Have you ever felt discouraged or anxious that God was not listening to your prayers because you did not see the relief or the answer you desired? We’ve all been there at one time or another. However, in the parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus tells us why we should continue to persist in prayer and not lose heart, even when it does not seem God is responding to us.
This parable has its roots in the context of Luke 17:20-37. In this passage, Jesus discusses the coming of the kingdom (vv. 20-21) and the coming judgment against the adversaries who oppose Him and His kingdom, namely the Jews (vv. 22-37). In view of these coming events, Jesus instructs His disciples to “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1) Our Lord is not saying that it would be good to pray under such circumstances. Rather, He is saying, in order to not “lose heart” (or “faint” KJV, or “give up” NIV) during such trying times, one must “always pray.” Of course, our Lord’s message provides instructions to the elect in many circumstances through all time and generations. Paul echoed this same command when he, on various occasions encouraged Christians to “be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), to “continue steadfastly” in it (Colossians 4:2), praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). For this says, “is the will of God for you” (v. 18). Why continue in persistent prayer? Because, as we will see, prayer is the expression of our faith in the Lord’s promise that He will give justice against our adversaries.
Now, that we have established the central lesson to be learned from the parable, let’s turn our attention to the story itself (Luke 18:2-5). The first character Jesus introduces us to is a judge, “who neither feared God nor respected man” (v. 2). Within this wicked man’s jurisdiction were two people: an unnamed, malicious adversary who oppressed an unnamed helpless widow (v. 3). The Lord says that this widow “kept coming to the judge” seeking justice against her adversary. The persistence of her appeals then becomes central to the parable and its meaning.
Although the judge knew the widow’s case was just, he delayed in giving her relief from her adversary (v. 4a). Finally, after some unnamed period, the judge decides to provide this woman with the justice she deserves. His motives are shallow and impure, baseless and selfish. He does not aid the widow based on the merits of her case. Rather, this irreligious, uncompassionate judge answers the widow’s pleas because she was “bothering” him and he did not want her to “beat [him] down by her continual coming” (vv. 4-5). In short, he wanted to rid himself of the widow because she was a nuisance to him.
Next, the Lord says something quite remarkable, “hear what the unrighteous judge says” (v. 6). We might expect Him to call attention to the words and works of the widow, whose example disciples are to follow. However, it is the unrighteous judge and his character, which our Lord makes the central focal point of the parable. The purpose of this is to contrast the judge’s character against the character of God. The judge was unrighteous; God is the “righteous judge” (2 Timothy 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6). The judge did not care for any man; God cares for His “elect” (v. 7; 1 Peter 5:6-7). The judge deferred in bringing about justice because he was uncompassionate; God compassionately delays final judgment to give men time to repent (2 Peter 3:3-9). The judge only acted to reduce his pain; God sent Jesus to suffer agonizing pain of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). The judge delayed in delivering the widow and restraining the adversary; God “speedily” delivers His people and restrains our adversaries (v. 8a; Psalm 118:5-6). Thus, Jesus teaches that while it was the wickedness of the judge that required the perseverance of the widow, it is the righteousness of God that motivates the saints to “always pray and not [to] lose heart.” Even when our adversary presses us hard, even when we do not immediately see our prayers answered, it is God’s love, it is His faithfulness that causes us to not lose heart but to persistent in prayers to Him.
In closing, our Lord rhetorically asks, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (v. 8b). I believe what Jesus is saying is, “I’m going to return and deliver you from your adversaries. The issue to concern yourself with isn’t whether or not I’ll fulfill my promise, but whether you will show your faith in Me by persistently praying and not giving up.” Persistent prayer, even when the prayer is constantly the same (ref. vv. 3, 7a) is a sign of faith, not a lack of it. Therefore, our responsibility is to be dedicated people, constantly and faithfully praying to our compassionate and loving Father in Heaven, the judge of all humanity.
Digging Deeper Questions:
- Read Luke 18:1-8. Write down any observations, key words and/or questions you have from the reading.
- In this parable we are introduced to three characters: a judge, a widow and an adversary. What images come to mind when you picture these three people?
- Why do you think the widow is so persistent in request that the judge gives her justice?
- How does the picture of the unjust judge help us understand the true nature of God?
- What is it about God’s righteous character that motivates you to persistently pray and not lose heart?
- Who or what are some adversaries that you face today as you follow Christ?
- Are your prayers for relief as desperate as those of the widow’s or the elect’s? Why or Why not?
- In your own words, explain how persistent prayer: 1) protects you from losing heart, and 2) expresses your faith in God’s promises to deliver you from your adversaries?
- No doubt there are times when we all are tempted to give up praying about someone or for something. How is Jesus encouraging you through this parable to keep on praying and not give up?