When I was training for ordination, we were wisely encouraged to develop our own self knowledge - and offered many tools to help us with this. One among them, the Belbin inventory aims to help people find their referred style of working within a team...Individuals answer various questions until their preferences are clear – and are then given a score depending on what emerges. A healthy team will include a variety of preferences - visionary planners, people with a critical eye for detail, those good at implementing the ideas of others...and more. Then there are those styled "completer/finishers" who find their satisfaction in a job done thoroughly and well. Completer finishers are well worth having on your team if you hope ever to see a project through to a successful conclusion – but I regret to inform you that your vicar, when she last did the Belbin test, produced a score for this category that was so low it was almost in negative numbers!
I may be fine at having 6 great ideas before breakfast, but when it comes to sticking with projects from launch to completion, I'm simply not your woman. I get bored quite quickly as the unfinished tapestries and knitting projects around the house testify … so perhaps it's not surprising that when I first looked at today's readings my heart sank.
If I had been Jacob, far from hanging on to my nocturnal wrestling partner I would surely have thrown in the towel well before day-break, saying
“Oh well...Not to worry. I'll just cross over the river and join my family”
If I had been that widow confronting the unjust judge, I would almost certainly have abandoned my cause long before the judge was worn down enough to rule in my favour.
And that, of course, would mean I missed out on the blessing.
Jacob wrestled with God – and won from him not just a wound – a dislocated hip that was a reminder from then on of an extraordinary encounter – but also the blessing that he sought.
The widow was relentless in her appeal for justice – and, despite the judge's reputation for Injustice – won what she needed.
And, as Jesus makes clear – that persistence should be our constant approach to prayer.
His parable of the unjust judge might seem unsettling at first. It's easy to jump to conclusions, and presume that he is equating God with that hard-hearted judge who neither fears God nor respects people...but actually this parable is not setting out to explain an aspect of the Kingdom – but to show us how we should be in our life of prayer.
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
You'll know the way that advertisers today often harness what they call “pester power” - the way that children can and will continue to nag, badger and entreat until their adults give in and provide the “must-have” toy, game or garment of the day.
Well- pester power should be a recognisable element in our prayers.
God won't mind – I promise!
God loves it when we turn to him again and again – when we bring to him those people and situations about which we care most deeply.
Think about it...
I'm willing to bet that we have prayed for world peace on every Sunday of your Christian life – and mine.
Week after week after week...
And we know that there isn't a day when someone somewhere experiences just how short of peace the world remains.
We've prayed, day by day, “Your Kingdom come” - but struggle with the evidence of a world still gripped by powers of selfishness, violence, corruption, greed.
But – does that mean it's time to stop praying?
Of course not!
Yes - we can be discouraged.
And often, we lower our expectations...
We have learned by experience that prayer does not work like a slot machine, - prayer in, desired result out – and so gradually we may allow it to become a fairly meaningless duty.
We lose hope and lose heart.
But prayer is surely about tuning our wills to God's
It's not about changing God but about changing US.
Spending time with God, growing our relationship...holding on tight through thick and thin to the God who loves us.
It won't always feel easy - think of the cry of the psalmist
"How long, oh Lord, how long?"
"Day and night I cry out to you, but you don't answer me"
But in all of that - we need to hang on, we need to wrestle for our blessing.
Perhaps we just don't take that seriously...don't really believe that anything much will happen...and so we simply give up.
I think that is what lies at the root of the final question that Jesus puts in our gospel today
“When the Son of Man comes – WILL he find faith on earth?”
Will he find faith in this church? In each one of us?
If we really believe what we say about God – that He is a God of love, compassion, and endless grace...a God who makes all things new and heals the broken-hearted – then surely we will learnt to make our relationship with Him our priority.
We will use every ounce of pester power – we will, each one of us, pray and not lose heart.
Like Jacob we may be wounded in the process. We may make ourselves look ridiculous – as I'd guess that persistent widow did, coming to the judge's door day and night.
But if we hang on in faith – then we WILL win a blessing, for persistent prayer keeps us close to God - and there's nowhere better to be.