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Perseverance In Prayer

By Dr. Kieran Beville, Pastor of Lee Valley Bible Church, Ballincollig, Ireland
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And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1)

A general of Alexander the Great told one of his warriors to ask whatever reward he wanted in return for his heroic deeds. The soldier asked a vast amount money and the royal treasurer refused to pay it and put the case to Alexander himself. When Alexander heard it he replied: “He knows how great Alexander is, and he has asked as from a king; let him have what he requests.”

The place of prayer is a throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) and it ought to be approached with enlarged expectations. We do not come to the back-door of the house to receive scraps of mercy. When we pray, we are standing in the palace of the King of kings. It is the very place where angels worship God. We look for pennies but he has only gold to give. We look for bread but he invites us to a banqueting feast. The words of John Newton remind us of the greatness of the one to whom we pray:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

The point of this parable is clearly stated: that we ‘ought always to pray and not lose heart’. This does not mean we should pray every single minute of the day. That would be not only impractical but impossible. So, ‘always’, means that we should be faithful and consistent in prayer and pray regularly and often. It means we should pray in both good times and bad times. Sadly, some people pray only in a crisis but, ‘always’, means we should be continually ready to pray. This parable teaches us the necessity of patient, persistent, and persevering prayer.

Hindrances to prayer

We have a duty to pray and we need to be dedicated to prayer. We must resist the temptation to discontinue praying. What might cause us to discontinue praying? We can lose heart or grow weary in prayer. What might cause us to lose heart? The defilement of sin kills interest in spiritual exercises like prayer. The psalmist says: ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear’ (Psalms 66:18). Praying with doubt is faithless, making the prayer useless. Prayer must sometimes be done at dangerous times/places. Danger separates out the cowards from the courageous. Daniel faced real danger in praying, but kept on praying, even though it led to the lion's den (Daniel 6). Today there are persecuted Christians in places that are hostile to the gospel and the risk of physical harm is real. The penalty for praying could be imprisonment, torture or even death. But even the fear of unpopularity or embarrassment can hinder prayer. Then there are so many things that hinder concentration in prayer or distract us from praying. Probably every believer has experienced his mind wandering, causing him to think about everything except what he should be praying about. Few things cause us to lose heart in praying more than delays in answers to our requests. Although answers often appear to take a long time in coming, we should not grow weary in praying. If a request is not granted immediately, God may be testing us or teaching us patience or working out a purpose that we cannot see. He works to his timetable, not ours, and always does what is best (Romans 8:28).

Prevailing prayer

The theme of this parable is perseverance in prayer. But what is prayer? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it like this: ‘Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies’. Our prayer may be prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving or supplication. In our petitions we can expect substantially better treatment from a loving God than from this heartless judge (Luke 18:1-8). The widow, who speaks few words, does not prevail because of her persuasive plea. She prevails because of her persistence. It is not our eloquence in prayer that counts, rather it is our earnestness. God wants fervent and frequent prayer for his people. We should not be discouraged, because of the difficulties we face. In the parable, we see the widow coming before the unrighteous judge with her problem. Jesus is contrasting the faithfulness of our loving God to the cynical, self-serving, unrighteous judge. God is completely unlike the unjust judge. God is always willing to hear us and to answer our prayers if they are according to his will. If an unjust judge will heed a persistent widow how much more will a just God heed his chosen people! The judge has authority and power but is reluctant to help this vulnerable woman. God has ultimate authority and limitless power and he will exercise it on behalf of those who turn to him in prayer. The widow has a bold and believing attitude that should characterise our prayers.

Notable contrasts

This parable presents us with the unjust character of the judge as one who did not fear God nor regard man. It presents us with the distress of the widow as one who has an adversary who has wronged her. She seeks the aid of the judge to avenge her. But the difficulty she faced was that the judge would not help her at first as her repeated appeals seem to fall on deaf ears. At last the judge heeds her complaint, not out of any sense for what was right in the sight of God or man but only to avoid being wearied by her constant appeals. The parable depicts the judge granting a request for selfish reasons. How much more will the selfless God come to our aid? Note the following contrasts: the widow was a stranger to the judge but God’s people are special/chosen. ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession’ (1 Peter 2:9). The judge was unjust but we have a righteous Father. She was on her own but God is for us: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32). She pleads her own case. But we have an advocate who: ‘is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us’ (Romans 8:34). Her access was limited. But we have unlimited access because we can pray to God anywhere and at anytime. Her asking provoked the judge but our asking delights God. How unsatisfactory it is to have to depend on the goodwill of others. God will not fail us as friends and acquaintances might do. Let us persevere in prayer.

Kieran Beville is pastor of Lee Valley Bible Church (Baptist), Ballincollig, Co. Cork, Ireland.

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