READ : Luke 18:1
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
Luke 18:1 RSV
It’s not often that the Scriptures tell us exactly why Jesus told a particular story. We don’t always understand from the beginning just what He wanted to accomplish. But in this case, here in Luke, chapter 18, verse 1, we know about the desired result from the start. Listen:
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
That word ought comes from a Greek word which means, “It is necessary.” It carries the idea of our word must. What must Jesus’ followers do? What is absolutely necessary for them? That they should pray always, that they should keep it up, that this should be a vital component in their lives every day they live. That’s what the Lord wants: persistent pray-ers.
On the other side, the thing they must never do is lose heart. To Jesus, it’s a tragedy when His servants become discouraged in such a way that they neglect prayer. The last thing in the world He wants to see happen in the lives of any of His followers is that they should give up on praying.
So what does He do? He tells them – and us – this story. Listen:
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Vindicate me against my adversary.” For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming” (Luke 18:2-5).
PERSISTENCE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
We already know why Jesus told this parable. Now let’s think about how it is designed to help. First, it drives home the truth that persistent praying makes a difference. Importunity prevails.
As I reflect on the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, it impresses me that He made this point more strongly than any other. You remember His words, “Keep on asking and you will receive. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep on knocking and it will be opened to you” (see Matt. 7:7). Not content with that, He goes over the same ground again, “For everyone who keeps on asking, receives. Everyone who keeps on seeking finds. And to everyone who keeps on knocking, it will be opened” (v. 8).
Remember the other parable He told about persistence in praying? A man went out at midnight to try to get food for a friend who had come to visit. We see him knocking at his neighbor’s door. Even though it’s late and everyone has gone to bed, would this neighbor please give him some bread for his friend? Understandably, the man inside is sleepy and reluctant. But the knocking continues. Finally the request is granted. The whole point Jesus makes is that this tireless entreaty is what made the difference.
I’ve known a number of people who have difficulty with this emphasis in the teaching of Jesus. I remember speaking once with a famous Bible teacher who reacted strongly against the whole idea of repeated, agonizing prayer. It was his view that if we prayed for something once, believing, that was surely enough. Wouldn’t asking for it again be a sign that we didn’t trust that we had been heard? There seems to be some plausibility in that, doesn’t there, until we ponder what Jesus actually taught. He said a great deal about praying with faith, but He said even more about persistence. Apparently, to Him the two were not inconsistent. They went together. He couldn’t imagine one without the other.
Now it’s this widow. She’s in great distress. She’s been wronged. Someone has taken advantage of her. She needs legal assistance. She’s powerless on her own to do anything about her situation so she goes to the local judge. Will he take her case? Will he represent her against the man who had injured her? The judge says no. The woman asks again, and again the judge declines. But this is only the beginning. The aggrieved widow will not be denied. She keeps on knocking at the judge’s door. She shows up every day at his office. He’s used up all his excuses now and she isn’t buying any of them. She keeps coming back. Broken appointments, delays, outright rejection, none of this discourages her. She keeps after this man of the bench until he finally gives in and agrees to represent her. What’s the point of the story? Simple. Persistence won the day. If she had stopped asking after the first few requests, she might never have gotten relief. It was her dogged determination, her unwearied asking, that finally got results.
Now let that sink in for you. You may have prayed about something a hundred times over a long period of time and nothing has seemed to change. Remember this widow. Remember the midnight knocker. Hang in there. Keep on praying. It will make a difference.
HOW MUCH MORE?
But there’s a second idea here. It has to do with the character of the judge. Remember how he is described? He “neither feared God nor regarded man.” He wasn’t a religious man in any sense. Although he may have had a number of degrees after his name, he was one of those people the Bible calls a “fool” because he lived his whole life as though God did not exist.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t care about other people either. In him there was no compassion, no concern for the welfare of others. He wasn’t motivated to help people. So in this case, the widow had little grounds for her appeal. She couldn’t say “Help me for the Lord’s sake” because the Lord meant nothing to this judge. She couldn’t even say, “Please help me, I’m a poor, defenseless widow” because he was not the kind of man who cared. In other words, no religious or humanitarian appeals would do any good at all with this judge. Yet he still yielded to the widow’s constant entreaties. Now here comes the second argument,
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily” (Luke 18:6-8).
