, boldness, and persistence. But Jesus also reminds us that God answers us as a loving father does his children. Which is to say, sometimes he says, "No."
God is glorified through our persistent boldness. By pounding on God’s door, praying and refusing to give up, we declare our confidence in the goodness and the power of God. The more the pounding, the greater the declaration of confidence. I know trying to manage the tension between God’s sovereignty and our prayer can make your head start to ache. But if you can stop trying to reduce God down to an easy syllogism and just listen to Jesus, the message is clear: If God’s not answering, keep praying.
When you listen to a parable, you should be thinking, “Somebody in this parable is me. And somebody in this parable is God.” So the disciples are listening in, saying, “Okay, we have to be the needy old widow, right? Right. But that would make God … woah, wait a minute. You’re saying that God is like a grumpy old judge who doesn’t care—about people or about justice—and only gives this woman what she wants because she’s annoying him?” Who else but Jesus could get away with that analogy?