Prayer Lesson 9: What About Others Who Persisted in Prayer?

Last time we investigated the topic of persisting in prayer without pestering God. We concluded that persisting in prayer is a very important aspect of the Christian life. Humanistic thinking people doe one of two things: 1) They pester God as if He is a cosmic bellhop; 2) They fail to persist in prayer.

This week, we are considering two passages which some use to teach about prevailing prayer.

What about the persistent widow? Luke 18.1–8[1]

When interpreting parables, keep two important things in mind: 1) determine the main point of the parable; 2) draw only valid comparisons.

This sometimes is easier said than done. In the parable of the unjust judge, one needs to be carefully that he does not find unnecessary (even blasphemous) parallels.

Notice the areas where Jesus intends us to see a parallel.

The characters involved.

The parable The interpretation
The Unjust Judge God
The Widow God’s people

 

This widow was helpless and had no place else to turn but this judge. God’s people are just as helpless (18.7).

This judge heard the pleas of this helpless widow. God hears the cries of His people (18.7).

Because this unjust judge heard the cries of this widow who meant nothing to him, how much more will God hear the cries of His chosen people? This is the point of the entire parable. This parable could correctly be called a “How much more parable.” The point is that if an unjust judge hears the cries of a woman he does not care about, how much more does God hear the cries of those He has chosen to be His children. That is exactly Jesus’ point in verses 6–7. We need to understand that this parable does not teach why God chooses to bless His children, but that He chooses to bless His children. In other words, this parable is not teaching that God blesses His children because they pester Him night and day with the same requests. This parable is teaching that since even a wicked judge will show kindness to someone he does not care for, God, who is by His very nature good and kind, will certainly show kindness to His children who lay their requests before Him.

Notice the areas where there is no parallel.

This judge was driven by arrogant selfishness. He cared about no one but himself (18.2,4). God, on the other hand, loves those who hate Him, and He demonstrates that love continually by showing kindness to every human being and by granting salvation to His elect.

This judge was unjust. It’s apparent from the parable that the widow’s plea is a just plea. She has legitimately been wronged, and this judge doesn’t care. God, however, is absolutely just and righteous in all His dealings. He is the very definition of righteousness.

This judge is influenced by inconvenience. The only reason he granted justice to this woman was because it served his best interests and kept her out of his hair. The sheer volume of someone’s prayers, however, does not influence God. In Matthew 6.7–8 Jesus states, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” What exactly is Jesus condemning when He condemns “vain repetitions”? He is not condemning lengthy prayer. Luke 6.12 mentions that Jesus prayed all night. He is also not condemning repetition during prayer. Matthew 26.36–45 records that in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed three times that the cup of death would pass from Him. What Jesus is condemning here is the kind of prayer that involves repetition for the sake of influence. It was common in Jesus’ day for Gentiles to pray the same prayers over and over thinking that repetition was the key to answered prayer. Jesus’ point is that babbling is not the way to the heart of God. Unlike the unjust judge, constant, nagging prayer has no influence over God. Luke 18.1–8 is not teaching that if a person nags God enough, God will give in and give him what he wants. Not only does Luke 18.1–8 not teach that, but also Jesus absolutely condemns that kind of attitude in Matthew 6.5–8. Commenting on prayer in his Institutes, John Calvin wrote, Christ does not “forbid us to persist in prayers, long, often or with much feeling, but requires that we should not be confident in our ability to wrest something from God by beating upon His ears with a garrulous [verbose] flow of talk, as if He could be persuaded as men are.”John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, III, xx, 29. Cited by C.S. Storms in Reaching God’s Ear, p. 273, note #7.

This woman’s petitions wearied this judge for justice. God, on the other hand, never tires of our genuine pleas for help. James 1.5 states, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” This woman meant nothing to this judge. He cared for neither God nor man, and he certainly didn’t care about her. Notice, however, that God cares a great deal for His people. In verse 7 Jesus calls God’s people “His own elect,” or in other words, “His chosen ones.”

