Moving From “Stay Woke” to “Pray Woke” (Part Two) | Beware of Adversaries and Define Success

John McNeill
October 21st, 2020

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’

And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”

Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:1-8 

Pursuing Justice

The pursuit for justice—even when a believer is certain that God is on their side—may not go as one thinks, plans or hopes. It is important for pastors, youth workers and parents, to prepare this generation’s believers in Jesus Christ for obstacles on the journey towards justice, teach the role of prayer and intercession and, define spiritual success. 

If there is no preparation, a dissenting voice, a defiant act or a sluggish pace towards change may bring forth feelings of uncomfortable loneliness, stifling frustration or unnecessary questioning of one’s calling towards the pursuit of justice.  

Last month, I introduced the value and the necessity of prayer and discernment in this season of emerging justice seeking movements. I dare to continue the conversation from a slightly different angle, relying primarily on a story that is commonly known as, “The Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge” (Luke 18:1-8). This parable is often referenced to identify wisdom for our modern context and situation.

Judges have an important role and function to interpret the law and to make decisions based on such interpretations that will have a long-term impact on societal culture.

The recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the raging debate about her replacement makes this conversation about prayer in relation to Judges particularly timely.  

Persons who are entrusted with the responsibility of administering justice may act with integrity and perpetuate a system of injustice or unfairness in eyes.

For example, the widow went to the judge to “get justice…from [her] adversary.” The judge was compelled to avenge the widow to get relief from his trouble and weariness.  

We may get what we desire, but our adversaries may remain indifferent to our cause. Frankly speaking, persons in positions of power may not respect us or our God. In this story the judge does not “fear God” or “regard man.” To the hearers of the story, no fear of God would signal that this was not a wise judge (Proverbs 9:10). 

Beware of Expected and Unexpected Adversaries

In the parable, there’s a “widow” who seeks “justice…from her adversary.”  The story does not contain the specific issue or wrongdoing by her adversary; therefore, the reader is left to speculate about what is known about the function of a judge and widow from biblical history and modern culture. A judge was to appraise and examine scenarios and make decisions based on the law. This functionality and responsibility of judge has not changed in over two thousand years.  

A widow, like an orphan, was to be cared and provided for with resources. According to biblical law, to come to the aid of a widow—persons who were without support and who were exposed to injustice and misery— was an essential act of holiness. The widow expected to find an advocate of favor within the justice system but instead she found an unexpected adversary, the judge. We can relate to this when people in positions of power and advocacy abuse or misuse authority. The potential to become discouraged and overwhelmed is known by God.

What can we do when this happens? Well, the late U.S. House of Representatives and civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis would encourage and affirm; “When you see something that is not fair or not right, say something, do something. Get into good trouble!” Trouble your expected and unexpected adversaries by being prayerfully persistent! 

The Prepare for Justice’s Timeline

One successful protest for Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders during the civil rights movement occurred in Montgomery, AL when African Americans refused to ride city buses.  

Historians formally frame the Montgomery, AL Bus Boycott’s timeline from December 1955 to December 1956. This timeline does not include the months of planning that preceded the day the boycott began with Mrs. Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to give up her seat to a “white” man. Mrs. Parks’ lived experience reminds us that social change and justice will face resistance and may not go as one thinks, plans or hopes.

Also, it is a reminder that justice will require prayerful commitment to a determined goal. Such efforts needed prayer, from the worship services to the planning sessions, from the walks to work to the shared rides, from the expressions of hardship to the preparation of legal briefs and oral arguments. More than a year later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. 

Prayer is an expression of faith that is pleasing in God’s sight and demonstrates a lifestyle of humility and obedience to and with God. When I explain, I say that prayer was necessary to sustain the believer’s shifting hearts with the potential of becoming or remaining cold, tough, and jaded. 

You’re not alone and the passage affirms that God, your avenger, “bears long with them.”  We, youth workers, will likely need to remind youth that God is mindful of them as they endure the challenges. 

The presence of challenges or opposition does not mean the absence of God. 

Define Success

How should a believer in Jesus Christ define success as he or she seeks justice? Karl Barth, a theologian, wisely counsels that “to clasp one’s hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the world.”

For a believer, success is achieved by faithful obedience to God will. Your faith in and faithfulness to God will allow you to endure the long and rough road to journey.

To move from “stay woke” to “pray woke” demands a life of and commitment to fervent prayer, communication with God.

Don’t put your hope in an earthly institution or individual, a person or a system. Stay faithful to God. God is our ultimate Judge.

John McNeill

John C. McNeill, Jr. is a transformational leader, gifted preacher and creative teacher with a heart for and a keen understanding of 21 Century cultural trends and young people. John presently serves as Youth Minister at the First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries, VA and Staff Consultant with Ministry Architects. With more than 20 years of experience in church-wide ministry and family ministry, He is notably a trained Pro-reconciliation Anti-racism facilitator.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.