Last time we considered Jesus’ expectation that his people “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). We thought about how that often doesn’t happen in our lives. In fact, we often lost heart when it comes to prayer. Our faith flags and we become prayerless.
What causes our faith to wane? Many times, life delivers unexpected blows. And our first response can be one of despair. We aren’t prepared for what has happened and we lose heart—we begin to believe that God doesn’t care for us or we cannot see a way forward in our circumstances. When we begin to walk down that path of despair, we can even get to the point that prayer is the last thing we want to do.
Yet, Jesus wants his people to pray in all circumstances. He especially wants them to trust God in the most difficult of circumstances. So, he taught a parable to help us. Luke says he “he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Here is the parable:
“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:2–8).
Culturally, the widow was probably the most vulnerable person in the society of that day. This was a patriarchal society with no welfare system. She would have had few resources and no influence. Added to her problems was an uncaring, unjust judge. Yet, this woman is audaciously persistent in pleading her case, begging for justice (18:3). Eventually, she wore down the judge. He doesn’t care for God or man; he doesn’t care about doing the right thing. He’s just tired of her coming to him over and over and over again (18:5)!
Now, how should this parable encourage us to pray and not lose heart? Jesus’ contrasts the unjust judge with the living God, the righteous Judge of all thing to show that God will hear our prayer. He will provide for our needs. He will provide mercy. He will provide justice. We can be assured of it. He does this by highlighting three of God’s attributes in verses 7 and 8.
First, Jesus reminds us that God is just. Jesus asked, ‘Will not God give justice to his elect?’ The question is not meant to be one where people ponder and debate the answer. Anyone who knows anything about the God of the Bible knows that the answer is yes. Even the best of today’s law courts are flawed, which can make justice hard to come by. But in God, we have a final court of appeal. Justice only has meaning because of who God is; God is just. And he is our Father. He is the one to whom we can go in prayer, knowing we will be heard. He will give us justice.
But more than that, Jesus says that God is love. Verse 7 says God gives justice to his “elect”who cry to him day and night (18:7). The term elect is used of God’s people in the Bible. God is the one who looks into the mass of humanity, stained with sin, blinded by corruption, and chooses to save some for himself. And love is central to his election of his people. The apostle John says that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). And we see God’s love in his election in several places throughout the Bible (e.g., Deut 7:7–8; Ps 18:50; Eph 1:4–5; Rom 8:29–30). That’s why Jesus says, “I choose you” and then goes on to say, “so whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16). In love, Jesus chose us for salvation and the evidence of that love is that he brings us into fellowship with God as our Father. And from the love of the Father, he will answer our requests—anything we ask of him in the name of Jesus.
Finally, we see that God is wise. The word ‘wisdom’ doesn’t appear anywhere in our text, but the idea is all over it. Jesus says “I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(18:8). Jesus connects the giving of justice with his return. We will not always have justice in this life. But we will receive full and final justice when God returns. That might be a problem for us. We might want it now. So, the fact that justice isn’t coming may not seem like a wise decision on God’s part. But remember what Peter says: “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).
But even now, before the return of Christ, God hears and answers our prayers. And what does he do? He wisely decides whether to answer yes, no, or wait. Like any good parent, God knows that not everything is good for us at every moment. He is wise—perfectly so. And we can trust that when he says wait or he says no, it’s for our good. He is just, he is loving, and he is wise. And even if we don’t get justice now, we will fully, finally, and perfectly when Christ returns.
Each of these attributes is meant to be a dagger in the heart of our hopelessness before him in prayer. Each of these attributes gives us hope and encouragement before him in prayer. They give us assurance that he not only listens to us but also cares for us and wants to answer us.
How do we drill these things into our minds and hearts? It’s so easy to forget these things in the midst of life’s crucible. How do we pour out these realities into our lives like a cement foundation that will always be under our feet? Quite simply—we read the Bible. That may sound trite or cliché, but think about it. If prayer is the chief exercise of faith, then we have to ask: how is faith created and deepened in a person’s life? Paul gives us the very well-known answer in Romans 10. Faith comes byhearing the word of Christ(10:18).
Through Jesus, God has given us every reason to trust him. And what does that trust look like? It begins with a life of constant, persistent, faith-filled prayer.