My six-year-old daughter prays for her teddy bear to talk, and I haven’t told her to stop.
Do I think God will answer her prayer? No, I do not — I mean, I don’t think the bear will talk. But always getting exactly what we ask is not the point of prayer, and we should never stop praying because we lose hope that God will answer us.
Jesus taught us these things when he told the parable of the persistent widow. He told the parable, as Luke says, “to the effect that [his disciples] ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
For Encouragement’s Sake
Plain and simple, Jesus told the parable to encourage his disciples to persevere in prayer. So perseverance is the key, but it’s not perseverance in the sense that we outdo God. Jesus is not teaching us that we can wear down God like the widow wore down the cruel judge. God loves to give us good gifts (Luke 11:13). It’s his delight to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32). He runs to his children with open arms (Luke 15:20). In fact, Jesus emphatically tells us that the judge is not like God in this short story. This judge neither fears God nor respects man. He’s a scoundrel, a low-life, a detestable authority.
But, in the end, he still did what was right.
The emphasis is not that if the cruel judge knew how to give justice, how much more will your Father in heaven? True as that is, it doesn’t seem to be the central point here. The focus is that the widow kept asking for justice, and she was vindicated. She was so confident that her request was the right thing that she kept asking for it, even from a cruel judge.
Something Worth Asking
That is how the widow inspires us. She continued asking, over and over again, in accordance with what she thought was right because she knew that the right thing would eventually happen. Regardless of whether she really knew that judge would do what she was asking, she knew that she had something worth asking — and that sooner or later God would make everything right in the world, one way or another.
The connection between her praying and ours is not the cruel judge and our God, but that righteousness will be given for God’s people — even if by the hands of a bad guy. “Hear what the unrighteous judge says,” Jesus tells us (Luke 18:6). What is right will happen for us as it did for her — and we don’t have to badger God like she did the judge. The answer — the vindication — of our prayer may not look exactly like what we’re wanting or turn out with all the specifications of our request, but God will do the right thing and we pray with faith unto this end.
That is what Jesus says in Luke 18:7: “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?” That is to say, God will certainly do what is right for his people who trust him. “Will [God] long delay over them?” That is to say, God will send justice without us having to know the secret password, or wear him down by bugging him, or worry if he’s really hearing us. “I tell you,” Jesus continues, “he will give justice to them speedily” (Luke 18:8).
So don’t lose heart. Have the same kind of confidence as the widow. Pray with the confidence, not that precisely what you’re asking will be given, but that God will give what he knows is right. Perseverance is less about getting what we want, and more about believing that God hears us and will provide what we need — which is oftentimes something we have to grow into, especially when we ask, full of good intentions, for our teddy bears to talk.
God is never bothered when we pray by faith. Never. And perseverance is trusting this truth, as we keep asking for what’s right as far as we know, until God does what is right — either by giving us our desire or correcting it.
My little girl, then, in the beautiful faith of a child, should ask God for whatever her little heart desires — until that teddy bear starts speaking or her prayers mature for even better things.