Fourth in a series on prayers of faith.
“We treat God like a slot machine. You put a coin in the machine, pull the handle, and see if you score. If you do, you can quit. If you don’t, you’ll probably try again and again, as long as your change holds out, waiting for the Big Payoff. So, we make our prayers like coins.”
“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart. “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” – Luke the Physician (Luke 18), quoting Jesus Christ
This first quote gives us a peek into how some people view prayer. Keep praying until you get the answer you are hoping for. And for many Bible teachers, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-7 is used as a proof text to teach that we should pray for the same thing repeatedly until we get an answer.
There are some significant problems with this view of our God, of prayer, and of this parable. Here is why I disagree.
The context of this parable in Luke 18 is the coming of the Kingdom of God (17:20-37). Jesus interrupts his explanation of His Kingdom to teach on prayer. The context tells us that our prayers are somehow connected to the coming of the Kingdom of God as well as to deliverance for us – and quickly – when we are being oppressed.
Those who say this parable teaches us to pray repetitively point to the unjust judge as representative of our God. Actually, Jesus is using the unjust judge to explain and illustrate who God is not. The judge in this parable is an anti-type of God. He is described as having no regard for God or for people. Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater and contrasting the common practice with that of a righteous God.
The widow in His illustration is in a low position and is being oppressed by an enemy. Normally, judges in that day only judged cases in which the parties paid for his services up front. Likely this widow was poor, and so her case was not being heard. Yet the widow pesters the judge until he relents and grants her relief and justice. Jesus then goes on the draw a contrast between the unjust judge and the Lord God. The unjust judge who cared for no one delayed in responding, and only responded when the widow wore him down. In contrast, will not God, who is just and who loves us, grant justice to those He loves without delay?
Jesus uses rhetorical questions to drive home His points about our God:
- “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” (vs. 7) – the implied answer is “Yes.” Our God is just and can be trusted to make right decisions on behalf of His chosen ones when they pray to Him.
- “Will he delay long in helping them” (vs. 7) – The implied answer is no, He will not delay. This does not mean our requests will be answered immediately from our perspective. Remember, sometimes our God works great things in us while we wait for His answer to come. He is focused on changing us into His likeness, increasing our faith, and giving us what we need as only He can see it.
Is there a place for repetitive praying in our relationship with our God? Yes, for here Jesus acknowledges that God’s people cry to Him day and night. Paul the apostle tells us of one experience in which he prayed repeatedly, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Even in this, he prayed for the answer only three times. “Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
It was at this point that the Lord revealed to Him that the answer he needed was not the one he was seeking. Our God had an answer that would benefit Paul for the rest of His life, and not just for the circumstance about which he was praying.” Paul learned to be content in every circumstance through the “unanswered prayer” of the one circumstance. “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” This prayer was answered more powerfully with the “No” than it could have been with the “Yes.”
Sometimes His answer to our request is “no,” yet He will do a great work in us by that “no” answer. Even if the answer is no, or it is not in our timing, it will always be driven by His perfect wisdom, perfect justice, and perfect love. If we wait with faith and patience, we will see His answers. If we are listening, we will also likely hear Him speak to us as He did to Paul. This helps us exercise great faith in our praying, even if the answer is not in our timing. Whatever comes, it will be perfect for us even if we do not see how perfect it is.