Would you be relieved to know that Jesus understood prayer is hard work? Would you be encouraged to know he taught a parable specifically designed for people who were tempted to lose heart when it came to prayer? Me too!
The opening words of the parable in Luke 18 fill me with enormous hope. Jesus knew that prayer would be a struggle, and he told a parable to address this struggle. In this parable, Jesus describes a ‘persistent widow’ coming before a judge – a man who neither fears God nor respects man – to seek justice against her adversary. After initially refusing her request, the unrighteous judge relents, giving her justice so he won’t be beaten down ‘by her continual coming’. Jesus then makes his point: “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?” (Luke 18:6-8)
Have you ever wondered, ‘Why do I need to pray for something more than once? If prayer works, why not pray once then leave it to God?’
Prayer is a relational activity, because God is a relational God. If it were simply a mechanical exercise, Jesus wouldn’t have taught this parable. Instead, he would have said, ‘Don’t persist in prayer – ask once, then move on.’ He wouldn’t have taught us to pray for our daily bread. Instead, he would have taught (the slightly longer and less memorable), ‘Give us the bread we need today and every day between now and when we die, thanks very much’.
When we pray persistently, we mustn’t think we’re wearing down God’s resistance, forcing his arm, or eliciting the kind of grudging response the widow won from the unrighteous judge. Rather, we’re depending on our heavenly Father, delighting him with our ongoing trust in him, recognising that our prayers are answered in his timing (not ours), and expressing a genuine (not a fake, mechanical) relationship with our heavenly Father.
A similar sentiment is found in many of the Psalms (and elsewhere in the Old Testament), where psalmists ‘wait’ and ‘hope’. Consider two of the many examples:
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.” (Psalm 130:5-6)
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.” (Psalm 40:1-2)
Prayer requires effort. It’s a struggle (ask Epaphras, Colossians 4:12). Jesus understood that, and graciously offered us the encouragement we need to keep going. And if the effort and the struggle draw us to a deeper trust in God – hoping in him, waiting patiently for him, even as we continue to pray – then maybe we’re finally getting it.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the gracious encouragement from your Son to persist in prayer, and not lose heart. Please help me to heed his teaching. Please help me to put my hope in you, and to wait patiently for you. Help me to always pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.