1He told them a parable about how they ought to pray always and not get discouraged. 2He said, “There was a judge in a certain city who did not fear God, nor was he concerned about people. 3Now there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary!’ 4And he didn’t want to do it for some time. But after that, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, 5yet because this woman is tiring me out, I’ll give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out in the end!'” 6The Lord said, “Listen to what this unjust judge says. 7And will God not carry out justice for his elect who cry out to him day and night and be patient with them? 8I say to you that he will carry out justice for them quickly. Yet when the son of man comes, will he find faith (or faithfulness) on earth?” — Luke 18:1-8
Very often when we read this parable we think of God as the unjust judge who will only decide to help us if we have checked off all the boxes, prayed enough prayers, carried out enough acts of worship, and basically gotten everything right. In this picture God doesn’t really care all that much but if you manipulate him enough with your prayers he’ll do what you ask.
As is often the case there is some truth to that, but there is also a part of it that is not so accurate. The verse does indeed teach persistence in prayer. We need to be faithful in staying in touch with our heavenly father. We shouldn’t quit talking to him or telling him about our joys, sorrows, needs, feelings, and generally anything that interests us. We should also never give up on the assumption that God really doesn’t care about a particular problem.
But the reason we should persist is not that God is like the unjust judge, requiring that he be pushed into doing the right thing. It’s precisely the opposite. Jesus tells the story of the unjust judge, and I can imagine that the audience could empathize with the helplessness of the widow. They would never imagine her strategy to be one certain of success. They would see that for many, many widows, the story would not end so well. But occasionally, just maybe, it would!
Jesus tells them that if persistence is worthwhile with an unjust judge who only might help, and only because the petitioner is an annoyance, how much more worthwhile will it be to be persistent with God, who is not unjust, and who is planning to do for you what is best. The moral of the story is that we should be persistent, not because God is like the unjust judge, but because God is totally unlike that judge.
So if God doesn’t need your persistent prayers to persuade him to provide for you, then why is persistence required in prayer? Here’s some ideas:
- God wants to have regular conversations with you. If the only way you’re going to talk to him is to ask for something, he may give you lots of opportunities to ask. Why not try talking to him about other things as well?
- He knows that there are things you need to do to provide for the need in question. He may be calling you to a post behind the cash register at your local McDonald’s rather than providing you with a check in the mailbox from an unknown source.
- He may be waiting for you to figure out what you actually need, rather than what you think you need.
- He may have already answered your prayer, but you were so busy with other things that you didn’t recognize it.
How about persistently praying this: â€œLord, show me where I need to be right now and what I need to be doing?â€