Introduction: One of the distinctives of Luke’s Gospel is his tracking of our Lord’s Prayer Life. All four of the Gospels tell us about the prayer life of Jesus. But Luke shows us Jesus praying at almost every event in His life. And there are seven accounts of Jesus praying that are unique to Luke. In the Third Gospel, we see Jesus praying:
- Luke 3:21 – At His baptism
- Luke 5:16 – At moments of numerical success
- Luke 6:12 – Before naming His twelve disciples
- Luke 9:16 – At the feeding of 5000
- Luke 9:18 – At the confession of Peter
- Luke 9:28-19 – At the Transfiguration
- Luke 10:2 – When sending out the 70
- Luke 10:21 – At the return of the 70
- Luke 11:1-13 – In His teaching near Bethany
- Luke 22:19 – At the Last Supper
- Luke 22:32 – Before the denial of Peter
- Luke 22:99-46 – In the Garden
Luke also gives us two major sermons on prayer, and both of them make the same point—we should be persistent in those things for which we ask God. We should almost make ourselves pests before the throne. In one of them (Luke 11), Jesus said we should be like a neighbor pounding at his neighbor’s house at midnight until we get what we want. And in the other (Luke 18) Jesus said we should be like an insistent widow who harasses a local judge until she gets the ruling she needs. That’s the passage we’re coming to tonight.
V. 1: Here Luke interprets the parable for us before He gives it. I think he does this because it’s an unusual story that, in not correctly interpreted, gives us a wrong impression of the Lord. So to make sure we’re reading it from the right perspective, Luke gives us the key to the whole thing at the front door. The point is: “We should always pray and not lose heart.” One of the most obvious things about this story (though I confessed I’ve missed it till now) is that the context has to do with the Last Days and with our Lord’s Second Coming. Chapter 17 is about the Second Coming. The final sentences of Luke 17 say: There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left. And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to the, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. As we are awaiting our Lord’s return, as the days are becoming increasingly difficult, as times are waxing worse and worse, as our Lord seems to be delaying His return—in these last days we should keep on praying and not grow disheartened. There are many reasons to grow disheartened. We face daily hardships and discouragements in many ways. We have problems and perplexities. Our hearts are sometimes broken. But there is always a place of revival in the closet of prayer. “Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
V. 2: The judge here was corrupt. He did not fear God, so he had no basis for personal morality; and he did not respect man, so he didn’t worry about doing what was right. He apparently operated on the basis of bribes. He would render justice depending on who gave him the highest fee under the table.
V. 3: The fact that this woman was a widow implies (in that era) that she was older, poorer, less influential, and unable to compete with the person who was oppressing her. She had an adversary who was causing her a lot of legal or financial stress, and she needed legal protection or intervention. But she did not have the wherewithal to bribe this judge. So she used the one tool she had—persistence.
V. 4-5: The key phrase is “her continual coming.” That’s the practice Jesus is advocating.
V. 6-8a: There are two points to be made. First, Jesus is likening God to an unjust judge in terms of contrast, not comparison. He is not saying that God is an unjust judge so we have to keep badgering Him. He’s telling us that if even a corrupt judge can be worn down by persistence, think of how effective persistent prayer can be with a benevolent and loving Father. Second, notice again the eschatological language of this passage. He talks about the elect, about delaying, about the Son of Man coming. Persistence in prayer is always the pattern we should employ, but how critical to persevere in prayer in the Last Days when evil is at its greatest and most dangerous intensity. The last part of this verse is a question to the disciples: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” I believe what Jesus means is: “When I come again, I hope I will find you faithfully praying!” It is a challenge to them to persevere in prayer.
Conclusion: One of the best ways of fulfilling this pattern is by keeping a prayer list. I’ve never researched this before, but I’m curious to know how various Christian leaders maintain their prayer time. Do they keep a prayer list? On the one hand I am not sure that Jesus kept a prayer list in the pocket of His robe or that the Apostle Paul kept a little memorandum booklet among his baggage. They didn’t have pen and ink as we do, and they relied much more on mental exercise and the functions of the memory. I’m sure they carried a prayer list in their heads. But with the invention of pen and ink and notebooks, it became easier to keep an actual prayer list. And now with our electronic tools, it’s easier still. On the one hand, we don’t want our prayer time to be nothing more than going through a “shopping list.” On the other hand, I typically have a simple agenda for every important appointment; and there’s no more important appointment than prayer. So I keep a prayer list, or rather a set of prayer lists. But everyone does it differently.
There’s an old book called The Art of Soul-Winning by J. W. Mahood. One chapter is entitled “The Prayer List,” and Mahood suggests that everyone keep a “little memorandum book” to write the names of those whom we are anxious to see saved. “Spread these names before the Lord daily until your prayers are answered,” said Mahood.
Mahood claims that “one of the greatest Christian movements of modern times was started with a prayer list carried in the vest-pocket of a commercial traveler named, Mr. E. R. Graves, who was a sales representative for a paper goods company in New York. As Mr. Graves called on his accounts, he felt led to ask a particular merchant named Samuel Sayford if he could add his name to his prayer book. He said, in effect, “I’m concerned for you and would like to pray for you and for your spiritual condition.” Mr. Sayford made some such reply as this: “Yes, but I’ve already determined not to become a Christian; and if you think I’m going to change my mind you’ve got another thing coming.” But Mr. Graves replied, “I confidently expect my prayer to be answered.”
When they met again, the merchant had been converted. Mr. Sayford later became involved in the Young Men’s Christian Association, the YMCA, which was originally a very evangelistic organization. As he worked alongside the YMCA, he was able to mentor and encourage a college student named C. K. Ober. Mr. Ober later helped recruit John R. Mott into the ministry of missions. And John R. Mott became famous for helping launch the modern student missionary movement.
I can think of dozens of different ways to plan or organize or implement a prayer list, but the important thing is to find a system that works for you and to pray without ceasing.
John Wilmont Mahood, The Art of Soul-Winning (Cincinnati: Jennings and Graham, n.d.), chapter 25.