‘Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…’
So Luke tells us at what is now for us the beginning of the 18th chapter of his Gospel account. Jesus tells His disciples a parable about a persistent widow, who was due justice, and so did not give up coming to this somewhat curmudgeonous and unfriendly judge depicted in the parable. I think if I’d had him as a judge I might have not bothered! But she persists and so the judge, miserly as he is, must give her justice, otherwise she’ll end up driving him up the wall!
Now, Jesus says, if this unjust judge gave her what was due, how much more shall God ‘avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him’? (Luke 18:7).
The message of the parable is clear. When it comes to prayer (and as I have explored before on this blog, the topic is seen to be hot among the disciples in Luke’s Gospel), if you’re going to really go for it, you’re going to need to know how to persist and persevere.
Another interesting parable on this subject actually earlier in Luke, sheds further light.
‘Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within and say, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you”? I say to you, thought he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.’ (Luke 11:5-8, emphasis mine.)
There is a striking and again, clear message to this parable. To those of us who love to know and remember that God calls us His friends (John 15:15), the sobering truth nonetheless remains: there are some things that can only come by persistence. Even when we are God’s friends, and His sons and daughters, and anything else, there is something about this life of prayer that will always require persistence. Perhaps we don’t fully understand why now. But one thing I do know, is that when I do persist in prayer, it does me a whole lot of good, and carries of course the great benefit of having spent much time with God! Sometimes a journey is as much about the road, about both the pitfalls and the springs along the way, as it is about the goal. In fact, perhaps most of the time it is.
I know that one prayer request I had recently, I held for more than four years, before I really began to see dramatic breakthrough in that area. There was a specific person I prayed for, and at times during those four years I thought there was little hope left, and not much point in praying. But I’d heard the stories, I’d read the words of Jesus, and something of grace in my spirit knew that I should keep going. Sometimes it was really difficult to get the words out, because there was very little in me that wanted to keep praying them, when in the natural I was seeing no hope.
But I can testify now that throughout last year dramatic breakthrough began occurring with this person. In many wonderful and significant ways their life became transformed and today looks utterly different and much more wonderful, and I am so thankful to God for it.
Of course, not all prayers have to be pursued for years. Last year when I prayed with a particular friend about things, we kept seeing near-instant breakthroughs and answers to those prayers! But now we’ve come to a phase where we’re carrying prayers which have taken longer – indeed, aren’t answered yet. And so once again we remember that we have come to a place where we have to persist. I’ve learnt the lesson from the Scripture, from church history, and from my own experience, and so now I am more equipped to press on. It’s a challenge sometimes, still. But be encouraged: good things really do come to those who wait!
Indeed, there are many Scriptures, especially in the Psalms, that speak about the blessing of waiting on the Lord. I didn’t always understand these because, I had a shallow understanding of what ‘waiting on the Lord’ might be. But through experience, and through learning to pray, I have come to understand now why so many Psalmists and writers exhorted the people of God to ‘wait upon the Lord’.
Among the testimonies of those who persevered in prayer, one that stands out is the story of Rees Howells, a Welsh intercessor who was swept up in the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, and continued in his intercessory ministry right through the second world war until his death in 1950. His biography, Intercessor by Norman Grubb recounts many stories of his various breakthroughs in prayer, many of which took years to accomplish, some requiring the greatest patience when seemingly nothing was happening in the natural.