When Jesus gives His disciples a paradigm for prayer, it is implied that those who follow Him do, in fact, pray. Is your life marked by persistence in prayer? What is it that keeps you from persisting in prayer?
If you are reading this article, you’ve most likely experienced times where you set out to remove distractions and focus on communing with God. Maybe only mere seconds passed before you were distracted and the time that you set aside was taken captive by the troubles of another day. Or it could be that, by your own perception, your prayer did not yield the results you had expected. As John Calvin wrote, “When our first prayers are not successful, we immediately throw away not only hope, but all the ardor of prayer.”
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable to encourage His disciples, and that includes us, to always pray and not lose heart. Jesus explains the narrative of a widow who seeks justice from an unjust judge. This judge is one who neither fears God nor man. In other words, he has no regard for others. He has authority and perceives that he can wield this authority however he pleases. Yet the widow steadfastly pursues the justice she is due, going to this judge over and over again, day and night seeking justice.
Whether it be friends, family members, or spam callers, we all, to some extent, know what it is like to be nagged. I remember working at a kids’ camp one summer during high school. I set out from the first day to be the counselor that maintained order and that refused to be a pushover for these thirty-five fourth grade boys who thought they ruled the camp. However, I did not realize how taxing this would be. Their nagging was tireless, and they were relentless. After only a few hours on the job, I was ready to give them all the Mountain Dew and Fun Dip they wanted, just so long as they would leave us alone.
Likewise, Jesus says that the judge gave this widow justice because she kept bothering him. The judge did not want her continual coming to “beat me down” (Luke 18:5).
We Have Every Reason to Pray
The encouragement for us, followers of Jesus who have a propensity to do just about anything other than pray, is to see that we do not have a God who can be beaten down by our continual coming. God graciously invites our continual coming to His throne and inclines His ear to our cries. However minuscule or monstrous your problems may seem, you can bring all of your requests before God and rest assured that He cares for you. To make this point, Jesus lays out a lesser to greater argument in this parable. If an unjust judge, who neither feared God nor man, gave justice to this widow, how much more then will God give “justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night?” (Luke 18:7)
This is a reminder from the Savior that our Father in heaven cares for us. Surely our lack of persistence in prayer stems from a failure to recognize Who we are praying to and the gospel with which He has reconciled us. The Creator and Sustainer of all things made us the crowning glory of His creation. Yet we rebelled against Him, choosing our way over His: “. . . all we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). He is holy, just, and righteous, and we are not. Jesus came to live the life we could not and to die in our place. He went to the cross to be forsaken so that we never will be. He absorbed the fullness of the wrath of God that we deserve. And it’s on this basis that we approach God.
When we ponder the gospel and reflect on the reality that Jesus refers to us as “His elect” (Luke 18:7), we should be encouraged to not lose heart and to persist in prayer. Because Christ accomplished the work of redemption at the cross, we do not approach God as outsiders, orphans, aliens, or strangers, but as His children.
Jesus ends the parable with a question: “. . . when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) In other words, when Christ returns for His church, will He find a people on their knees crying out to God day and night? Jesus teaches us that persistence in prayer is a way in which His people show dependence on Him. Those who persist in prayer show that their trust is not in circumstances but in the Savior.
A Widow’s Example
It is intriguing to me that when teaching on persistence in prayer, Jesus opted to use a parable about a widow. The church that I pastor is filled with people who remember World War II, and widows comprise a little less than half of the congregation. Even on cold and rainy winter nights, when attendance is sparse, it is the widows who show up for the prayer meeting.
I think of one lady in particular. Certainly, she has forgotten much and is not as sharp as she once was, but anytime I mention something personal for which people can be praying, without fail she prays. I mentioned an ongoing request to her in April and at least once a month she will come up to me and tell me that every single morning she has prayed for this request. I see this 88-year-old woman who certainly has taken God at His Word. Though her strength is fading, though she has experienced much loss, and though loneliness may always be near, she persists in prayer. She knows that God has ordained for His people to pray to Him day and night. If the Lord were to return today, he would surely find this woman’s faith demonstrated as she calls out day and night in dependence on Him. Would the same be said of us?
Through tragedy or triumph, sorrow or celebration, persistence in prayer is worth it. Our Lord assures us of His perfect plan for us, that He is orchestrating our supreme, eternal joy. He urges us to continue communing with Him until the day our faith gives way to sight and we rule and reign with Him forever.