In the White Desert of western Egypt, you will find rocks shaped like mushrooms. These rocks have been carved by the erosive power of the wind in the natural form of sand blasting. Though rock seems so formidable—indeed, it is a suitable biblical metaphor for the stability of God—the persistent wind of the desert wears away the rock little by little. Even small things, if persistent, can make big impacts over time.
There are plenty of other examples of small things making big impacts over time, but for our purposes I want to focus on Jesus’ teaching about the power of persistent prayer. Specifically, we’ll take a brief look at the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8, which teaches this very point. My hope is that you come away from this reflection encouraged to start, resume, or keep on with persistent prayer to our great God.
Now, unlike other parables, Jesus gives us (part of) the application up front in Luke 18:1. The point of this parable is to encourage its hearers “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Two observations are important here.
First, Jesus encourages us to be constant in prayer. This doesn’t mean that you pray 24/7 but that prayer is second nature to you. Someone who is constant in prayer is a well-watered garden that doesn’t experience drought.
Second, Jesus encourages us to be confident in prayer. Rather than growing weary or despairing, we ought to be confident as we pray constantly, because we know God will answer even if he seems to delay.
In order to illustrate the power of persistent prayer, our Lord offers us the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:2-5. We are introduced first to the judge. Jesus tells us that he has no fear of God and no respect for man. That is to say, he has no reason to render justice except for his own self-interest. Then, we are introduced to the widow, and we learn two important things about her: she claims to have been wronged, which means that she needs the judge to render justice, and she has no quit in her. Clearly, the judge is not doing his job, so she comes back day after day to plead for justice. Verses 2 and 3, therefore, set up a battle of the wills.
But then we read verses 4 and 5, and we see that small things, if persistent, make big impacts. Though the judge refuses to give justice to the widow for a while, eventually he relents. His reasoning is important: “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” The widow is a persistent wind that threatens to whittle away a formidable rock into nothing.
Finally, having laid out the principal point and the parable, Jesus concludes in verses 6-8 with a challenge to his hearers. If an unrighteous judge will give justice in the face of persistence, how much more certain ought we to be that our righteous Father will give justice to us when we are persistent in prayer? Of course he will answer us! And so, Jesus ends with this challenge question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” That is to say, will you take Jesus’ teaching to heart and put it into practice right now?
In our present moment, this parable is less about praying that the pandemic would end and more about praying that God would give us justice against The Adversary, the devil. Disrupted from our normal routines, mostly confined to our homes, and faced with the reality of how fragile we are, we ought always to pray that God will give us sufficient grace when we face temptation to sin. We should cry out to him day and night for mercy and strength in this trial. We need to acknowledge and put into practice persistent prayer so that we do not lose heart. And when we do this, we have assurance that God will give justice to us speedily.