Luke 18:1 – And Jesus taught them a parable that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I suppose the thing that Jesus was addressing when He said His disciples should pray and not lose heart was the fact that when we pray we do not get what we are praying for right away. The context indicates that believers are praying for justice from God for the mistreatment they have endured. In any case, we are being taught that we should pray continually and not think that we should give up asking for it. He was talking to people who were tempted to lose heart and give up praying because prayer did not seem to be accomplishing very much.
What makes you lose heart? The different things that cause different people to lose heart, grow discouraged, give up, quit, surrender, … are beyond being able to number. Among those with whom I associate – pastors of churches – the temptations to discouragement are many. I do not know if that is because of the job, or because pastors are more susceptible to things that bring people down, or because Satan pays particular attention to leaders of God’s people, or because their hearts are more tender, more tuned in, or just more worldly than we normally think, or what. I just know that pastors grow very discouraged. They want to see souls saved. They want their churches to grow. They want their people to finally understand how the things they are hearing every week are meant to change the way they think, and live and the reasons for doing what they do.
But that is just my world.
Pastors are not the only ones who are daily assaulted with things that if not for the grace of God would bring them into debilitating discouragement.
When Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow He was not talking to pastors, although future church leaders were among them. But He was talking to ordinary hangers on. He was talking to people who would forsake and not listen and give up. He was talking to ordinary people who agonize under loads of abuse and neglect. He was talking to people who were tired of trying to scratch out a living with insufficient resources. He was talking to people who were concerned about their health, their money, their children. He was talking to people who had doubts about the love of God, the care of God, the truth of the prophecies that used to sustain them so powerfully. He was talking to people who were victims of a cruel governor who worked for a cruel emperor. He was talking to people whose religious leaders were more concerned about themselves and their own perceived righteousness, than they were the souls of those they were called to lead. In short, He was talking to people just like us. Ordinary. Doubting. Pain filled. Relief seeking. We know this is who He was talking to because we are told several times that it was these kinds of people who followed Him (Matthew 9:34-37, Luke 6:17-19, 7:11-13, 15:2 … ). To these people Jesus said “always pray and do not give up”. Always pray. Do not lose heart.
Why would Jesus tell a parable for such a reason? Because He knows us and He cares for us. He knows that life can be a real joy sucker. He was constantly surrounded by people who sought to suck out His. “Hey guys. Life is hard at the best of times and on top of that, this business of following me can get pretty disheartening, so I am going to tell you how to overcome the discouraging days. Never let anything stop you from praying”. Try that one today when someone says that they have a problem they need to discuss. Calls to pray are seen by many as calls to do nothing. It is seen to be an activity that accomplishes nothing. This account in Luke 18 indicates that even those who do pray begin to waver in their commitment to it when the things they pray about don’t change. Tell people, after you have given them some ideas about how to deal with their problem, that there is one more thing they need to do so that the issue they are dealing with won’t get them down too much. Tell them to pray and not to lose heart. Then duck.
We have a contemporary example of how that strikes some people. The atheist comedian Ricky Gervais, in response to calls for prayer for the tornado ravaged areas of Oklahoma, created the hash tag “actually do something for Oklahoma”. In response to some other stars saying they were praying, Gervais tweeted “I feel like an idiot now … all I did was send money”. (you can find the story here)
I was sought for counselling once and was told before the session began that the person wanted real help – not “read your Bible and pray”. I am pretty sure that is not all I say when people ask for help. But they better be a prominent part of all Christian counselling.
The Word of God and prayer are not impractical pie-in-the-sky pieties that have no relevance in the real world. They were given to us by God to help us manage real life. Jesus sees a mass of people who are wandering around like sheperdless sheep and it breaks His heart. Turning to His disciples He says – “There is so much to do and there are so few people to do it – so pray” (Matthew 9:34-37). When his disciples cannot cast out a demon from a young man, Jesus says, in frustration, that such ability can only come through prayer. When Jesus is warning His disciples not to get weighed down with ungodly living lest the day of the Lord come upon them like a trap, He tells them to be alert and to be always praying (Luke 21:36). He tells this parable regarding a widow in desperate need to get us to pray. Prayer is not nothing. It does not, and should not, take a back seat to things that are more practical. Work without prayer is idolatry. Prayer without work is hypocrisy and real prayer without real action is impossible.
I doubt very much if there are any true believers anywhere in the world who always get what they pray for the first time they ask for it. I hope there aren’t. This text indicates that there are not. If there are, you can be sure that their faith is not worth very much.
Jesus tells us to pray and not give up because God has no intention of answering our prayers the first go round. He will test our faith. He will orchestrate things to keep us praying. And He will answer. I am not sure that the famous saying that God will say “yes”, “no” or “wait” is true. If we knew that God was saying “wait” we would stop praying. If we knew He said “no” we would stop praying. Sometimes He says nothing at all. So we keep on praying. Sometimes God answers the way we think. Sometimes He answers the way we want. All the time He will do what is best for us and glorifying to Him. There is nothing so encouraging to praying without fainting.
Just trying to help you keep looking up,