He also spoke a parable to them that they must always pray, and not give up, saying, “There was a judge in a certain city who didn’t fear God, and didn’t respect man. A widow was in that city, and she often came to him, saying, ‘Defend me from my adversary!’ He wouldn’t for a while, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God, nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.’”
It is clear, because Luke tells us, that it is a parable about persistence in prayer, but the “prayer requests” are going to an evil judge “who didn’t fear God, and didn’t respect man” and was obviously happy living that way. The widow in the story keeps asking for justice over and over and eventually causes the judge to defend her just to get her off of his back.
Now, this parable can’t possibly be about God because that is not how God acts! It does tell us, however, that even an evil man will respond to persistence, and that is encouraging because God is actually a good and loving God. It makes even more sense that we will get what we ask for if we persist with Him.
The question that I have, then, is why would God make us have to persist? Why wouldn’t He just give it to us the very first time we ask?
As I have mentioned before, I believe that the reason that God requires our persistence in asking is to cause us clarify our own faith.
As a software engineer, I get requests for changes to software quite frequently. These requests are very similar to prayers in that people can often be quite passionate about these changes that they desire. The problem is, sometimes, these desires change so fast and so completely that it would be a huge waste to spend the effort to do them. People change their minds. We see this when people buy things at the store only to return them the next day. So, how do we deal with these passionate requests for changes to software that change by the day? We wait until tomorrow, perhaps even the next day, and sometimes, the request reverses, along with the passion. Had we started we would have wasted time and investment. We have found that a true request stabilizes with time. It is interesting that some of these request for software are for things that are already available, its just that the time required for learning hasn’t been taken.
That is how it is with us and prayer. We are imperfect and even ignorant about what God has already given us sometimes. What I ask for so passionately one day, I often find that the next day I am asking God to do the opposite. Sometimes, I actually forget what I asked God for! God knows me very well. He knew that I was going to reverse my request. He also knows that if I really believe that a thing is good that I will keep asking. I may see later that what I asked for wasn’t a good thing. If it isn’t a good thing, then God will show us at some point during our season of repeated prayers and we will thank Him later that He didn’t give it to us.
The apostle Paul gives us a great example. He had, what I believe to be, a health problem that he asked God to take away and this is what he says about that:
1 Corinthians 12:7-9
By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively. Concerning this thing, I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me.
Notice that Paul says: “I begged the Lord three times.” Paul was persistent in prayer but God had to say “No” to his request. Notice, however, that when God did say “No” that He made it so clear that Paul actually quotes God here! This is not the only “No” from God that I have heard of. I have heard of others that have had the same type of clarity when God said “No” to them as well. They realized that it was actually a good thing. God does answer our prayers, but we may have to ask even more than three times. I believe that most of the rest of Paul’s prayers were “Yes” because this seems to stand out to him as different. This should be a big encouragement to us as we continue to persist in our prayers.