The two main points of the Parable of the Unjust Judge

During times of discouragement God’s people should consistently pray (18.1). In order to understand this parable we need to understand the context in which it was given. In 17.20–37 Jesus spoke of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In verses 26–29 Jesus states that as in the days of Noah and Lot destruction will come out of nowhere while people are eating, drinking, marrying, and enjoying life. He goes on to say in verses 30–36 that when He comes to establish His kingdom He will take many away to judgment. In 18.1 Jesus continues His conversation with His disciples. In 18.1–8 Jesus shifts from a discussion of the coming Kingdom and its horrendous judgment, to the disciples and their need to be faithful as they await its coming. From Jesus words in 18:1 it is clear that the disciples were somewhat discouraged. They were tempted to “faint.” So Jesus commanded them to replace fainting with prayer. In verse 1 Jesus provides for us the main purpose of the parable. The parable is designed to encourage His disciples to always pray and not faint. So Jesus is basically saying this, “Do not faint. Always pray, because you know that if a wicked judge will listen to the pleas of a person he does not care for, surely God will listen to your cries because you are His chosen ones.” That is how the parable fits in with Jesus’ challenge in verse 1.

During times of discouragement God’s people should consistently pray because God hears their prayers and cares for them (18.6–8). Verse 1 introduces and to some point explains the parable of verses 2–5. Verses 6–8 further explain the parable. In Verses 6–8 Jesus answers the question we asked earlier, “Why are we to pray continually?” Here is the answer. We should continually pray because like this widow whom only the judge could help, so also only God can help us; and we should continually pray because unlike this judge, God is merciful and caring and longs to help His chosen people.[2]

In his book Reaching God’s Ear, Sam Storms has an excellent chapter entitled “Persisting in Prayer Without Pestering God.” After dealing extensively with this passage Storms gives six reasons why we should persist in prayer:

  • We should persist in prayer because God, unlike the judge, is good and gracious.
  • We should persist in prayer because such prayer will compel us to depend wholly upon God.
  • We should persist in prayer because such prayer puts us in that frame of mind and spirit in which we may properly receive what God desires to give.
  • We should persist in prayer because when we pray persistently about some specific matter, we are enabled to differentiate between impetuous, ill-conceived desires and sincere, deep-seated ones.
  • We should persist in prayer because persistence serves to purify the content of our petitions.
  • We should persist in prayer because being forced to pray persistently enables us, by God’s grace, to overcome impatience.

 

 

What about wrestling with God in prayer?[3] Genesis 32.22–32

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, a because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, b saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, c and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

This episode of Jacob and the Angel of the Lord is not really an example of the believer wrestling with God in order to get a blessing or to receive an answer to prayer.

Jacob had been out of fellowship with his God for over 20 years. He left home as an unsaved man in a context of lying and deceit (Ge 27) (he was probably saved at Bethel C Ge 28.10–22). He had left Laban 20 years later also in an atmosphere of deceit as a backslidden heir of the covenant (Ge 29.1C31.21). He was in flight when Laban caught up with him, and the two made a covenant not to defraud each other any more (Ge 31.49, 52).

 

On the banks of the Jabbok River the Angel wrestled with Jacob (not the other way around) all night, finally miraculously injuring Jacob to get his attention (Ge 32.24–25). Jacob may have thought the Angel was Esau or someone from Esau’s camp who was out to get Jacob. Jacob had to learn that his problem was not really with Esau but with God.

Jacob had been depending on his own craftiness for more than 20 years, culminating in the presents he gave Esau in order to make an unwarranted and false impression on his brother (Ge 32.13–21).


Jacob wanted to be blessed only after he finally realized that God was wrestling with him.

Conclusion

In this lesson we looked at two passages often used to support the false idea that we need to “wrestle with God” or “prevail with God” in prayer. As we have seen, the episode between Jacob and the angel of God does not teach anything about prayer. However, the parable of the Unjust Judge does teach us much about prayer. We learned that pestering God is not a biblically authorized way of reaching God’s ear.

Perseverance can often have the effect of clarifying and segregating in our minds deep-seated desire from fleeting whim. A petition persistently voiced over an elongated period of time is not likely to be a whim. It is only when one strongly desires a thing that he will ask earnestly and persistently. Perhaps there are many things we think we would like God to do in our church, but how badly do we want them? Persistent petition is the proof. Only those needs we desperately desire will we be willing to labor persistently over month after month. This is the type of effective importunate petition voiced by John Knox: “Lord, give me Scotland or I die.



[1] Taken and adapted from Pastor Scott Williquette’s article “Why Should We Persevere in Prayer?” Sola! Issue 12 (March 2000).

[2] Storms, pp. 145–8.

[3] Taken from and adapted from Dr. Rolland McCune

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