Reading through the Bible together
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I have to keep begging God in order to have my prayers answered?” Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we worry, “Can I hold on until I prevail?” No wonder that the common counsel: “Just pray about it” seems so futile. On the first reading, the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 seems to reinforce the idea that in order to get our prayers answered we have to be so persistent in prayer that we force God to answer us. Is Jesus saying that the widow’s persistent pleas to the unjust judge are a model for our prayer life?
Fortunately, Jesus provides a better interpretation: “Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said’” (Luke 18:6). Jesus is telling us to contrast, rather than compare, the unjust judge to God. God cares about us. The whole plan of salvation is God’s plan to rescue us from the real unjust judge, Satan. Jesus concludes: “I tell you that God will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:8a). In the face of Satan’s attacks, God will act quickly. Jesus is telling us to persevere in prayer, not desperately begging trying to get God’s attention. We are not the begging widow and God is not the unjust judge! Jesus is telling us that as believers we are to persevere in prayer as we claim the promise:
God will bring about justice,
He will not keep putting me off.
He will see that I get justice,
And He will do so quickly.
So persevere in prayer not because you have to beg God to help you. Persevere in prayer because you believe that God is eager to act on your behalf. Persevere in prayer to keep on believing God, even when Satan tries to get you to doubt.
Jesus closes the parable in Luke 18:8 with what seems at first to be a strange question: “When the Son of Man comes will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8b). How is this question connected with the requests of the widow?
Jesus is calling us to persevere in prayer so that we won’t lose faith in the promise of His Second Coming. There is the danger that our focus on survival will turn us from believers into doubters. We may be tempted to doubt the promise of His Coming. Prayer, persistent, persevering prayer that won’t give up is the only way to hold on to our faith in Jesus’ soon return.
Douglas Jacobs, D. Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University