In Luke 18:1-8, we are told that Jesus gave an illustration of a woman bothering a grumpy and selfish judge until the judge finally gave her what she needed. He told this story so that we would learn to pray to God and keep on praying!
Does this mean that we are meant to be ‘God botherers’?
Is God actually bothered by our requests? Are we right in bringing our problems to him? Or does he want to be left alone and work out our own problems?
The question about whether God really listens can be rather, should we bother with prayer?
Before continuing to answer this question, it is worth looking at the context of Luke 18:1-8. The previous chapter began with a story of ten lepors who all came to Jesus with a request (a prayer if you like) to be healed. All ten were healed but only one returned giving praise to God. Jesus recognised this one man out of ten as having faith.
Then chapter seventeen continues with Jesus describing what it will be like when the Son of Man comes. He compares that day with the day of Sodom and Gomorra’s destruction and with the day that Noah boarded the ark! It will be a day of judgement.
It is in the context of this subject that the story of the persistant widow is given. Note in verse 8 that Jesus asks whether faith will be found when the Son of Man comes. The two previous accounts are feeding two strong subjects into this widow’s story 1) Faith and 2) the day of judgement.
The next story starting at verse 9 is just as important. It compares two type of prayers. One from a Pharisee who believes he is God’s gift to the world. The second is a tax collector who comes to God in humility and repentance. Jesus declares that the latter will return justified before God.
This allows us to see that the story of the widow is not simply a message to pray because Jesus says to. We notice that the widow has come in desperation to the local judge – only because he is the only person who can help her. She needs what only he can give. The widow’s story teaches us that, in light of the coming judgement, we need to see our need and the only One who can supply it. We need to come to the judge for help. Like the faith of the tenth lepor, Jesus wonders whether he will find us praying when he returns (verse 8).
THREE THINGS FROM THE PASSAGE (more or less)
1) Prayer is expected – verse 1
Nowhere in the bible are we told to begin praying. It is expected right from the opening story of the scriptures. Man and God were in communication with each other right at creation. Before the woman was created, man spoke with God. But God’s image bearer hid from God’s sight after the Fall. Sin removed the natural position of prayer.
Prayer was not stopped, it only became harder.
But we are told time and time again that God heard the cries of his people (Gen 21:17; 25:21; 30:17; Ex 2:24;16:12; 23:13; Deut 23:5; 26:7-9; Jdg 13:8-9; 2 Sam 22 esp v7; Psalm 18; 2 Chr 30:27; 33:10-13; Psalm 54:2; 55:1; 61:1; 66:17-20; 78:56-61; 84:8; Isa 38:4-8; Jer 31:18-20; Dan 9:19; 10:12; Acts 4:30-31; 2 Cor 6:2) and he even hears his ridicule too (2 Kings 19; Isa37:4).
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, the weren’t asking what prayer was or whether it was necessary, but how to do it! They were impressed by Jesus persistence and dedication to it.
In Luke 18:1, Jesus tells us to pray and not to stop praying. Two reasons can be given for this which together, are the most wonderful things ever known. Firstly that God is able to do anything he chooses. He is the sovereign Lord of all. Later in chapter 18, the disciples will ask Jesus how on earth anybody can possibly enter God’s kingdom. Jesus tells them that it is impossible for man, but nothing is impossible for God! Isaiah 46 is a beautiful chapter on exactly how powerful and in control God is. “I am God and there is no other, and I will do all that I please.”
This on it’s own is important news but it is not wonderful unless combined with the next truth: God cares about his people! He has demonstrated that care for us in sending his one and only son in the world to die in our place! Does God care? Of course he does. This is the greatest chasm between the judge in the story and our ultimate judge. The latter cares! And he cares about true justice and righteousness. God can do anything and he cares for you! How wonderful is that news!!!
Prayer is expected. A relationship with our creator was always a priority to him and sin has not stopped God relating with us. He has done away with that obstacle so that we can talk to him.
But what shall we talk to him about in prayer?
2) Prayer is at the heart of salvation – vv2-7
We can bring anything to our God in prayer, but before we do, there is one request we must bring to him and must never be far from our minds: to be saved!
The woman in the story was not bothering the judge for a tablespoon of sugar! She was desperate to get his attention to seek justice. The woman needed to get an answer from the judge and she persisted in this prayer with him.
What is our greatest need? There are some very big issues that plague us. Some of us are burdened with sickness or some misery or hardship. Some have unrelenting addictions. Chronic pain. Relentless depression. All of these are real and can be brought to God in prayer.
But our greatest need is forgiveness. It is easy to forget that. Remember the paralytic man that was brought to Jesus, and when Jesus saw him he told him that his sins are forgiven? And then he healed him of his useless legs only to prove that he CAN forgive sins! Our sins need dealing with first and foremost. This is part of our life of faith: knowing by faith that our greatest need is to be made right with God and then knowing that Jesus can make that happen.
At the heart of prayer, there is a need to be saved. To be rescued from our greatest enemy – sin and death.
When Jesus returns or he calls us home, all of our pain and sorrow will be stripped away. If we have not come to God in repentance – truly sorry and crying out for help – then we treat God more like a wish-bone or a dandelion that the sovereign God and judge.
God can do anything and he cares. But our greatest need is forgiveness. God is not bothered by our requests for that. He has worked hard and long and patiently and deliberately so that he can tell you that it is done. What is impossible for man has been done for us by the Son of God.
God expects that when we pray, when we pray, our desire will be first and foremost to be part of his kingdom. Once that has occured to us, then everything else we talk to God about will be effected by his kingdom.
3) Prayer is faith speaking – verse 8
Jesus was pleased to see that tenth lepor giving praises to God for the healing that he had received. The other nine were shallow and quickly forgot all the heartache they had been through – that they were clean was all that they cared about. The tenth remembered who had brought this salvation to his life. Jesus was pleased to see faith demonstrated in this man. While he didn’t see God, he praised him. While the healing came from a man of Nazareth, he knew that God had made that happen.
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Will he find people bringing their desperate need of salvation to him in prayer and hearing the songs of praise as faith sings out the victory song? God will deliver all those who cry out to him in faith.
But what should we do with our smaller requests? Is God only interested in our salvation and not in our daily anxieties?
God cares and we are told in 1 Peter 5:8 to throw all of our anxieties on him because he does care. This too is an act of faith. Handing our stresses and nervousness over to an unseen God.
Paul, who wrote half of the NT, brought a concern to God in prayer. He described his problem as a thorn in his flesh. He asked God three times to take it away. He persisted to some degree. Did God hear his prayer? Did God really listen?
The thorn was not taken away. God did not change the circumstances that Paul was in. Although Paul was left in the same physical state as before he prayed, God did change something: he changed Paul. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul saw even clearer, through this hardship, that God knew what he was doing. And that the gift of the kingdom was sufficient for Paul.
Some good Christians will say that God always answers prayer: he says either yes, no or not yet. This is a true statement. I don’t find it at all comforting though. I’d rather hear the answer that God always listens to a person who needs him. It’s not that our prayers need to be sincere enough. It’s that when we speak with Him – the one who gave us life – seek first the kingdom of heaven, and his righteousness, and you will know what it means that his grace is sufficient for you.