PERSISTENCE IN PRAYER
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A fisherman's experiment is described in a tract. It tells of how he caught a large black bass and instead of putting it in the frying pan he put it in a glass tank. Each morning he would bring a minnow to the tank and drop it in. The bass would make a dash for the minnow and soon finish him off for breakfast. After a number of days of this he placed a glass partition in the tank, and then dropped the minnow in the side opposite from the bass. The big fish made his usual lunge but bumped his nose against the glass. He did not give up easily, however, but kept ramming the glass over and over again. Finally the blows were too much and he ceased to try. After a few days of this separation the partition was removed. The minnow and the bass swam freely together. The minnow was now available for food but the bass made no attempt to get it. Frustration had conditioned it to accept failure, and it just gave up.
The same thing happens with people. When Lord Chamberlain was asked why so many people failed he responded, "Because they come to the point where they stop." Like the bass they get their nose bumped against obstacles so often that they just quit. They give up, lose heart, and do not have the courage to go on trying. This is a primary cause for the high casualty rate in the battle of light against darkness. Prayer is a basic weapon in this battle, and believers are often disappointed in prayer at sometime. You've prayed and prayed and it seems to do no good, and so you begin to wonder what is the use of it. Some even conclude that it is no use, and so, like the bass, they let their disappointments bring them to a state where they no longer try. Jalouddin Rumi, and Eastern poet describes the process:
He prayed, but to his prayer no answer came,
And choked within him sank his ardor's flame.
No more he prayed, no more the knee he bent,
While round him darkened doubt and discontent.
I prayed he said but no one heard my prayer,
Long disappointment has induced despair.
Jesus knew that this could happen even to his own disciples, and that is why He sought to prepare them for what was coming. He had just been telling them about the trials ahead for Himself, and the judgment to come. He told of the indifference of the people on the day of Noah, and again in Sodom before its destruction. He said that history will repeat itself and God's judgment will again fall on man. Meanwhile life for His followers will not be a bed of roses. That is why He tells them this parable. The unique thing about this parable is that its purpose of clearly stated so that none can miss it. There is no mystery at all, for as one has said, "The key hangs at the door." It was told to the end that his own should keep on praying an never lose heart. It is told to prevent Christians from becoming discouraged and giving up on prayer.
Jesus would not bother to tell such a parable and have it recorded for all generations if it did not deal with a very real and serious danger. You do not tell your children about the danger of playing with radium because you know they are not going to be playing with any, but you do warn them of the danger of fire because you know it is likely they will have the opportunity at some point. So also Jesus does not waste inspiration on the impossible or improbable, but deals only with the probable, likely and certain.
He knows that prayer will often seem like a fruitless weapon on the battlefield of life, and that His disciples may often feel like relegating it to the museum of religious relics, and seek more effective methods of combating the enemy. He knew this and that is why He told this parable. He wanted to stir them up to press on and not lose heart, and to stick to their guns and persist in prayer at all times, and under all circumstances. This is the stated purpose of the parable. How then does Jesus accomplish this end? He does so by following a simple but effective method of teaching involving three steps.
I. A CONTEMPORARY ILLUSTRATION.
In verse 2 Jesus draws a verbal picture of a typical situation in His day, which is not really much different than what we have today. Here was a public servant who had to be pressured into doing any serving of the public. He was self-sufficient intellectual who neither feared God nor regarded man. Practical atheism is nothing new. Jesus saw plenty of it in His day. He had no superficial view of man's nature. He recognized the reality of depravity and the existence of godless men in high places. Here was a man whose duty it was to administer justice, but he had not absolutes, for he feared not the God of all justice, and had no deep concern for the rights of men. He was motivated by neither conviction nor compassion, but only by his own pleasure. He is the last person to go to for mercy, and the last person who would go out of his way to help a poor widow.
