Nicolaes Maes, Old Woman at Prayer (or Prayer without End) 1656
Nicolaes Maes, Old Woman at Prayer (or Prayer without End) 1656

Sometimes Jesus’ parables are difficult to understand. But Luke gives us the meaning of the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. We ought always pray, and never lose heart.

A Shameless Judge and a Helpless Widow

The characters are caricatured. A judge who neither fears God nor respects men is only moved by self-interest. But a widow, the epitome of helpless weakness, can offer him nothing. Nevertheless, she moves him to act on her behalf by pestering him unceasingly. The amazing thing is that Jesus commends her action as an appropriate way to approach God, even though God and the unjust judge share nothing in common. Whereas the judge is only moved by selfishness, God sent his only Son to die for sinners. And the Son of God humbled himself to take on human flesh and become obedient, even to death on a cross. This God will all the more hear and respond to the pleas of his chosen people. Yet we are still encouraged to bug him with constant prayer.

Bugging God

It is shameful that Jesus has to tell us to pray. Children do not need to be instructed to ask for things. And they don’t need to be instructed to be persistent in their asking. They are naturally annoyingly persistent. So why is it that we must be encouraged to pray? Why is it that prayer is so hard for us? God desires to give his children good things. But he wants us to pray for them. He tells us to bother him, persistently, impudently even (Luke 11:8).

That is true generally, as Luke 11: 5-8 shows. But Luke 18:1-8 has a particular prayer in view. The king is about to enter Jerusalem, and the focus of this section of Luke’s gospel is the coming of the kingdom. At the end of chapter 17, Jesus told his disciples that the days were coming when they would long to see one of the days of the Son of man. They will be anxious for his coming because they will be suffering, and will long for relief. And now Jesus tells them a parable to encourage them, not only to look for his coming, but to persistently request it, and not to lose heart during the delay.

Suffering Drives Us to Our Knees

If we are not praying for Jesus to come, it is probably because we are not suffering. But that would be tragic. Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Suffering is the lot of every true believer. All who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). And suffering is the pathway to our inheritance (Romans 8:17). If we are not desperately longing for relief, it is probably because we’ve become comfortable with the world, rather than having our righteous souls tormented by the depravity of this age. Rather than saving ourselves from this crooked generation (Acts 2:40), we’ve settled down in Sodom. That is exceedingly, tragically dangerous. Remember Lot’s wife! (Luke 17:32).

If we are not praying for Jesus to come, it is probably because we are not suffering.
On the other hand, if we are earnestly seeking the kingdom, earnestly desiring the rule of God over our lives by His Spirit, earnestly striving to live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received, actively putting the flesh to death–, then the struggle of doing so will drive us to our knees, longing and hoping for the relief and victory that will only come with the return of our King. If we are earnestly seeking the kingdom, working toward the expansion of the church by being heralds of righteousness, like Lot and Noah (2 Peter 2:4-10; Luke 17:26-30), we will know the persecution that desperately desires vindication. We will pray. And any who are straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13–14 ESV) will certainly long to have to books opened and the accuser silenced as our justification is made public.

Take Heart, You Have an Advocate

Like the widow in Jesus’ story, we have nothing we can offer to God. But unlike the widow, we are not without an advocate. Jesus promised us that he would not leave his disciples as orphans (John 14:18). And God declared that we are no longer be widows (Isaiah 54:4-5). Our Lord and Savior is sitting at the right hand of our Heavenly Father, interceding on our behalf. And he has given us another advocate in the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). So we should never lose heart.

Strive for the kingdom and your knees will quickly hit the floor.
Yes, 2000 years seems like a very long time to wait for our king. But “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9 ESV) Aren’t you glad he is patient. Aren’t you glad he did not come back after 1900 years. His patience has included you in the blessing, if you have called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the purpose of the delay is clear, we have a job. And as we fulfill that job, bearing witness to Jesus Christ, striving to live a life worthy of our calling and being heralds of righteousness, our righteous souls will be tormented, as we live in this crooked generation. We will not settle in Sodom, but will always be uneasy … always be looking and longing and asking for Jesus to come. Prayer is only hard for those who are comfortable. Strive for the kingdom and your knees will quickly hit the floor.