We live in a world that is unfriendly to the life of a disciple. Jesus was aware of this, and he knew that his followers would need to be resilient and spiritually tough. Through the parable found in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus demonstrates that this spiritual resilience is entirely the product of prayer. Unlike Jesus’ other parables, the main lesson of this one is stated upfront: God wants us to pray and not give up (or “lose heart,” v. 1). “Losing heart” is a product of the weariness that comes from living in a sinful, hostile world. Sometimes we are tempted to lose heart because of the injustice we see all around us. We are tempted to throw in the towel when we are mistreated or misunderstood. We grow weary when we face negative circumstances beyond our control. Prayer is not something that we are permitted to do, or something that we ought to do. Prayer is something that we must do if we are to maintain a courageous, unwavering faith in a rapidly-deteriorating world.
This parable takes us into the legal system of Jesus’ day and introduces us to two people at opposite ends of the legal spectrum. The judge is the epitome of power. The widow represents the depth of helplessness and weakness. She is powerless before an indifferent judge. Her every appeal is met by silence. For a period of time, he refused to take up her case. But she is persistent and undeterred. Day after day, she shows up to present her case. After all, persistence is her only resource. Finally, one day, the self-serving judge acts on her behalf, not because he cares about justice, but because he wants to be left alone. So a powerless woman, with no weapon but persistence, receives her rights from an evil judge.
To correctly understand this parable, we need to recognize the Jesus is dealing in contrasts, rather than comparisons. God is not like the judge, and we are not like the widow. For example, unlike the judge, God doesn’t need to be nagged or manipulated into acting on our behalf. His care for our concerns is not generated by wearing him out with our requests. We are unlike the helpless widow, as well. For instance, the widow was a stranger to the judge, whereas we are children of God. The widow had no advocate, whereas Jesus is our advocate.
In this parable, Jesus is telling us that if an unjust judge can finally be pestered into answering a persistent widow’s request, then surely a loving heavenly Father can be trusted to meet our needs. God is our Father, and we are his beloved children. He cares deeply about our welfare (v. 7). In response to prayer, God moves into action to meet the needs of his children (v. 8). But what of the prayers that appear to go unanswered? In one sense, we can say that God always answers our prayers. Sometimes, the answer is “no.” And all the praying in the world won’t cause God to change his mind. He loves us too much to give us what he knows to be detrimental to our spiritual development. But sometimes, a delay is not to be understood as a refusal. God could be saying “wait.” The timing is not right, or maybe you’re not right. God may want to do some things in your life before he grants your request.
Sometimes, God’s delays serve to purify our requests. As we continue to bring a request to the throne of grace, we are forced to rethink the nature of our request and the purpose for which we desire it. It is akin to proofreading a manuscript. The more we review it, the more errors we find. You can be certain of this: if God fails to answer your prayer in the manner or timeframe that you see fit, it is not because he is disinterested in your plight. God is not like the unjust judge. He is good, loving, kind, and concerned.
The kind of persevering prayer the Lord commands springs from a life of faith. Faith recognizes God’s sovereignty to act in his timing, which may not be synchronized with our own. Persevering prayer recognizes that God’s wisdom is higher than our own, and that he may permit circumstances which, although unpleasant, will promote a greater good. At times, life’s demands seem overwhelming. Sometimes, it seems as though God doesn’t care. We pray and it seems as if God has turned a deaf ear. If you find yourself in such a state of mind, this parable should be of great comfort to you. It assures us that God does care. He is concerned, and if he delays in answering your requests, it is because he wants to do a greater work in your life. He wants you to trust him. In the end, God always brings about justice for his chosen ones.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Make prayer a natural part of your day.
- When you feel like throwing in the towel, check your prayer life.
- Be aware of your concepts of God and of yourself.