Always pray and don’t give up! (Luke 18:1-6)
By Alexandra Anderson, November 2019
Parables are like Jesus' subversive little stories giving us a window onto an alternative universe made up of very ordinary things like lost coins and sheep, yeast and wheat, sons and fathers and widows. This is how God chooses to reveal himself to us, in the ordinary things of life.
You could read the story of the persistent widow as in the words of one theologian as ‘a self-help technique by which we can get all the cash prizes we want out of God's divine vending machine’ if we just pester Him enough. But Jesus said to his disciples when they asked him how they should pray:
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7,8).
This parable is not telling us that we should badger God with our ‘many words’. So what is ‘answered prayer’? Is it just getting what we want?
I think we can all say that we know that just praying hard enough doesn't get us what we want. Even in the midst of the most fervent of prayer meetings we have seen people healed and people who are not healed. We have seen petitions granted and petitions not granted.
Yet Luke tells us that this parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge is about our need to pray constantly and not lose hope.
We don’t know why the widow kept bothering the judge. We only know she was desperate. She was trapped in a desperate situation. So, her only hope was the judge, and he was a bad one. He had no fear of God and had little respect for people. But she believes that the day of justice will come so she keeps on reminding the judge what he should be doing.
This parable is not only about our persistence but also about the persistence of God. Jesus clearly intends this judge to stand for God and yet he is as unlike God as it is possible to be. In fact this ‘unjust judge’ is more like us, who even though we ‘fail to fear God or care about people’, are finally worn down by the persistence of God’s love of justice.
Prayer isn't just a way to make God give us what we want it is the way we connect with God and one another. Praying changes us and changes the dynamic of our relationship with God and with each other.
In this world of western individualism and alienation - prayer is fundamentally about connection. It is to live in a way that shows we are affected by what is happening in each others' lives. To pray for each other is to live in such a way that shows we are affected by what is happening in the world.
Throughout scripture we are told to pray constantly so that we do not lose heart. And we can only do that by having others pray with us and for us. We cannot do it on our own. To pray without ceasing is not an individual sport it's a relay race. It's what we do for each other, and it's what we do for the world.
Every year in November the BWAWD invites a different continent to put together a World Day of Prayer, which this year was the Caribbean. And these prayers are like electrically charged silken threads connecting us to God and to God's people. When we pray for someone we become connected to that person through God, and we become connected to God through that person. Like a spider’s web of prayer, spun through space and time, our prayers are like the network through which God works His miracles for the world.
Prayer is not that we get what we want but how God gets what He wants. And if Jesus' final prayer for his disciples John 17:21 is any indication, then what God wants for us is unity.
The prayer Christ prayed for us is one of connection. That we might know love and become completely one. None of us is alone. We are connected by prayer to each other and to God.