Sometimes you find something which is hard to make sense of. Perhaps you think it is telling you what you don’t want to hear – or, even worse, what you think other people might want to throw at you. Take Luke 18:1-8, one of Jesus’ stories about a widow and an unjust judge. Is it a justification of nagging? a suggestion that God is reluctant to listen and has to be bullied? I think not (but it may explain why the other gospel writers don’t include this story).
This is about persistence, but to understand its significance we need to look at the story. Jesus makes the point that we should always pray, and not become discouraged or lose heart. Why would that happen? Because things don’t seem to be going our way, aren’t working out the way we expected or hoped.
So the story is about a widow (no influence, money . .) and an unjust judge (not bothered about justice – but hoping for a bribe, except that in this case, not much chance of that). He can’t be bothered to give justice – until he reckons its worth it for a quiet life. Is God like the judge? No, Jesus is saying EVEN if a judge like that (who doesn’t care for justice, people . .) can be persuaded, HOW MUCH MORE will God (who longs to give good things) answer our prayers. He isn’t comparing God and the judge, but making the contrast.
So, why do we need to persist? All the parable tells us is that persistent prayer works. We aren’t told why – but we can have a guess. Sometimes our prayers sound as if we are giving God good advice on how to run the world. We flit from subject to subject. But the things that we come back to are the things that matter most to us – and the things we are prepared to get involved with. God is prepared to work with us. He is even prepared to change the way he deals with things according to what we will take on. And – we might guess – persistence, coming back to one subject again and again, is an indication that we mean business, and he can work with us.
Let me give you an example. We might pray for our church. We often do. The success of that prayer is not about how good we sound when we pray, or how carefully the words are crafted or read, or how long we keep producing more words. But if people who really want a thriving Christian community (so turn up, work, put up with and solve problems), the more God effectively can use them in his plans, and the greater the blessing. That is only a guess at how it might work. But it does take seriously this parable (that we need to persist in prayer and not be discouraged), as well as the reminder in Matthew 6:7,8a that heaping up empty phrases gets us nowhere.
Don’t lose the last words, “will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he comes?” Its easy to run down, get tired, think other people ought to be doing things now. Christians need persistence.