One of the key doctrines recovered in the Reformation was that of the priesthood of all believers. What that resulted in was an increased fervor for piety. Calvin’s original (very catchy) title of the 1536 edition of The Institutes was: The Institutes of Christian Religion, Containing almost the Whole Sum of Piety and Whatever It is Necessary to Know in the Doctrine of Salvation. A Work Very Well Worth Reading by All Persons Zealous for Piety, and Lately Published. The Reformation restored a biblical understanding of fellowship with God to the individual believer, and thus recovered true fellowship between believers as well. God wants to speak to us, in His Word by His Son (Heb. 1:1-3), and God wants us to speak to Him. In other words, God wants to be with us.
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Luke 18:1-8
Summary of the Text
Zoom out of this passage, and I want to highlight something about Luke’s narrative. One of his focal points is the activity of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus (Lk. 1:35, 41; 2:25-26; 3:16; 4:1, 18; 11:9-13; 12:8-12; 24:49). Think of Luke as volume one, and Acts as volume two of the same work. Along with this comes a frequent emphasis on prayer, which we know from elsewhere in Scripture is closely linked with the ministry of the Spirit. So Luke shows how Christ’s ministry, teaching, and example was marked by prayer (Cf. Lk. 6:12, 9:18, 28, 11:1, 22:44).
Unlike most parables, this one comes with an answer key, this parable is an exhortation to prayer, the sort of prayer that isn’t feeble or fainthearted (v1). The sort of persistence we are to have in prayer is exemplified by the picture of the relationship between a hard-hearted judge (v2), and a widow (v3). Her request is to be avenged, but the judge refuses to take her cause (v4a); but because of her persistence he agrees to take up the cause of avenging her lest he wear out (v5).
Jesus tells us the takeaway from this story of the unjust judge (v6). That is, even the most corrupt judge will finally give way due to persistent petition. This is a “how much more” argument (similar to Lk 11:13). If the unjust judge will finally hear the persistent petitions of the needy widow, how much more will God avenge His chosen people (v7)? His tarrying is not evidence of His not hearing their prayers, it is a means whereby their faith is tested and proved (v8). God has promised His people that He will avenge them. So, they must not relinquish faith that He will perform His promise.
The Importunate Church
Why does God wait to answer our prayers? The Evangelical church has been praying for close to fifty years that the abomination of Roe v. Wade would be overturned. The Chinese church has been praying for deliverance from communist persecution for close to a hundred years. The Reformers were persecuted for well over two hundred years before they enjoyed the peace of deliverance.
It might be easy to think that God’s delay is because He must be like the unjust judge. He must have a lot on His plate; or He wants to “teach us a lesson”; or He only begrudgingly answers our prayers. But this runs antithetical not only to this text, but to the whole of Scriptural revelation as to God’s character. He is a Father. He delights to answer our requests. And this text highlights the speed with which He will avenge His beloved.
One reason is that His tarrying demands that our prayers continue in faith, which implies that we are all too likely to treat Him like Santa Claus. This makes man out to be the cause of the effect of answered prayer, rather than the believer being part of God’s means whereby He effects His answers to prayer. Another reason is that waiting for His answer to come results in us coming to see that the Giver is better than the gift, the Answerer is superior to the answer. Finally, we must not overlook the fact that He is not “time-bound.” He answers in accordance with His sovereign will. All our prayers, even if the answer comes long after we are dead and gone, result in great glory for God and the building up of the faith of the Church. The church has been asking “Thy Kingdom come” for millennia, and God assures us that it will come, and when it does the whole church will say, “Amen.”
Pray Like a Psalmist
Pray big prayers. Pray specific prayers. Pray tireless prayers. Pray that Your enemies might be undone (either in conversion or in judgement). Pray that God might be glorified. Pray in faith. Pray, pray, pray.
And just as importantly, expect God to answer your prayers. Jesus commands us to ask the Father for whatsoever, and accompanies that command with a promise that the Father will answer: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (Jhn. 16:23-24).” In other words, pray like God told you to pray. Pray like a psalmist.
Where Faith Shall Be Sight
Our Lord taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it was it heaven. We pray by faith, awaiting the unseen answer. But God does answer our prayers. Faith asks, faith waits, and faith keeps its eyes open for the answer.
Prayer need not be eloquent. In fact, grunts and groans are acceptable forms of prayer (Rom. 8:26). Lengthy times in the prayer closet don’t expedite the answer. But God invites you to ask. He wants to hear you. He wants to answer your prayers. He wants to answer them with nothing other than Himself.
We pray together throughout our service each Lord’s Day. But this should not replace frequent converse with the Lord both as families, individuals, and friends. Paul commands us to do everything by prayer (Phi. 4:6); Tozer pointed out that the church’s temptation is to do everything by committee, rather than by prayer and supplication.
So, pray without ceasing. After all, you are in Christ, Christ brings you to the Father, and the Spirit grants you power to ask with boldness what God delights to answer: that in all things He might receive all glory, honor, and praise. This is true piety. The sort of piety that isn’t lost in the la-la-land of introspection. This is the sort of piety that reads the Bible to hear from God and obey what He says, and then talk continually to God as His own child requesting what He’s promised to give. This is the fellowship with the Father which Christ purchased for you, which the Spirit seals to you.