Prioritizing prayer is hard, among the endless other activities that fill our days. The fears, doubts, and struggles of life abound, so we get discouraged in prayer and lose heart. For a lot of us, prayer can also become a point of shame in our Christian lives. We know that we should pray more, that our prayer lives aren’t as vibrant as they could be.
In Luke 18:1 we read this: “And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Here’s the good news: Jesus isn’t out to shame us about prayer — he wants to encourage us to keep praying!
Through the parable of the persistent widow, he gives us two wonderful reasons to always pray and not lose heart. He does so by setting up some stark contrasts between the parable and the reality of our lives as Christians.
When you pray, you pray to a God of justice who will not delay in answering you
Contrast #1: The judge is unjust, but God is just.
He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” (Luke 18:3-5)
When we think about an ideal judge, we’re looking for a person of high moral standard and deep care for humanity. But this judge has neither of these qualities! You wouldn’t go to a judge like this if you could help it, but this is the widow’s only option. And it is no surprise, knowing what we know about him, that he refuses to help her.
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (7-8)
The judge is unjust, but God is just. So, when Jesus asks, Will not God give justice? The implied answer is, Of course he will! That is the God you are speaking to when you pray. The God of justice. The God who always does what is perfectly right.
Contrast #2: The judge gives justice slowly, but God gives justice speedily.
Imagine the widow coming to the judge day after day, pleading with him, only to be refused over and over again. Maybe that’s what your prayer life feels like.
- You’ve been praying for a child or grandchild to come to faith.
- You’ve been praying for direction as to what’s next in life.
- You’ve been praying for an illness to be healed.
You’ve been praying day after day. And it seems like nothing’s happening. So you wonder, “God, are you going to do anything?” Remember why Jesus is telling this parable: He’s showing us the contrast between the indifferent, unresponsive judge and our God!
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. (7)
Now, our definition of right and God’s definition of right may not always be the same. But his way is always better. He says in Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The apostle Peter is really helpful here. 2 Peter 3:8-9 says,
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness.
So our understanding of speed is not the same as his. Let that encourage your prayers! When you pray, you pray to a God of justice who will not delay in answering you.
When you pray, you pray as God’s chosen people whom he loves
Widows during Jesus’ day were often in vulnerable situations. Because they lost the protection of their husbands, they were open to all kinds of oppression. Her only hope is that this judge will give her justice. This judge could care less about the widow because to him she is just another case, another number in the line.
Contrast #3: The widow is nothing to this judge, but we are God’s people.
We’re vulnerable, like the widow. We need help. But Christian, Jesus wants you to know that you are not just another case God has to “deal with.” You are not just a number in line. You are one of God’s chosen people! You are everything to him.
Jesus asks, Will not God give justice to his elect who cry to him day and night? The answer is, Of course he will! The elect are those loved by God with an everlasting love before the foundations of the earth were established. Loved despite their sin, weakness, and rebellion against him.
The elect are those redeemed by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. All their sin has been paid for by Jesus on the cross, and all the righteousness of Jesus has been laid on them through faith. God himself dwells with them through his Spirit, empowering them for a life of worship and service to his glory. If you are a Christian, all of the above is true of you!
The widow may be nothing to this judge, but you are everything to God. So of course he hears your prayers and will answer when you cry out to him.
Contrast #4: The judge responds out of annoyance, but God responds out of love.
Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming. (5)
The only reason the judge is doing anything is because the widow wore him down. Once again, our situation as God’s people is so different than this widow’s: The judge responds to the widow because he is annoyed, but God responds to his people because he loves them.
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. (6)
God is not annoyed with your prayers. You’re not wearing him down. Before you ever prayed a single prayer, God gave you his Son. Consider this: If a friend gave you $100,000 to help you buy a house, would you ever wonder if he might lend you a few dollars for a meal? If God did not even spare the life of his own Son to save us from our sins, why would we ever wonder if he might hear and answer our prayers?
If this type of relationship with God seems foreign to you, let me invite you to believe in the God of the Bible. You don’t deserve anything from God other than judgment for your sins, but he sent his Son, Jesus, to take that judgment in your place on the cross. By faith in him, you will be saved and adopted as an elect, loved, child of God with constant access to him in prayer.
How should these two truths impact our lives this week and beyond?
Keep praying. Set aside time in your day to bring your needs before your good Father in heaven. Keep praying for your loved ones who do not know Christ. Keep praying for the building up of the church. Keep praying for your own personal growth. And keep praying, especially, in the face of adversity, pain, suffering, and your struggle against sin.
Keep believing. Jesus knows that prayer and faith go hand in hand (v8). When we stop believing that God is just and will always do what is right, we’ll stop praying for his help. When we stop believing that God loves and cares for us, we’ll stop going to him with our needs. If an unjust judge gives justice to a widow, certainly God will do what is right for you and all his people.
So keep praying and keep believing.