“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”1 The parable is simple. A widow had an enemy and went to court to get justice. The judge probably considered her case insignificant, not worth his precious time, and ignored her requests. But she kept coming to court. Day after day. Until finally he said, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”2 And that’s the end of the story! 🤨
Hmm. 🤔 So . . . are we supposed to bother those in authority (including God) until we get what we want? Is that the lesson? Not exactly. If that’s all we get out of it, we will all just become annoying self-absorbed demanding people. The first lesson is that the widow’s request was not a selfish one; she was asking for justice, that the “right” would prevail. It was a godly request. The second lesson is that she kept going back to the judge, knowing he was the only one able to right the wrong that was done to her. In summation, the widow was relentless in her righteous petition; she was not going to quit. And the judge saw that and finally rewarded her.
After telling the story to his disciples, Jesus explained that, contrary to the judge “who neither feared God nor respected man,”3 our God cares about us and hears those “who cry to him day and night.”4 And so, the lesson for us is that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart.” We are to be persistent in our prayers. Or as Paul puts it: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”5 But these are rare traits—hope, patience, and faithfulness, which are the attributes of persistence. Our western culture loves quick fixes, waits for virtually nothing, gives no thought to quitting, and mocks patience as a complete waste of time. We are mostly a hopeless, impatient, and faithless people. Oh, we may start out strong but it is not long before doubt sneaks in and we “lose heart” and quit. 🙁 Quit what? Just about everything! We quit believing in justice, quit believing in God, and quit believing we can make a difference. We just give up. Jesus saw that tendency in his disciples because after telling the story, he looks at them and asks, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”6
Wow. 😕 That’s a sad question to ask his followers! But it’s a legitimate one because earlier when Jesus was talking about temptation and forgiveness “the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”7 And we might think that Jesus would respond with something like Of course, fellows! Voilꞻ! And abracadabra! 😀 You now have faith! But he doesn’t. You see, that’s something Jesus cannot do for us—give us faith. That’s something we must bring to God. So, for all of you who hear yourselves crying out with the apostles, “Increase our faith!” note that Jesus was not happy about that statement. 😲 Not at all.
Instead, Jesus rebuked his followers for that confession. He said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”8 What I hear Jesus saying is this: Increase your faith? What faith? Your faith is smaller than the tiniest seed in the world. You don’t have any faith at all that I can see!
I think many folks surmise that faith is something God gives certain people. Not so. Faith comes from inside us. If our faith is weak, it is our fault. Faith in God only grows when we have reason to doubt him—but don’t! Times of doubt are our opportunities to trust. It’s a choice we make—to trust God. Those who have strong faith are simply people who are assured and have convictions of things not seen—which by the way is the very definition of faith. (Read Hebrews 11:1) If we want our faith to increase, we need to be persistent during times when God seems to be silent or absent. Persistence is, at its core, hopeful.
Which brings us back to our parable. The widow was a powerless woman whose only hope for justice lay in the hands of a mighty judge. Persistence was all she had. Perhaps we are not persistent because we are not quite as desperate as this poor widow. It is easier, after all, to just give up. And go on with our disappointing lives. Or maybe place our hope in something else—which, by the way, is an absolute guarantee of being disappointed. We settle. And never hope for justice and quit believing that God even cares about our insignificant troubles. We don’t believe God will or even can help us. We just give up believing. We lose heart. But “he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”1
In other words, “Be joyful in hope, be patient in affliction, and be faithful in prayer.”5 How’s that going for you? Got faith?
1Luke 18:1 2Luke 18:5 3Luke 18:2 4Luke 18:7 5Romans 12:12 6Luke 18:8 7Luke 17:5 8Luke 17:6