The Motive For Prayer

(1) And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.  (2)  He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.  (3)  And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.'  (4)  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man,  (5)  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'"  (6)  And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says.  (7)  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  (8)  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:1-8 ESV)

Luke 18:1-8 is probably one of the most frequent passages that I hear quoted in connection to the topic of prayer.  Parishioners and pastors will often quote this passage and expound on it in the following way, “We need to never give up on prayer...  we need to be persistent… we need to be bold… we shall never cease in prayer… etc…”  Now, I will be the first to admit that I agree with these previous statements, but not for the same reason or motive.    

From my interaction with various individuals over this verse I have found that the reason or motive of persistence in prayer is often connected to and derived from the example of the persistent Widow.  “We need to be persistent like the Widow!  We need to follow her example!”  While her persistence is something to be commended, I would like to pose the question, “Why was she so persistent to begin with?” 

As we examine the text more carefully, the widow was persistent, bold and shameless because: the Judge did not fear God (i.e. he had no moral compass); the Judge did not care about man (i.e. he had no compassion for the Widow); the Judge was slow to give justice (i.e. he refused to listen for a time).  This persistence and boldness of the Widow makes perfect sense within the context of a ruthless, worthless and uncompassionate Judge.

Now we move to the crux of this article.  Are we to be persistent like the Widow because God is a ruthless, worthless and uncompassionate God like the Judge?  Obviously, we can all take a step back and say, “of course not!”  So, this raises the question of, “what on earth is this text about?”

In looking at this text one must be careful not to compare mankind to the Widow and God to the Judge, for God and the Judge are complete opposites and our relationship with God is totally different from the Widow’s relationship with the Judge.  If we compare God to the Judge in the text we limit and idolatrize God’s Character.  R.C.H Lenski on page 892 of his commentary on the Book of Luke states, “This parable is not a parable on perseverance in prayer.”  Rather the main thrust of the parable is to compare and contrast the ‘Unjust Judge’ with a ‘Just God’ who brings about Justice.  The New Bible Commentary comments on this on page 1009 saying, “If even an unjust judge who does not honor the laws of God and man can be induced to act by the incessant appeals of a widow, how much more will God act to uphold his people when they cry to Him….   The parable is essentially an encouragement to continue in prayer without losing heart right through the difficult times or waiting before the Son of Man comes.” 

This text shows us that we can continue in prayer because:  our God is not unjust but He is Just; our God is not uncompassionate but He is compassion; our God is not One who is deaf but One who listens.  Our God is good not evil!  As believers we continue in prayer not to overcome or persuade an evil God, rather we pray because God is good and just.  We pray not to overcome an uncompassionate, ruthless and worthless God; we pray because we already have a compassionate, caring and worth-ful God.  Just think about it!  If a ruthless and lousy Judge will respond to an insignificant Widow with no influence, how much more will a listening, just and gracious God respond without persistence to His own Children… even if the response is no or if God seems to put His answer on hold.    

In conclusion, one final note of context for us in prayer.  As we pray to our Gracious God, “…the general rule, whenever believers pray for temporal blessings, they pray conditionally (Matthew 26:39); but for temporary blessings, they pray unconditionally, since God has promised to grant them His grace, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation under all circumstances (2 Corinthians 12:9)[1]

Let us persist in prayer for God is Good!

[1] J.T. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (Concordia Publishing, 1934), 433.