Pray, and Do Not Lose Heart

In Matthew 6 and Luke 2, Christ taught us one of the most foundational prayers that we will ever pray: our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Countless times over the past 2000 years, people have clasped their hands, bowed their heads, and fallen to their knees to pray that prayer. Young soldiers in the heat of battle have prayed that prayer; cancer-ridden women in hospital beds have prayed that prayer; little children who barely know what they’re saying have prayed that prayer. But even after millenia, it appears that nothing has changed: the wars still rage, the cancer still ravages, the children are still afraid -- and we are left with the nagging question, “After all of this prayer, why hasn’t God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven?” And that’s only one example. We have all shot out prayers that, to the best of our knowledge, may as well have been unopened, with “return to sender” hastily scrawled on the envelope.

Most fortunately for us, Christ himself knew that we would face such discouragement. He knew that we would be wearied by seemingly unanswered prayers. He knew that we would rise from our sore knees heartbroken enough to perhaps never bow in prayer again -- and so he spoke to such despair.

Don’t Lose Heart

“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1, ESV).

When we persistently pray the same prayers, it is most often because we have not received the “answer” that we’re looking for. When we go long enough without getting the “answer” that we want, our hearts tend to wander onto the shadowy road of despair. We lose heart. We view prayer as a waste of time and breath. We stop praying.

So what word does Christ offer to call us back to the the pilgrimage of prayer (as the poet George Herbert would call it)? He offers this parable:

“[Jesus] said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me”’ (Luke 18:2-5)!

Given the two actors who take center stage in this story -- an egotistical judge and a lonely widow -- we find ourselves in a most unusual and surprising scene. A widow without a public protector or (male) relative would have found herself in a rather powerless and helpless position before a man with such authority as the judge -- most especially because he neither feared God (the Almighty Judge himself) nor gave any credence to the court of public opinion.

But with what means she has, the widow presses her case. Justice is on her side even though the judge is not (Luke 18:3); and worn down by her persistent pleas, even this brutish judge eventually grants the widow her request.

So what is Jesus getting at with this bizarre tale?

How Much More

“And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth’?” (Luke 18:6–8).

If even an aloof official will do the “right thing” when he’s been hounded enough, how much more will the Judge of all the earth do what is right and good for his own people who continually lift up their prayers to him (Genesis 18:25)?

Though we may not understand all of the reasons why God answers our prayers as he does, we know that he loves us and he is for us— and it is that knowledge which will keep the fire of our prayers alive (Romans 8:31-39). We who entrust ourselves to a faithful Creator do not have to badger and pester him like a widow before a disdainful judge -- rather, we bring our pleas before him as children who are entreating a good Father (Romans 8:15); we cry out to him knowing that he sees all of our tears and tossings (Psalm 56:8); we ask him for bread knowing that he will not give us stones (Matthew 7:9-11).

Of course, we may balk at Jesus when he tells us that divine justice will come quickly (Luke 18:8) -- but we operate with a different definition of “quickness” than God (2 Peter 3:8-9). So even when our prayers are not answered in the manner we would like or as quickly as we would like, they are still sustaining the heartbeat of faith within us; indeed, the reason that the Son of Man will find faith on earth at all when he returns is because his people continued to pray (Luke 18:8).

Even Jesus himself is no stranger to these vexations: on one miserably dark night in a secluded garden, Christ faced a moment when one of his own petitions went “unanswered” (Matthew 26:39, Luke 22:41-42). And yet he continued to pray with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7). He continues to pray for us even now (Hebrews 7:25).

So yes, life may threaten to snuff out our faith by holding our (as yet) unresolved prayers before our faces, but we have a Savior who knows our afflictions. He is acquainted with the unique pain of prayer met with silence. So let us fix our eyes on this Author and Perfecter of our faith -- and let us continue to lift up our prayers to the One who will graciously give us all things through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32). His kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.