Summary: Variety in how we pray can help us to be consistent and persistent
“Wearing Out The Judge”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
When the subject of prayer comes up, it raises some questions. First of all, since God already knows our needs, why even pray? Obviously God doesn’t need a briefing—He doesn’t need to be informed of our needs, yet He encourages us to present our needs to Him. If you think of it, prayer is a humbling act—it says that we don’t have all the answers, that we need outside help. Some people would rather die than admit they need help—like the lost driver who refuses to ask for directions. Pride/self-reliance keeps a lot of people from praying. Prayer is an act of submission to God’s will, not an attempt to force His hand. The widow realizes that she can’t resolve her situation on her own. She has nowhere to turn but to the judge. To him she pours out her heart and pleads her case. Prayer admits that only in God can our concerns be resolved. The very act of prayer proclaims that He is in charge—not us. In the parable, the judge has the authority to act, to effect change. But he is self-centered and lacks compassion. Jesus contrasts the worst in people to the best in God. Fortunately for us, God is a righteous, compassionate Judge, willing to “step in” and help us.
Courtrooms in the Middle East weren’t in buildings, but tents; they were mobile courts that moved as the circuit judge covered his district. The judge, not the law, set the agenda. Only those who were approved and accepted could have their cases tried. This usually meant bribing the judge or his assistant to get a case heard. The widow had several obstacles: she was a woman, with little standing before the law; since she was a widow, she had no husband to stand with her in court; and because she was poor, she couldn’t pay a bribe if she wanted to. It was a discouraging situation. Jesus tells this story to contrast our status before God. The widow was poor, yet we are rich/spiritually prosperous; the widow had limited access, yet we have an open door any time; the widow had to beg, plead, or offer a bribe, but we have free access; the widow was a stranger, but we are members of God’s family. The judge gets worn out, but God is attentive, never bothered or annoyed by our prayers. And Jesus is our Advocate.
If you look at the church bulletin, you’ll see our prayer list—some of the names on it have been there for a long, long time. Why do we need to pray over-and-over for the same thing? God only needs to hear our prayer once, doesn’t He? Yet prayer changes us, it causes us to keep on, to consistently submit our needs in faith—even after long periods of waiting, even when God appears silent. We don’t like being put on hold. Patience in prayer doesn’t come easy. Yet God wants us to keep on keeping on. This isn’t some game He’s playing. It’s simply God’s way of teaching us to be faithful in prayer. I admit there are some things I’m tired of praying for. Yet I am compelled to continue on, not knowing the outcome. God is telling us: Don’t give up on prayer. This spiritual discipline should be a continuous part of our relationship with God. The unjust judge grants the widow’s request to get rid of her…but God does not want our relationship with Him to end.
Unlike the judge in the parable, God doesn’t get worn out by our prayers. Some people misunderstand this parable. The point isn’t “If you pray enough, I’ll grant your request.” It’s just “keep on praying”, not knowing what will happen. That may not seem satisfying, but keep in mind that God alone knows the best possible outcome—His answers are wiser than our prayers. The widow in the parable was willing to be vulnerable, to fall upon the mercy of the court. We need that same quality when we pray.
In His parable, Jesus is touching upon a major recurring Old Testament theme, namely that of waiting patiently for God to vindicate the suffering of His people. Justice will come—perhaps not according to our timetable, but definitely according to God’s perfectly timed, providential plan.
Faith in the power of prayer gets stretched thin when we pray and nothing happens. We want to trust in God, yet we get discouraged when nothing happens. In Sunday School we’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and one of these character qualities is faithfulness. I see faithfulness as being consistent—when we feel like it, and even when we don’t. That means we continue to pray, even though we’re worn out! One day things will be clear and we’ll understand God’s purpose and timing. In the meantime, we need to pray with the caveat, “Not my will but Thine be done.” That’s not a prayer cop-out, but a prayer strategy, leaving the outcome to God, the only One who knows what’s truly best for us.