One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. [Luke 18:1 (NLT)]
If I’ve learned anything in nearly fifty years of marriage it’s that husbands don’t respond well to nagging. They tend to turn deaf when their wives nag and carp. Moreover, I didn’t respond well when my children badgered and whined for something. In fact, the more they whined, the less likely they were to get whatever it was they wanted. Understandably, I’ve had difficulty making sense of Jesus’ parables about persistence and prayer.
In one parable, it’s midnight and the persistent man keeps knocking on his neighbor’s door. A friend has just arrived and the man asks for three loaves of bread for his hungry guest. With an empty larder and no quick-marts or convenience stores, the man must depend on his neighbor’s generosity. The annoyed neighbor finally tires of the man’s persistent knocking and, wanting to get back to bed, gives him the bread. In the second parable, a widow keeps pestering a corrupt judge with her appeals for justice against a man who has harmed her. Finally, worn down by her persistent pleas, the beleaguered judge grants her request.
After reading these two parables, it’s easy to conclude that God wants us to just keep asking and pestering Him until we annoy Him enough so that He will grant our requests. While I might be willing to annoy a neighbor or pester my husband, I’m not so sure that harassing or badgering God is such a wise idea.
Perhaps my first interpretative mistake was in seeing the neighbor’s and widow’s annoying doggedness rather than their just causes. The neighbor was asking for a necessity and the widow was asking for fairness and protection. Many of my prayers are far more self-centered than selfless and more trivial than necessary. Both the neighbor and widow made their pleas because they knew they were powerless on their own. Instead of having our prayers focus on us, perhaps we need to focus them on the One who has the power to meet our needs.
My second mistake was in comparing (rather than contrasting) God with the annoyed neighbor and the vexed judge. Neither man was responsive; they both had to be hounded before they’d even listen. Neither man cared about friendship or justice; rather than granting the requests out of love or concern, their motives were self-serving. The heartless neighbor and the godless judge just wanted the bothersome pleas to stop so they could get back to their own lives. In contrast, God is always ready to listen to us and hears us the moment we speak to Him. Moreover, He grants our requests out of loving kindness and not from selfishness. While others may fail us, God never will.
Both parables tell us to be persistent in our prayers and both promise God’s answer to those prayers. Jesus reminds us that, if heartless or godless men will grant our requests, we can expect much more from our loving and generous God. Yet, one look at my prayer list tells me God doesn’t grant every request, no matter how persistently I ask. Some of my prayers have been years in the asking. Then again, maybe they have been answered, just not the way in which I expected. Rather than instant resolution, some may be works in progress. Quite possibly, I am asking the wrong thing or something clearly not in His will. Nevertheless, until He gives me a clear “No” or tells me how to amend my requests, I will remain persistent and patient in my prayers, confident that my loving Father knows exactly what to give his precious children. I’ll just remember there is a fine line between persistence and pestering and between patience and pigheadedness.