The line of reasoning is crystal clear. We call it “an argument from the lesser to the greater.” If this judge, a godless, heartless wretch, will respond to repeated asking, how much more will God? God, as Jesus has made Him known, is a marvelously gracious Father. He delights to give good gifts. And in this case, those asking mercies of Him are His own chosen ones, His beloved children. Since He is the kind of God He is, with such a heart of overflowing generosity and love, and since the people asking Him are especially dear to His heart, is it imaginable that He would be unresponsive to their prayers?
So the great motivation for continued praying rests finally on the character of God. He’s gracious. He’s faithful. He is the God of covenant who has committed Himself to us by solemn promises. He will hear us. He will take our case. He will act on our behalf. We can count on it. Whatever a beleaguered judge will do is nothing compared to what God will do as His people continue in prayer.
As I prepare this message today, I’ve just returned from a noon time prayer meeting. Every so often, a number of us here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gather in place of a lunch hour for united prayer. Today our numbers were not large, but the intensity of the praying was remarkable. We were pleading with God for a mighty spiritual awakening to visit the church in this country and around the world. We were asking together for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Oh, that God would make His people a praise to Him in the earth! Oh, that the gospel would stream out through a purified church to all those on earth who’ve never yet heard it! Oh, that God would fill us with compassion for people in all kinds of need throughout our world!
All of us as Christians want these things, don’t we? But the vigor of that desire and the passion with which we pray for it is not always the same. Today God was touching us. There were tears, there were longings we could scarcely find words for. As I drove back to my office, I was still deeply affected, still crying out in my heart for God to do these things. And it seemed to me impossible that He would not. He had placed those desires in our hearts. He had promised to fulfill them. I was convinced, I am right now, that it’s only a matter of time. We’re going to see tremendous things happening for the reviving and purifying of God’s church and for the going forth of the gospel in the world. Ours is the God who loves and hears. Jesus says it, “I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily.”
WHEN HE COMES AGAIN
That seems to be the end of the lesson. But wait. Jesus adds another thought, this one in the form of a question, “Nevertheless,” He says, “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Jesus envisions all this praying as going on in the time between His resurrection and His final return. He’s just told his followers how vital it is that they maintain their prayer watch and He’s given them powerful encouragements to do that. Now He seems to be musing, thinking out loud. “When I do come back, what will I find on earth? What will be the situation with My followers? Will I find faith?”
I don’t think He was asking by that, “Will there be any Christians left?” He knew that the gospel would be preached in all nations for a witness before the end would come. There would be Christian people around and Christian work going on. The faith Jesus is talking about here seems to be specifically the faith that keeps on praying, that believes God to hear and answer.
Someone has said that “we have as much real religion as we have real prayer.” Whatever we profess to believe, whatever religious rites we may observe, if the cry of our hearts to God is stilled, there is no life in any of it. Where there is no vital communion with God, everything else is an empty shell.
Have you ever been near at hand when a baby was born? Have you noticed how the doctor and the nurses await eagerly the little child’s first cry? Why? Because the cry is a sign of life. That’s what prayer is among believers, the sign that we’re truly alive, alive to God.
Jesus wonders about it. “How many of My followers will be urgently seeking My face? How many will be praying with passion then? Or how many will have lost heart, who only will go through the motions of being religious?” This is one of those things, apparently, which, like the exact time of His return, Jesus wasn’t completely sure about.
I don’t know how that affects you, but it makes me want to become more prayerful, more earnest and ardent in seeking God as I move along through life. If I’m still alive on earth when Jesus comes, I want Him to find faith in me. I hope He’ll find it in you.
Remember, friends, Jesus died for your sins so that you might be accepted with God and be able to come to Him freely and pray as His beloved child. He has sent His Holy Spirit to your heart and to my heart so that we’ll have the power and the wisdom to pray as we ought. He’s given us His Word with all its rich promises to nurture our faith as we pray. He’s revealed to us the Father’s marvelously gracious heart. He’s done everything needful for us to be a praying people, right to our last breath. Now He’s waiting to see what we’ll do with all that. He’s saying to you and me today, “When I come back, if you’re still here, will I find faith in you? Will I find prayer in your heart and life?” I find myself wanting to say, “Lord, if You do, it will be only Your grace that does it. But I know this at least, that I want to keep on praying, all the way to the end of my life. And with Your help and the power of Your Spirit, I’m going to do it.”
Prayer: O God, write this truth on our hearts, we pray. May we so know You as a marvelously gracious Father in Christ, that we will keep on praying all the way to the end of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.