By Ben Simpson
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 what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
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?”
In prayer, we address God, offer praise, are honest, and humbly present our petitions. But we are also called to wrestle with God, to faithfully persist in prayer by bringing our needs before God frequently and often. Jesus tells the parable above to teach his disciples “they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
Jesus chooses an indirect avenue to impart this message. He tells the story of a widow who pesters a judge for justice. The judge is unjust, with no regard for God or people. The judge does everything he can to rid himself of the woman, but she brings her case again and again. Finally, he caves. He grants her justice to get her off his back.
Jesus then draws a contrast, comparing God to the unjust judge. Jesus says that God hears the cries of his people who call out to him and will bring them speedy justice. God responds to the persistent petitions of his people.
When Jesus encourages his hearers to persist in prayer, he is in alignment with the broader Old Testament story. For example, Jacob, one of the patriarchs of Israel, wrestles with God in Genesis 32:22-32. Jacob prevails, though God wounds him. Soon thereafter Jacob is given a new name. God renames him “Israel,” meaning “God contended” or “wrestles with God.” Jacob learns who God is through a wrestling match, and Jacob is transformed.
Jenn Pollock Michel writes:
“In one sense Jacob emerges victorious from the wrestling match: he is blessed, deserving now of a new name, Israel. In another sense Jacob is vanquished: he is wounded, having his hip put out of joint by the wilderness stranger. But the site of dislocation is also the site of theophany: ‘I have seen God face to face.’”
A theophany is a visible manifestation of God. Persistence in prayer may not bring us face to face with God, as in Jacob’s encounter. But it may result in seeing God act in powerful ways on our behalf. Through persistent prayer we may discover who God is, finding that God truly does have concern for his chosen ones and works on our behalf to bring justice.
Persist in prayer. Have faith. Wrestle with God. Keep praying even when it is a struggle, trusting that God, the just judge, hears you when you call out.
Is there a concern that you have grown weary of bringing to God in prayer? Persist. Pray again. Trust that God hears you.
God, you are the just judge who acts quickly on behalf of those who trust you. Hear my prayer. Respond to my need. As often as my concern comes to mind, I will redirect my petition to you, having faith that you are aware of my cry and will bring about justice. Give me the grace I need to trust you, the strength I need to wrestle with you, and clear vision that I might see you at work. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.