Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Luke 18:1-8

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

     Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about people. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

     4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about people, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

     6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This passage seems confusing to quite a few readers, but it’s teaching from Jesus on the subject of prayer, so we obviously need to give it some consideration.

One thing about the passage that confuses people is that it seems like Jesus is using a corrupt judge as a metaphor for God. But it’s important to realize that in this parable, Jesus is not saying that God is like a corrupt judge. What Jesus is saying is that God is not like a corrupt judge. In some of his parables, Jesus uses obviously flawed human examples as a contrast to our perfect and holy God. The point Jesus is making is this: If even a sinful human will sometimes do the right thing, our holy God can be trusted to do the right thing as a matter of course. Once you see the point Jesus is making, the parable becomes a lot more understandable and a lot less troubling.

But there’s one other thing about the parable that makes some readers uneasy.

It seems at first blush that Jesus is saying that if you pray long enough and hard enough, you will always get what you pray for. And there are certainly some followers of Jesus who insist that’s true – that if your prayer hasn’t been granted, it’s because you just haven’t prayed long enough or earnestly enough. Somehow you’ve ‘done it wrong.’ You haven’t been enough of a “prayer warrior.”

There are a couple of problems with that way of thinking. First of all, it makes God’s response to our prayers seem like an achievement of some kind on our part. It puts us in a position of claiming credit for what God does. And logically, if someone’s prayer is not answered, if they do not get whatever they have been praying for, that way of thinking suggests that the person is to blame – that they’ve somehow ‘done it wrong.’

But of course, the two leading figures in the New Testament – Jesus and the apostle Paul – both prayed for things that were not granted. As you probably remember, Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken from him on the night of his arrest. And Paul prayed that God would heal the ‘thorn in his flesh,’ whatever that was. Neither of them got what they prayed for. So according to the whole ‘prayer warrior’ mindset, Jesus and Paul must have ‘done it wrong.’

But of course, that’s ridiculous. We understand that Jesus was God in human form, so he probably knew what he was doing, prayer-wise. And Paul might have been the greatest follower of Jesus who ever lived, so he probably had a pretty good grasp on the prayer thing, too. And in each of the two cases, Jesus and Paul accepted God’s will instead of insisting on their own. That, it seems to me, is what the Bible wants us to understand as the real goal of prayer – to bring our wills in line with God’s, not to bring God’s will in line with ours.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t pray for other things that are on our heart. Healing for ourselves and others who are sick or hurt. God’s protection for those who are in harm’s way. Special help for those who are in need. And so on. As the Bible shows, sometimes those prayers are granted. Sometimes God even changes his mind about things, like when the people of Nineveh prayed for forgiveness after hearing Jonah’s preaching. Why some prayers are granted and others are not, we’re not going to know in this life. But any prayer that ends with, “Not my will but yours be done,” is probably a prayer well prayed.

And it’s also important to note that in this particular parable, Jesus is talking about prayers on one particular subject – prayers “about justice for his chosen ones.” That’s a kind of prayer that seems especially appealing to God’s heart. And although the world has throughout history brought persecution down on the followers of Jesus, their prayers for justice have been consistently and forcefully answered. Today something like thirty percent of the world’s population is made up of those who claim the name of Christ. We need to keep praying for justice for our fellow believers in China and the Middle East and even in our own country. But it’s pretty clear God has answered a lot of prayers for justice already – just as Jesus promised.

Let’s pray. Lord, we ask that by your Holy Spirit, you will guide and empower our lives of prayer. Make us bold to pray for the needs of others, and for our needs and hopes, but help us to end our prayers as Jesus ended his, by praying that your will, and not ours, be done. Amen.

Have a great weekend!


(The other readings for today are Psalms 88 and 148; Malachi 3:1-12; and James 5:7-12. Our readings come from the NIV Bible, as posted on, the website of the International Bible Society.)