One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (NLT)
This story can be easily misunderstood and so distort our prayer life. It speaks of persisting in prayer, the point being that if an unjust judge responds to persistent requests, surely a just God will do so.
But we must not push the illustration too far. We persist in prayer not because God needs to be worn down or persuaded to give in to us to get us off his back. Persistence is not pestering. We do not have to nag God in to responding. Nor do we persist out of fear God hasn’t heard us the first time. He is all ears all the time.
Rather we persist because what or who we pray for matters to us. Things and people are on our heart, and prayer is one way we share our hearts with God. I go on praying for certain people not out of a belief that I must pray a certain number of times so as to get God to respond. I pray out of love for them. It is natural for us to pray for that which is on our heart.
And it is natural that I go on praying because such prayer is an expression of my helpless dependence on God. I don’t have to go in to great detail as if God needs to be informed. My prayer of dependence might simply be naming a person or a situation.
Persistence in prayer is not meant to be an endurance trial or a way of impressing God with our discipline and fervency. It must never be a burden, but always a lifting of a burden.