We have looked at the pattern of prayer given by Jesus in the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. We will briefly look at three practices of prayer given in Luke 18 and 1 Timothy 2:1-8. The first will be persistence in prayer. The word persistence means “firm or obstinate continuance in the course of action despite difficulty or opposition.” The Christian life is filled with character-building moments of perseverance (Rom 5:1-5). Prayer is no different. Often the Psalmist asks the question, “How long O Lord?” (Ps 13). We will be studying the book of Habakkuk after these three weeks, where Habakkuk asks, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, “Violence!” and you will not save?” Today we will be looking at the parable of the persistent widow found in Luke 18:1-8.
A parable is an illustrative story that can range in length from a sentence or two (Matt 13:44) to a short story (Matt 20:1-16). A parable can make one point or several. Simply put, a parable is a short story with a significant point. Generally, a parable is a comparison of two people or things in a similar situation that have different outcomes; two sons, the rich fool, the wise and foolish builder. Parables are more than moral proverbs, they teach and instruct us about God. Every parable gives us doctrine. To expand on the earlier point, a parable is a short earthly story with a significant theological point. Today’s parable is only 70 words in Greek and 81 in English. However, this short, concise parable teaches us about the wisdom of God and our patience. Jesus tells us precisely what point this parable makes. We should always pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1).
I. We should always pray
A widow in the society during Jesus’ time had nothing, she could not even own property. In a labor-intensive culture, she might not be able to work, due to age or caring for her children. The Old Testament law had provisions for widows and orphans that would care and provide for them (See the book of Ruth). However, these provisions were often not met, and widows and orphans were neglected or taken advantage of. The widow in this parable had a great injustice to her. She would cry to the judge, “give me justice against my adversary” (Luke 18:3). The widow goes to the judge because he is the only one who can help her. This is prayer, “creaturely dependence.” The widow ‘bothers’ the judge persistency (Luke 18:5). The same word is used in 1 Cor 15:58, ‘labor.’ This is hard work. Revelation 2:2, “I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil.” Prayer should be a priority to us. How frequently this truth is often forgotten and commonly neglected. We lose heart because we do not give prayer the priory it deserves. Paul says we should pray continually (1 Thes 5). Later in the parable, Jesus explains the “elect who cry out to God day and night.”
We neglect prayer because we do not know the power of prayer. The widow had no other avenue. She could not hire an expensive lawyer. She could not go to another judge. She could only get justice if she bothered this judge every day. She knew the judge had the power to give her justice: six words, over and over, day after day. Six words, she cried out. There is no formula for getting prayer answered. However, this parable gives us a principle to live by. That we should always pray and never lose heart. Prayer is not the quarter to the vending machine of God’s gifts. Prayer is an ordinary means of grace God has given his church and his people. An ordinary means of grace is an everyday process that Christ uses to communicate the benefits of his mediation. There is nothing special about the word, sacraments, and prayer, other than these are the means in which Christ communicates the benefits of his mediation. Preaching is just a sinful man standing behind nicely shaped wood on a podium. The sacraments are just ordinary water, bread, and wine.
Prayer is only words uttered from our lips. However, through the Holy Spirits’ work, they become extraordinary. Edmund Clowney says, “The bible does not present an art of prayer; it presents the God of prayer. Prayer is powerful because it is one of the ordinary means God uses to communicate his benefits to us. Prayer is powerful and effective because of the God we pray to; because we have Christ as our mediator (Heb 4:15-16) and because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf (Rom 8:26). Jesus tells this parable following the pharisee’s question of the coming of the Kingdom (Luke 17:20). Jesus tells this parable just after comparing it to the days of Noah (Luke 17:25-26) and Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32). These were dark and depressing times of ravenous sin and rampant disobedience to God’s word. It is here Jesus tells the parable explaining that we should always pray and not lose heart. When we face persecution, injustice, troubling times, dark times, depressing times, when we see the effects of sin, we should pray and not lose heart. Thomas Case says, “affliction teaches us to pray. They that have never prayed before, will pray in affliction. They will pray more frequently and fervently… It is sad to consider that in our peace and tranquility, we pray carelessly by fits and starts, ad let every trifle come before prayer. In our affliction, God keeps us on our knees.”
II. We should not lose heart
We see the priority and power of persistent prayer. We also are told this parable not to lose heart. Some parables place two people on somewhat equal footing, while other parables see to use an earthly example to point to a greater heavenly reality. This ‘how much more’ parable. Jesus compares evil earthly fathers to the good gifts of the heavenly father (Matt 7:11). This parable compares an unjust judge to God. My favorite words in this parable are found in verse seven, “and will not God…” The unjust judge does not give justice to the widow for moral or legal reasons but because he is sick of being persistently pestered. Maybe like a parent who caves at a moment of weakness of their nagging child. This parable exclaims, “will not God.” We should not lose heart because God is faithful to accomplish everything; he has said he would do. We should not lose heart because unlike the pagans who heap up empty phrases in the hope that they are heard (Matt 6:7-8), we have a God who is listening and able to answer. We are not told how many days or weeks or years this widow constantly pestered the judge. You cannot be halfway persistent. We should not lose heart, not because of the hope in our rightly constructed prayer sentences but to whom the sentences are directed. God gives strength the fainthearted (Is 40:29; 41:10, 13).
We should not lose heart because we know that Christ will return, and justice will come with one swift action. The hope of the Christian is not because everything becomes perfect in a moment this side of heaven but that even though we live in this sin saturated world, this is just a tiny dot in eternity. We should not lose heart because God will bring justice to those who suffer; he will comfort those who mourn. The hope of the world is an insurance compensation, but the hope of Christ is he will judge justly and righteously. The Heidelberg Catechism begins with the beautiful question, “What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…” Or, as Paul instructs us in Philippians 4:6-7, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus taught this parable that we should always pray and not lose heart. Let us seek to pray persistently knowing that prayer is powerful, effective and God is faithful to his promises and will give us peace to know that the righteous judge will come and deliver justice to his people who cry out day and night.