A new and important look at Jesus’ story about the persistent woman and the judge.
I used to believe that it increased the likelihood of having my prayers answered if I prayed constantly about the thing that concerned me. I thought the longer I stayed on my knees about it the better off the outcome would be. I don’t believe that anymore. God doesn’t need me to convince Him to act on my behalf. Jesus once told a story that illustrates the heart of the Father toward us:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 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, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will 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 quickly.
Praying to Persuade God
Isn’t Jesus telling us all that we need to keep praying and praying and praying without giving up on the Father answering our prayer? I think this view misses the point. Jesus is using an unrighteous man as His example in this story. Jesus stresses twice that this judge “did not fear God nor respect man.” He wasn’t a loving, caring man at all. He was indifferent to the needs of the supplicant and had to be worn down by persistent begging.
The truth Jesus wants us to see is that we are not to think of God that way! In this story Jesus was doing what He did so many other times, and that is to make an argument through contrast. We are missing the point if we think God is like that judge, unconcerned with people’s needs and only responding if we badger Him into it. No, Jesus’ point is, “If even an unrighteous, uncaring judge can be persuaded to act for you, how much more will the perfectly loving and good God respond to our heartfelt cries!” He isn’t telling us that we have to pray tremendous lengths of time to persuade our Father. What He is saying is that anytime and every time you pray, you can have confidence that He hears and will answer. All the time you can pray knowing that He loves you and isn’t holding out on you until you prove your sincerity by time and effort in prayer. God isn’t a judge who needs to be persuaded. He is a Father who is eager to answer you and to show you His love!
We reverse it in our minds sometimes, and believe that God doesn’t care. We think, “If we can just get enough people praying, and can log enough time in prayer, then maybe we can cause God to do something He really isn’t interested in doing. If He’s not now on our side, maybe we can win Him over through sheer effort and persistence.”
God Is the Initiator
The truth of grace is just the opposite. We don’t have to persuade a reluctant, unconcerned God. It’s the other way around. God is the seeker. He is the primary lover. God is always the initiator, so in reality the way it works is this: When the Lord gets ready to do something, He often moves the hearts of His people to pray. He moves us to pray, and we might be moved to invite others to join us in prayer. Then they can share in the process and become a part of the answer as well. When we become involved in prayer, God allows us to participate in what He’s doing in this world.
Back to the story Jesus told of the unrighteous judge. It’s important to note that in the story, Jesus had the supplicant appealing to a judge for help. He wanted us to see that our Father isn’t like the person depicted in this story. The judge was reluctant to answer, but our Father isn’t.
Our View of God
How we view God has everything to do with what expectations (faith) we have when we come to Him in prayer. I’ve already said that Jesus was using contrast to show the difference between our situation when we ask God for something and the situation of the widow in His story. There can be a difference in our expectation and approach when we come to Him because of the difference in the identities of the one the widow was beseeching and the One we are asking for help.
She was talking to a judge. You aren’t. You are talking to your Father. That difference cannot be overstated. God isn’t a judge who is sitting in heaven with a judicial mindset toward you that causes you to have to appeal to Him as you would ask a human judge to show you mercy and to grant your petition to the court.
Our God’s relationship to you isn’t judicial. It is relational. He is your Father and He delights in responding to your heartfelt requests. You can approach Him with the full knowledge that He doesn’t have to be persuaded to act in your best interest. His role in your life is based on His loving character. That fact gives you reason to know that you don’t have to beg Him. You don’t have to get enough people to convince Him the way somebody might show up in court with a petition signed by a multitude of people to convince the judge to rule on their behalf. Your Father is already on your side and is eager to bless you in every way. The story of the widow and the judge doesn’t teach the lesson many of us have been told. In fact, it teaches just the opposite. (Luke 18:1-8).