The Persistent Widow
“There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out.’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’” Luke 18:2-8
Opening Points to Ponder:
Being completely honest, are there times when you view God as a stern Judge who is reluctant to answer your prayers?
What’s the longest you have ever persisted in prayer about something and what was the outcome?
Don’t “persistence”—implying long term, and “speedily” seem like opposites? How do those two concepts jibe?
The Righteous Judge
That first question (viewing God as a stern Judge) is one I’ve asked myself through the years when I’ve struggled with answers that are oh so s-l-o-w in coming. In fact, when I first started a prayer journal in 1988 I wrote this quote at the top of the first page: “Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven, but getting God’s will done on earth. It is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of God’s willingness.” It’s attributed to Warren Wiersbe.
The quote helped me in my commitment to pray for things for the long haul with the right attitude. I knew that I sometimes saw God as an adversary whom I was cajoling for answers he was reluctant to give. How wrong that was. But God knew how we would often feel and he gave us a story to reveal the truth about how prayer works.
The set up for the parable in scripture goes this way: “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.” (Luke 18:1) See? Jesus is aware of how things might sometimes seem as we pray and pray and he wants to give us some behind the scenes information so we won’t get the wrong idea or become discouraged.
In older times the woman in the parable was called the “importuning” widow and it’s too bad that word has fallen out of favor because it hits the nail on the head. Importuning goes way beyond persistence. It means to “to press or urge with troublesome persistence; to beg, urge, or solicit persistently or troublesomely.” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary © 1969)
This widow was nothing if not a bulldog. All the odds were against her prevailing including the legal system. She couldn’t even afford an attorney to plead her case before a Judge who cared nothing about justice. As a widow she had few rights. The only thing she had going for her was that she WOULD NOT ACCEPT NO FOR AN ANSWER. Slim credentials you might say but that’s exactly what would finally win the day for her. When we are up against impossible circumstances that’s exactly what will win our day too.
Well, actually we are one up on the persistent widow. We are not approaching an unrighteous Judge like she was. We have the advantage of “importuning” a God who longs to “bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night.” Our God is a Righteous Judge. In fact, think of this; he is the Supreme Court Justice of the whole universe. Is there anything he can’t do?
Okay, if that’s true you might say, why doesn’t he? We wonder why some things take such a long time and why a God who is all-powerful doesn’t just wave his “magic wand” and bring the answers.
The parable says: “Will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.” I used to read that over and over and I was stumped by it. I would look at one of my prayers that had been going up to the throne room for eons and mutter within myself: “It already hasn’t been speedily.”
What it really means is that from the moment our prayer goes up to God he wastes no time in getting to work on it. And even though it may be delayed in human terms, in his economy it is proceeding with all deliberate speed, not a minute wasted. God will not allow any unnecessary surplus time to defer our answer. Sometimes however, time-consuming background things have to be resolved before the answer can manifest.
Like what? How about the issue of FREE WILL? God will not violate any individual’s free will. Suppose you are praying for someone or something in which the free will of an individual opposes God’s plan—and your prayer? He may have to work circumstances and events into the situation which will eventually produce the desired results. The fact that he is able to do that without violating anyone’s free will is mind boggling to me and yet he can. And SPEEDILY.
When we pray we need to know going in that some things will require extreme persistence. That realization will help us gear up for an endurance run and keep our expectations realistic. That’s why the parable of the persistent widow is such a good one to hold close to our vests in our prayer closet.
The final element of the parable is something of a surprise. Jesus laments at the end: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” So the Lord is equating persistence with faith? Those who have the bulldog like persistence of the widow are those who have faith.
Yet, how often is it found? Evidently, not as often as God would expect. When Jesus returns, how much faith will he find? No matter where he doesn’t find it let him find it in you. Let this parable build your faith as you take on the spirit of the woman he held in such high regard. If you are powerless in your petition you have a great advantage. Your answer is on its way—speedily!
Closing Challenge Points
If you have given up on some prayers, are you ready to begin again with a new resolve?
On a scale of one to ten, how persistent are you?
If Jesus came back today, how much faith would he find in you?