Lois Tverberg has been writing and teaching on the Jewish background of Christianity for decades. In one of her books she tells the story of riding on a bus in Jerusalem one day when an elderly woman boards and shuffles past the driver without paying the fare.
When she takes her seat the driver looks at her in his mirror and shouts over the din of the crowd, “Eifo geveret?” (“Where to, Ma’am?) When she ignores him, he repeats his question. Finally, she barks back a gruff response without any penitence, and a flurry of indecipherable Hebrew fills the air, the gist of which is - “Buy a ticket or get off my bus.”
The woman is immovable. Finally, the driver throws up his hands (the universal sign of frustration), puts the bus in park, opens his newspaper, and begins to read. Within minutes traffic throughout Jerusalem comes to a screeching halt. As Lois puts it, “Half of Jerusalem comes to a stop for this lady.”
It’s called chutzpah. It’s been a part of Middle Eastern culture since ancient times, and the Bible features it in positive terms.
Think of Jesus and His parables concerning prayer in Luke 11:5-8 and 18:2-5. Recall the Syrophoenician woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer in Matthew 15:21-28. Or consider the irony of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 when He compares a wicked man who has enough love in his heart to respond to the pleas of his children to the perfect Father who responds to His children in prayer.
In his book, Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Brad Young explains Jesus’ underlying assumption that faith in God is tenacious, even to the point of being a little pushy at times because God is worthy of our trust. Young says:
“One prays with bold determination because God is good. He is not like the contemptible friend who would not help his neighbor. He’s not like the corrupt judge who feared neither God nor man and refused to help a needy widow...Jesus uses irony and humor to illustrate the nature of God....People mistakenly pray as if God is a friend who does not care or a judge who does not deal justly. By role-playing with the divine nature and by using an exaggerated characterization of what God is not like, Jesus teaches His followers what God is like. In many ways the theme of these colorful illustrations can be summarized by saying, ‘God is your good friend.’ Because God is good, perseverance in prayer will receive an answer. Faith in God is defined as bold persistence.”
How can we tell if our prayers are appropriate? The renowned 20th century Jewish theologian, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, makes this profound observation:
“The issue of prayer is not prayer. The issue of prayer is God.” In other words, how you pray reveals what you know about God and what you believe about Him. True biblical prayer is all about Him and not us.
This is what we see in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He gives thanks to God for the news that a church has formed in Colossae through the preaching of Epaphras, and perhaps others. He praises God for what He has done in the lives of these former pagans producing in them faith, love, and hope.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. His thanksgiving leads him into supplication for these brothers and sisters in Christ he’s never met. He boldly prays that the Lord would grow them up in the faith by taking them deeply into the depths of the incomparable Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the reason he is so passionate and so filled with godly chutzpah is because he knows that He is agreeing with the very purposes of God for them. He’s not praying to convince God of something. He’s praying because he is convinced of God’s plan and His purpose for those people.
This year, 2019, promises to be a great year in the life of Hebron Church, with many new and exciting developments. I believe that when we look back on all of the steps of faith that we take this year, we will see that what we have done is walk in lockstep with the direction of God. May we all, throughout this year, pray excitedly and expectantly to our Heavenly Father with chutzpah!