Jesus is purposely portraying a pessimistic picture to try and match the feelings that overwhelm a person in a very unfavorable situation when they desperately need help. If the man was a good judge there would be no problem, but Jesus wants a problem. He wants to portray a setting in life with a great obstacle to overcome to compare with what His disciples will often face. Some are bothered by the fact that Jesus would use such a godless man to illustrate a godly truth, and make him stand in parallel with God the Father. This is no problem, however, when we see that the contrast of this judge and God is the main emphasis. Pure yellow corn can come up from the dung heap uncontaminated by its source of growth, and so also can a precious truth grow out of an examination of a foul life, and be no less precious because of the corruption of its source.
In verse 3 Jesus introduces the persistent heroin who kept coming to this villain of a judge and asking him to protect her rights and do her justice against her adversary. She is not looking for revenge, but only justice. This had been a serious problem for centuries. A widow was at the mercy of those who would take advantage of her weakness and try to get possession of her property. Even the Pharisees had a hand in the legal plunder of getting widow's houses away from them. A widow needed professional help or she was sunk, and here is one who is not going to tolerate injustice, but demands that her rights be protected.
In verse 4 the judge is not impressed with her enthusiasm, and he refused to help her. She is equally unimpressed with his refusal, and she persistently pleads with him to help her. Her persistence compels him to reconsider, and verses 4 and 5 tell us how he reasoned within himself. He first of all protects himself from the charge of getting soft, or turning religious. He reaffirms his indifference to God or man. He is consciously and deliberately godless, and he glories in it. He doesn't want anyone to get the impression that if he does good that it is because he has any principles of human rights or equally before God. A self-centered man needs no reason for his actions outside of himself, and that is what we see in verse 5.
He is getting tired of hearing her, so he decides the best way of getting rid of her pestering is to help her out. Nagging is not virtue, but one thing you can say for it is, it often gets the job done, as it did in this case. She gave this judge a clear impression that she would not cease until she got some results. He didn't care about her rights at all, but he did care about his own nervous system, and so he took her case. The illustration comes to a happy ending with the assumption that the widow was vindicated. Next we see-
II. A CLEAR APPLICATION.
In verse 6 Jesus says to listen to what that unjust judge said. Here is an evil man who cares not for God's plan or man's rights, and yet he helps out this widow and does her justice because she was persistent in her pleading. He was a godless man compelled to do God's will because of a persistent request. This is a truth you do not often consider. We would do well to do less complaining about public servants and follow the wisdom of this widow, and begin to put pressure on them to do what is right and just. Even a corrupt public servant will work for what is just if the public persistently demands it. If they do not, it is because people are indifferent, and this leaves them free to do as they please.
This unjust judge was not going to be going around looking for needy people to help, and we ought not to expect that such a man would. We ought not to expect any godless servant to be concerned about justice. Such persons only do justice when it is to their advantage, and it is the Christians duty to make it advantageous for all public servants to do what is right. This is not what Jesus was getting at, however, but it is just a truth that grows out of this parable. Jesus is not dealing with politics but with prayer. But the fact is, a bad man will do good if good people demand it.
Jesus makes the application of the parable to the subject of persistence in prayer, and says, in effect, if even a godless judge will finally yield out of selfish motives to a persistent request for justice, can you question for a moment that God, the author of all justice and Father of all mercies, will not do justice for all of His elect who persist in crying to Him day and night? If a character like that will even do justice, it is an absolute certainty that God will. Life shows us that persistent persistence works in many realms.
Jesus says that the elect cry day and night, and, like the widow, they are not answered immediately. God delays as did the judge, but for different reasons. God lets injustice and oppression of His own continue even after they plead for justice. It is because of His long suffering, and not because of His indifference and lack of concern. He is not slack concerning His promise, but is long suffering and not willing that any shall perish. He will vindicate His elect, and all injustice will be judged. No evil will go unpunished, but the delay is due to the fact that God's plan includes mercy, even for the oppressor.
Jesus did not teach us to pray for our enemies, and then reveal God the Father to be one who seeks vengeance at the drop of a hat. If God did not show patience and bear with those who oppress His people, the Apostle Paul would have been struck dead on the Damascus Road rather than awakened to newness of life. Those Auca Indians who killed the 5 missionaries in Equador would have been cut down also instead of having the chance and hearing the Gospel and becoming children of God in Christ as they now are. Many of the elect through the ages would be writhing in the flames of hell if God judged sinners immediately. Better to never be born than to be born into a sinful world where God stands impatient and ready to send judgment on every occasion of sin.
