Then [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, the men always ought to pray and not lose heart… – Luke 18:1
One of the principles that Jesus teaches us in regard to prayer is that we must pray with stubborn persistence. He gives us two parables in the book of Luke that teach us this. We also have several biblical examples of this in the Old and New Testament. Persistent prayer is the type of prayer that gets answered. Prayers that lack this vital element go unanswered. In fact, I suspect that this a primary reason that so many prayers go unanswered. Our prayers don’t look like the examples that are provided for us. If we had the stubborn persistence in our prayers that Jesus spoke of and that the biblical saints practiced, we would also have the answers they had. But let us not be discouraged. Instead, let’s learn from them and follow in their footsteps, so that we can ‘ask and receive, that our joy might be full.’
In our text, the Bible tells us that Jesus spoke this particular parable so that ‘men always ought to pray and not lose heart.’ He said this precisely for the reason that many people do lose heart, or give up, regarding their prayers. He wanted to encourage us to persist in seeking God, especially when the answer does not come quickly. Let’s read the parable:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'” Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” – Luke 18:1-8
In this parable, we see a feisty widow woman and a wicked judge. He ‘did not fear God nor regard man.’ In other words, he didn’t care about anybody but himself. He didn’t care about justice, nor for the plight of the poor and needy. He sought and acquired his position as judge for the sole purpose of selfish pursuit. This is not uncommon. When the widow approached him with her request, she was rejected. In his eyes, her case was not worthy of consideration. But the judge changed his mind when he realized that this woman would not leave him alone. Her request did not change, nor the circumstances, nor did the judge change in anyway, it was only her refusal to take no for an answer that brought her the justice that she needed.
I remember when I was a teenager that I really wanted a job at a particular golf course. I called them up to ask if they were hiring. They told me they weren’t. I waited a week, and I called them again. Once again, they said no. I waited another week. I must have called three or four times. Maybe more, I don’t remember. I just really wanted to work there. Finally, I got a call back. The gentleman said, “You really want a job here, don’t you?” I said, “I sure do.” He said, “Come in tomorrow and we’ll get you set up.” It was one of my favorite places to work.
In the world, like both of these examples, we know that persistence makes a huge difference. Whether it be with an unjust judge or a manager of a golf course. The point that Jesus wanted to make is that if this kind of persistence works with ungodly men, how much more can we expect it to work with our Heavenly Father. In fact, stubborn persistence doesn’t always work in this world. The judge could have put a restraining order on the woman–or worse. And the manager of the golf course could have blocked my number and ban me from the property. But Jesus is teaching that we can have a greater confidence that God will answer us if we stubbornly pursue him without losing heart.
In another parable, Jesus gives us a very similar example:
And [Jesus] said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. – Luke 11:5-8
Here we have a slightly different take on the same principal that the other parable gave us. This time, it is not a wicked judge that is being sought for a favor, but a friend. This is very different. A friend is one, like God, that loves us and would be predisposed to giving favors. Every one of us has friends, and we also are friends to others. Each of us knows that if we really needed something, we could go to our friends, who would likely help us if they could. And we would also do the same for them. But this parable shows us something different. Here we have a case where the friend does not want to rise to give his friend the bread that he needs. The passage says, ‘though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.’ The point of this parable is to get the idea out of our heads that God will answer us simply because He loves us. He does love us, and we are His friends if we diligently follow His ways. And He’ll still love us without answering our prayers if we don’t pray with persistence. The two men would have still been friends the next day if no loafs were exchanged. But the answer only came because of his shameless persistence.
We see examples of this throughout scripture. One of my favorites is when Jacob wrestled with God the night before he met his brother Esau. In Genesis chapter 32, Jacob received word that his brother Esau, whom had been planning to kill him, was coming to meet him with 100 men. Jacob was the chosen of God, but he didn’t think to himself, “God loves me, so I know I’ll be fine.” No! He set himself to persistent prayer, refusing to let God go until he had the answer that he needed:
Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until he breaking of the day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless You bless me!” – Genesis 32:25-26
This ‘wrestling’ is a type of prayer. Jacob struggle with God physically, but we spiritually–with our words and our groaning, not letting Him rest until he answers us. Even after God ‘cheated’ a little bit by putting Jacob’s hip out of socket, Jacob would not give him. He pressed on through the pain until he received his blessing!
In like manner, we should bring our requests to God. We should pray, and keep praying, until we receive assurance of an answer. Even if it means that we must struggle through times of prayer, the struggle is worth the end. Jacob may have walk with a limp for the rest of his life, but he was no longer just Jacob, but Israel is what God named him, which means prince with God.
With all this in mind, let’s look back at Luke Chapter eleven. Directly after the parable of the friend who came at midnight, we read that Jesus follows up that parable with a teaching. This teaching should not be disconnected from the parable, for it is meant to build from the parable. He says the following:
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened to you. – Luke 11:9
Remember, these words were spoken immediately after the parable and should be interpreted in light of the parable. Just as the man went to his friends house, knocking on the door, seeking some bread, and asking for a favor, so we should also do. These words do not imply a single event, but a continually asking, seeking, and knocking. The Greek tenses of these words suggest this very thing, and some modern English translations render it so. For example, the New Living Translation renders it this way:
And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. – Luke 11:9 (NLT)
This is the way that prayer was thought of in those early days of Christ’s Church. It was said of the apostle James, our Lord’s brother, that he prayed so much that his knees were hardened over like a camels. He didn’t believe in a little bit of prayer here and there–it was his life.
I hope we can develop a similar attitude regarding prayer. I hope our prayer lives can become more robust, so that we might have a boldness to approach the throne of grace with the stubborn persistence of Jacob. Who knows of that things that God will do in our lives if we could learn to pray with unyielding persistence. I pray that we will find out.