A fearless and hardened judge lived in a certain city. He was not swayed by the opinions of others and had no regard for God. In that same city lived a widow who was treated unjustly. She pled her case before the judge who paid no attention to her cry for justice. Undeterred she kept coming back with the same simple but clear request, “Give me justice....” Finally the judge gave in. He was tired of hearing the same story over and over. He granted her the request to get her off his back (Luke 18:2-5, paraphrased).
This story raises several objections in my mind. Is Jesus promoting begging? In the culture in which I grew up, coming back with the same request over and over is begging, which is viewed negatively. The culture in which I work helps me view it differently. If you ask once and desist, nothing gets done. Persistence is the key to getting something done. We’ll look at the difference between persistence and begging later, but first let’s address another possible objection.
On the surface it may appear that God is being compared to an unjust judge. This seems sacrilegious. If you look closely, however, God and the unjust judge are not compared but rather contrasted. Jesus used a similar contrast in Matthew 7:11. If unrighteous fathers give good things to their children, “how much more” does the righteous heavenly Father give good things to his children? If an unjust judge responds to the persistence of a lowly widow, “how much more” God, the Just and Righteous One, responds to the persistent prayers of His own.
The Biblical text is clear. Jesus gave the aforementioned parable to teach his followers to pray continually and not to lose heart. Of course being God, He knew how quickly we become discouraged and stop praying. Jesus’ emphasis shows the importance of “praying always and not losing heart” in God’s kingdom.
So why should we always pray? Is it to convince God to do something? Is it to beg him into action? As we noticed earlier, it’s not about begging. Begging demands and we have no right to demand anything of God.
Neither do we have to convince God of anything. He already knows everything and will bring about his will without any convincing. I propose that persistent prayer has more do to with convincing our own hearts about what is important than about convincing God to act.
Persistence recognizes God as the source and keeps coming back to him for more because there is no other place to turn. There is no begging or demanding but rather recognition that all good things come from God. In persisting we continually remind ourselves how dependent we are on God.
God’s heart never changes but our hearts need constant realignment. There is no uncertainty in God’s desire but there is in mine. My desires so quickly become laced with selfish motives. Persistent prayer helps to realign my heart.
How willing one is to sacrifice reveals how important something is to him. Here again the uncertainty lies not in God’s sacrifice but in mine. He already sacrificed everything. Now He asks us to sacrifice ourselves for His kingdom. Of course we want to see the Kingdom established, if God foots the bill. The real test comes when it costs us something. Will we wholeheartedly give what we have to build His kingdom? Half-heartedness will not do.
This brings us to Jesus’ second point in the parable, not losing heart. When the work seems overwhelming and the visible results seem so few, it’s easy to lose heart. Discouragement always seems to lurk at the door, waiting to take us down. Half-heartedness makes one an easy target for discouragement.
The parable, however, points to the link between persistent prayer and not losing heart. One who loses heart will cease to pray and one who ceases to pray will eventually lose heart. On the contrary, persistent prayer keeps us from losing heart and not losing heart helps us to pray more persistently.
Do you truly want to see God’s kingdom come? Persist in prayer. Do you want to combat discouragement? Persist in prayer. Does God answer? Yes! He doesn’t always answer in our time or in our way but He does answer. Faith plays into this equation. Hebrews 11:13 tells us that many “died in faith, not having received the things promised” (ESV).
In the same way we may need to make investments that will not produce returns in our lifetime. So we persist in prayer and, as the father of the demon-possessed boy, we cry out, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, ESV). God will do his part; there is no question. But, in the words of Jesus, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith” in me... or in you?
5 Prayers, 5 Men
George Muller a man of prayer and man of faith. A definite prayer of importunity follows:
“In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be.
“Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others.
“Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three.
“Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three and went on praying for the other two.
“These two remained unconverted.
"The man to whom God in the riches of his grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly 36 years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted. But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be."
This was the faith that carried him through every straitened place. He met emergencies by asking and in due time God supplied whatever the need might be.
Those prayers? You ask. In 1897, those two men, sons of a friend of Mr. Muller’s youth, were not converted, after he had entreated God in their behalf for 52 years daily. But after his death God brought them in the fold.
--Basil Miller, George Muller, p. 146.