Jesus said that God will avenge them speedily-that is as fast as His infinite wisdom and mercy will allow. For that day God delayed until 70 A. D. before His wrath fell on the nation of Israel for its unbelief. Rome martyred and persecuted the saints even longer before it fell, and many nations since have persecuted believers, and God has not answered the prayers for help immediately. He delays because He operates also with eternities values in view. His elect are already saved, and if they are killed they lose only a few years of temporal life, but if their oppressors are killed they lose eternity. The judge delayed because he did not care, but God delays because He does care.
Persistence in prayer means that when God does not answer as we think He should, we seek to find a way of praying more consistent with His will. George Washington Carver told of how he prayed for God to show him the meaning of the universe, and God gave him the feeling that he was asking for things too great for his mind. So he changed his prayer and asked God to show him the meaning of the peanut so he could use it for good. God heard that prayer and enabled him to discover many useful products for the peanut. Persistence means that you never give up, but keep approaching God from a new angle when a certain prayer is not answered.
Praying is like any other area of life. If we do not persist in it, we will fail. If you only played tennis, or any sport, when you were great at it, and gave up when you did poorly, you would soon give up all sports. If you quit playing any instrument because you made mistakes, you would soon be through with all music. If you quit communicating with you children because they did not hear, or misunderstood you, you would soon be reduced to permanent silence. We fail in prayer as we do in every other area of life, and we are often frustrated, but Jesus says that we are to never give up, but keep trying and keep learning. Persistence will make you a winner in the long run.
It was a cold February morning when a snail started up the trunk of a cherry tree. As he inched his way painfully upward a wise guy beetle stuck his head out of a crack and said, "Hey buddy, your wasting your strength. There ain't no cherries up there." The snail replied in confidence, "There will be when I get there." Persistence is a necessary ingredient in our relationship to God, both because of our slowness to get where we need to be, and because God has a respect for the freedom he has given to man. He will knock at the door, but He won't break it down. Our prayers are often a request that He break it down, and that is why they are not answered.
Jesus is saying to His disciples that they should never stop praying for God to act. They should persist in prayer and never give up, for He will certainly answer in His good time, and according to His will, and judgment will come, but they ought not to let the delay lead to discouragement. If a widow persists with a man who has no concern and eventually gets her answer, how much more can we persist with God who cares more than we can measure? Prayer will yet be the victorious weapon. Next we see that He asks-
III. A CHALLENGING QUESTION v. 8.
Jesus is saying that the question is really not, will God triumph; will He finally do justice and answer the prayer of His people, but will His people persist in prayer believing this? When that day comes for His return to judge and be glorified in the saints, will there be any who have endured to the end faithful and confident in God's plan? Or will men be defeated by the delays of God, and give up in despair concluding that prayer is useless? Jesus implies here that it will be sometimes before He returns, and the test will be great for many. It will be likely that many will lose faith in prayer and cease to pray. Ungodliness will thrive, and injustice will fill the earth, and only those with unshakable faith will persist in prayer believing that God will yet answer.
Jesus does not answer the question because it is a question that only each disciple can answer for themselves. What about you? Can you answer and say, yes Lord, there will be faith on earth when you come, for I believe? Injustice may be all around me, and the evils of life overwhelm me, but with Job I will say, "Though He slay me yet will I trust Him." Can you say, "I am not so foolish Lord that I think the only hope in a sinking ship is to throw my life preserver away. I will persist in prayer and labor in patience knowing that however long the delay your justice will triumph."
When the anchors that faith has cased
Are dragging in the gale,
I am quietly holding fast
To the things that cannot fail.
When Jesus comes will there be faith on the earth if you are still here, or will He come and find you like so many have been before? Will you be disappointed and have lost your faith in prayer? Will you be conditioned like the bass by the frustrations of life, or will you stand fast and be persistent in prayer?