“And He told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Luke 18:1
One of the most misunderstood and misapplied teachings of Jesus is the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). Luke is very clear about the reason Jesus told this parable: He wanted us to pray always and not lose heart.
What follows is the story of a powerless widow who had been defrauded in some way. She approached the uncaring judge and was rebuffed. But she kept coming until finally the unrighteous official relented and pronounced a judgment in her favor, not because he finally saw the rightness of her claim, but because she kept pestering him.
Now here is what we normally do with this parable: we allegorize it. The woman becomes any of us who has a request of God. The judge is God who acts like the most unresponsive official in a poorly run government office. You can leave a message but no one is likely to call you back. The application, therefore, of the parable is that we must keep praying and praying and praying to get God’s attention and our way.
I have heard this parable preached and taught this way. I have heard the exhortation that we should "knock down the doors of heaven with our prayers." Applied in this way, God sounds rather reluctant, and prayer simply becomes a way of wearing Him down.
Is this what Jesus meant to teach? OF COURSE NOT!! It's not a true encouragement to pray if we are taught to keep asking and asking with the conviction that sooner or later we are going to provoke God into giving us what we want. It makes us sound like the kid in the grocery store checkout line that incessantly whines for candy until the frazzled parent eventually gives in.
This parable is meant to contrast God and the unrighteous judge, not compare them. The point of the parable, the point that we often miss, is that God is completely unlike the judge. He is a loving Father who personally knows and genuinely cares about you. A loving Father listens to His children enthusiastically. He does not need to be coerced by repetitious prayers in the belief that only in that way will you be able to get His attention. You already have His attention! Now what do you want to say to Him?
One special application here: sometimes people are reluctant to ask God for something. They feel it's a bit gauche or presumptuous. They reason that because God knows what we need we don't need to ask.
I prefer to ask God about anything that's on my heart and mind. Paul wrote "let your requests be made known to God." I like that. The fact that God knows what I need is not meant to discourage me from praying. Again, it opens the door for us to talk to God about anything, and that includes letting your requests be made known.
I certainly don't have prayer all figured out, but the good news is I don't have to. I pray because I need to. I pray because I need help from a power greater than my own. I pray because I trust that God is there, and He listens, and He responds. I pray because I've been blessed by doing so.
I've fallen silent at times when life didn't work out the way I wanted and the burdens seemed to heavy. I know what it's like to "lose heart." That means that this parable is aimed directly at me. And you.
Your Father in heaven loves and listens to you. Your prayer goes directly from your mouth to His ear (and the Spirit also intercedes for you!). You have a Father who “knows how to give good gifts to His children” (Matt. 7:11). God is not reluctant. He is love and grace. You do not need to knock down the doors of heaven with your prayers. They are already open to you, and so is God’s heart. Now keep praying, and rest assured that He listens and responds.
Dr. Terry Ellis
June 18, 2017