Tell me if this sounds familiar: You come home at the end of a long day, hoping for a little peace and quiet. You change into some comfy clothes, click on Netflix, then — of course — the phone rings, and an enthusiastic voice on the other end chirps, “Hi! You’ve just won a timeshare in south Florida!”
Ah, telemarketers — one of God’s great mysteries and the #1 consumer complaint in 2018. Whether it’s a salesperson pushing timeshares in Florida or a politician trying to get votes, they are interminable, unceasing, relentless salespeople that never give up.
Will we ever get our peace and quiet? Who knows? But as the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” So, I say, let’s learn something from their tactics.
The Bible gives us an example of how to do this in the book of Luke. There Jesus offers a parable in how we should pray and never give up. The story involves an unjust judge who “neither fear[s] God nor ha[s] respect for people” and a widow who constantly— relentlessly — pesters the judge for justice (a telemarketer kind of approach). The widow eventually wears him down, and the judge gives in. Luke 18:1-8.
So, Jesus is saying that we should pray like a telemarketer? Really?
I guess one could argue that with all the billions of prayers going up, we need to pray relentlessly in order to be heard, especially this time of year with March Madness brackets and the Mega Millions jackpot edging toward $100 million (not that I track it).
But honestly, I can’t see Jesus saying that we need to pray like a telemarketer to be heard. I think the parable is about something deeper — about how consistent, unceasing prayer can soften even the most hardened heart.
Think about it like this: If we are sick and a doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics, we don’t take just one pill, then ask, “Why am I not cured?” We take the whole course. And we take it consistently. Why? Because we trust the doctor who prescribed it.
Prayer operates the same way. God prescribes it. For example, in Jeremiah 29:12, God says, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” We can’t just raise up one prayer, then say, “Why am I not healed?” Prayer is a course of medicine. Why? Because we are the ones who are sick—we are the ones who need our hearts softened, our eyes opened, and our minds changed about how we see and treat others.
Some of you may argue, “My heart is not hardened. I pray and serve God.” Great. But that’s only half the formula. It’s no accident that the unjust judge in our story is described as someone who cares neither for God NOR others. Those two things are inextricably bound. Remember the words in 1 John 4:20: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Some of you may also be thinking, “I want to pray for others, but I’m in pain — I need help, too.” Praying for someone else is the way to heal both of you at the same time. The act of focusing outside yourself simultaneously blesses those you pray for and brings you a perspective and purpose that takes your mind off your own situation.
This week, when the phone rings at an inconvenient time, and a voice says, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you about buying land in Nevada,” use that moment (after you hang up) to say a prayer for someone in need. Rather than getting mad at the annoying calls, use them as a reminder of the power of incessant, relentless, unceasing prayer — prayer that can not only soften the hardest of hearts, but also bring strength in the face of great pain.
All we have to do is pray and never give up, just like a telemarketer.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.