God keeps bringing me back to Luke 18. I read it again this morning. I need it. My prayer life needs it. It's one of Jesus' targeted teachings on prayer, in the form of a parable. Before relating the story, Luke gives us a glimpse into what motivated Jesus to tell it—the why behind the story. Luke 18:1 says that Jesus spoke this parable to His disciples to exhort us that we "ought always to pray and not lose heart." (NKJV) Other translations say that we should always pray and not faint or not give up.
I don't know about you, but when my prayers aren't answered rather quickly, my default mode is to lose heart and give up. I begin to wonder if my prayers are just hitting the ceiling; I wonder if God is listening; I wonder if praying makes a difference anyway. Is prayer just an exercise in futility or a mind game, as godless Karl Marx has dubbed all religious activities, "the opioid of the people." This is the very thing Jesus was warning us against. He knows us so well! So He tells a story.
Maybe one of the reasons I like this story is because it's about a widow. I can identify with her. When your husband dies, you lose your "front man," the one who takes care of most of the unpleasant things of life. He stands up against those who might seek to take advantage of you and navigates through the maze of legal stuff. This woman, now alone, needs an advocate. So she goes to the judge. But the judge in her district is care-less. He doesn't care about justice, though that is his professional duty; he doesn't care about people, though it is supposed to be his business to care.
Regardless of the judge's attitude, he is her only avenue for a solution to her problem. So she just keeps coming back, bugging him, persisting. In the story, the judge finally says he'll give her justice because she's wearing him down; he's tired of her and wants to get her off his back!
This is the example Jesus holds up before us that we are to model in prayer. Why? Because God is reluctant, like the care-less judge? No, Jesus clearly states that He is giving us a contrast. The judge didn't fear God and didn't care about people, but God in heaven is our Father who does care for us, the ones He calls His own; He is suffering along with us (vs. 7). If we jump over to Hebrews 4:15, we are told that Jesus, "the exact representation of God" (Heb. 1:3), the One who came to show us the Father (John 1:18), sympathizes with us and feels our infirmities with us. Peter tells us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us (I Peter 5:7). God is NOT like the unjust judge.
But even though He is listening and He cares, that doesn't mean the answer to our prayers can happen with the snap of a finger—even if it's God's finger. Think about the things you are praying for. What will it take for those prayers to be answered? The right timing, the right placement, the right juxtaposition of events, the right people, etc. etc. The answer to even one of our prayers often requires a major chain of events to unfold to get to the end result—sort of like the mousetrap game we used to play as children where one thing triggered another and another and another until the end contraption fell. All this means, if we don't see the end result right away, that doesn't indicate God is not working to answer our prayers.
It's not the judge who Jesus wants to point out to us in regard to prayer, but the woman. He ends the story by asking a rhetorical question, that perhaps isn't so rhetorical after all. Maybe He intended it to be soul-searching. "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" I used to think that this question was referring to the second coming of Christ, and perhaps there is a connection to that interpretation. But given the context and the stated purpose of the story, I have come to believe that Jesus is asking us a question about our prayer habits. We so easily give up and lose faith in God's willingness and/or ability to answer our prayers when we don't see the answer forthcoming. Is it possible that Jesus could be asking this: When He comes at last with the answer to our prayer, will we still be watching and waiting for Him in faith? Will we still be praying persistently, believing that He hears, He cares, He is working?
If we have lost faith and have given up, if we have stopped watching for His hand to orchestrate the answer, then do you know what happens? When the answer comes (for God does not forget our prayers), we don't realize it or see it for what it is. We might think it is coincidence, that it would have happened anyway. We think it was just a matter of course. In a sense, we accept the answer as a practical atheist would. The faith connection has snapped. We miss the miracle, not even realizing God has answered our prayer.
This story continually challenges me. Do I have faith that God is working on my behalf? When Christ comes with the answer to any particular prayer, will He find me still looking up to Him in expectant faith? Will my heart leap in praise, seeing His hand in the answer? And will I persist until that day comes?
Do you have a prayer that has not been answered, that is L-O-N-G in coming? Don't lose heart. Don't give up. Press on. Press into Him in faith. Remember this widow. We need God to work on our behalf. He is our only hope. Keep coming. Keep trusting. You won't be disappointed. It's a promise.