The widow that is presented to us in Luke chapter 18 is a determined character and will not be turned from the course of action that she has decided upon. In life we come across characters just like her. We might not share their conviction, but we must admire their determination and tenacity. The Lord taught this parable to show us the importance of prayer, and the need for persistence in prayer. The language in the opening verse is one of assumption that we ought to be a praying people. Corrie Ten Boom once asked, ‘Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?’1 We neglect prayer at our peril. It is our daily duty as well as our great privilege.
Although our Lord had perfect knowledge of all that was before Him, He still felt the need to pray. Although all power was given to Him, He still felt the need to pray. How much more should we?
The Lord warns us that it is possible to ‘lose heart’, 18. 1 ESV. In the previous chapter, we are told about ‘the days of the Son of Man’. This phrase tells us of a time to come, when Christ’s reign will be absolute, and one characterized by peace and righteousness. Yet there is a significant gap between the promise from God, who cannot lie, and its fulfilment. In the interim, the Lord encourages us not to faint or lose heart.
The Old Testament scrolls told out the coming of the Messiah and the Jewish nation lived in anticipation of these wondrous events. These prophecies were obvious to the Jewish readers although some of their great content lay dormant to most. God was silent for a 400-year period between the Old and the New Testaments and, with the passing of time, there would have been much fainting and losing of heart. Yet there were some that were notable for their watchfulness and their unwavering faith in God’s promises. Among them, we are told of the shining example of Anna and Simeon in Luke chapter 2, and of the blessing they received in seeing the Lord’s Christ.
As we wait for our Lord’s return, the practical parallels should be obvious. Anna and Simeon did not lose heart as they lived close to God and, through faith’s eye, looked to the blessed promise of God. We should do the same.
Here, in Luke chapter 18, we are presented with a judge, a man who is influential in the city and someone who has the power to have an impact upon the lives of the citizens. This man demonstrates little care for people, taking no regard of their standing in society, their reputation, or their past record. This judge is more likely to be influenced by a bribe and has no thirst for justice. More importantly, this judge does not fear God. As we look at those around us, we see a society who ‘suppress the truth in unrighteousness’, Rom. 1. 18 NKJV.
We live in a society that is increasingly anti-God and disregards His standards and belittles His instructions. As the Psalmist describes in Psalm 14, they demonstrate foolishness and say in their hearts that as far as they are concerned there is no God!
The widow in the parable knows that the judge is unjust and yet she is undeterred. She persistently brings her issue to him. She sees no other way that she can obtain any sort of justice. As you would probably imagine, the unrighteous judge is unmoved by the initial advances of the widow, hoping that she will become wearied in her asking and give up and bother him no more.
Yet we see that the widow is persistent, relentlessly asking for justice to be served. In a world that is anti-God, in which we see sin seemingly continuing unchecked, it is easy to become despondent and to ask, ‘Where is God in all this?’ It is good to remember that God’s programme of events runs unhindered by the evil one and we are in the Day of Grace where mankind has the opportunity to turn to God as Saviour.
The widow continues undeterred with her request. The unjust judge is worn down by her persistence and so that he need not hear her repeated request day after day, he resolves to seek justice for her in the matter.
The lesson we are taught is obviously about prayer, and the encouragement to be constant and not to give up. We may well be in the last times, although this is not really for us to say. We hear people talk about decline and how things were better years ago. It is true that many regions of our country struggle with declining numbers and assemblies closing, and it is easy to be despondent and to feel like giving up. We need to have the opposite reaction and to work hard for the Lord under His direction, and to strive to know His will for us in our lives. So many so-called giants in God’s service knew difficulties, hardship, and disappointment. In God’s service today, we can have huge disappointments, setbacks and opposition, and it is tempting to just give up and not get involved in things that bring these discouragements. Yet the lesson that we must learn is the need to mirror this persistent widow in our prayer lives. Our prayer lives are a huge indicator of how we are walking with God. It is possible to give up in prayer and either to cease from prayer altogether, or to become one who just ‘says prayers’. It is possible to lose the passion for prayer and to forget the privilege that is ours to pray. When we pray, we are addressing a thrice holy God, the Creator of the universe who declares, ‘the prayer of the upright is his delight’, Prov. 15. 8. Similarly, the Apostle John reminds us, ‘if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us’, 1 John 5. 14. So, if we are walking closely to God and have aligned our prayers to His will, we are assured that He has heard, and it has delighted our God.
The widow presented her request again and again. What about us? Do we pray about an issue once or twice and then relegate it to the back of our mind? It is possible, of course, that we do not believe that God will intervene in a matter and our faith is too weak to envisage our prayers being answered.
The lessons that we need to learn from the widow in this parable are many. First, she was powerless to solve the matter herself, so she sought the one who could. We very often look at problems and try to resolve them ourselves. We need to recognize our weakness and turn to Almighty God.
Second, she was persistent, not giving up until her request was answered.
There is no record of her dictating the answer and we need to be careful that we do not go to God in prayer with the answer, but with the problem. We can be assured that God’s answer will be better than our own. Ephesians chapter 3 verse 20 reminds us that He ‘is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’.
Third, we also need to remember to whom we are praying. The unrighteous judge in the parable stands in total contrast to our Lord. Psalm 96 verse 10 states, ‘He shall judge the people righteously’. And 2 Timothy chapter 4 verse 8 reinforces the point that it is ‘the Lord, the righteous judge’, who does right continually. The contrast could not be starker. The unrighteous judge granted the request for a quiet life but our God, who delights to hear our prayers, wants the very best for us. The widow was persistent to a Godless judge who granted her request. How much more will the loving God grant us our requests? Yet we give up too easily, and we lack faith.
As believers, we wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it is possible to live as if we no longer believe the words of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verses 16 and 17, ‘The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air’. We need to hold on to the words at the end of verse 17 as they are of huge comfort and of eternal significance, ‘We shall always be with the Lord’, NKJV.
If we fail to hold these events in our hearts, then, when we face the opposition of the world, we can easily lack faith. The challenge is set out at the end of the parable. God will put the wrongs of this world right, but, when the Lord returns, ‘will He really find faith on the earth?’, v. 8 NKJV. This should be a huge challenge to us as we pray. Do we pray consistently? Do we pray persistently? Do we pray expectantly? Of course, we must be careful to wait on God’s timing, and we are often taught much in waiting, but if we faint in prayer, we cannot expect the great blessing of God in answering our prayer. Not for the first time, God uses a poor widow to teach us profound and fundamental lessons for the Christian life.