17. "On Not Giving Up"

Luke 11:5–13; 18:1–8

The first parable, sometimes called "The Midnight Friend," is about a man who had a friend come to him late at night after a journey. The second, called "The Persistent Widow," is the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow who has all the odds stacked against her. Both parables show us the importance of prayer.
As far as prayer's essential characteristics, the first parable stresses the need to be passionate when praying, while emphasizing God's desire to answer prayers. In the second parable, we're urged to be persistent in prayer, not giving up and losing hope. Instead, we're to be faithful as we pray.

Passion and Persistence

Inspiration to Pray

Luke 11:5–13
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11 begins with Jesus choosing “what is better” by spending time with his Father in prayer. Apparently his disciples were watching him as he prayed. One of them (not named) was so moved by what he saw that he felt compelled to ask Jesus for further insight on prayer. No doubt Jesus was pleased to hear of such interest; not everyone who approached him did so with spiritual issues in mind.

The Passion of the Person Praying

Persistence in prayer is often suggested as the lesson to be gleaned from both of today's parables. For the first, sometimes called “Friend at Midnight,” passion is an appropriate word as well, possibly describing more accurately the degree of involvement of the person praying.

A sense of heightened passion is conveyed by the three words used by Jesus in verse 9: ask, seek, and knock. Ask involves merely stating a request. Seek implies a more intense interest in obtaining something. Knock implies action with a purpose; the person has actually located a place where the desired object can be found.

Q. Why is God concerned about our level of passion when we pray?
A. He's interested not just in our prayers, but in us as “pray-ers.”

While the word ask is prominent in Jesus’ teaching, God wants us to become people who see prayer as more than a time to present requests. Prayer is also meant to be a time for self-examination and for getting to know both ourselves, and our Father, more deeply ( a.k.a. a personal relationship). This cannot be done if prayer becomes merely a time in which to present our “shopping list” to God.

The Provision of a Loving Father

Verses 11–13 call attention to the love and generosity of the One hearing our prayer. What father doesn't relish the opportunity to grant the requests of his children? He may not be able to provide everything for which a child asks; but if he's truly a loving father, he'll never mislead nor trick the child into thinking he or she is receiving something good when in reality it's something harmful.

In the same way, said Jesus, God is a gracious Father, willing to “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Jesus’ reference to the Spirit challenges us to view prayer, not as a method for us to get what we want, but as a means of submitting to what our Father wants for us.

The word "passion" is also a good word to describe God’s perspective on prayer; for he's passionate about giving us all that he knows we need. The problem is that, too often, our passions conflict with his. Our vision is too small, focused primarily on what this world has to offer us, when we should be thinking with a more eternally oriented mind-set.

But when our passions become like those of our heavenly Father — for us and for the world — then we'll find ourselves becoming model “pray-ers” for others.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

Always Pray and Don't Give Up (18:1)

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Verse 1 starts with "Then" in many translations. Notice that this teaching on prayer follows Jesus' teaching on the coming of the Son of Man. Indeed, verse 8 of this parable ends with that theme. So we should think of verse 1 as an exhortation to us, his disciples, who may be undergoing a struggle just prior to the coming of the Son of Man, not to give up hope, but to pray, expecting a speedy answer.

Luke reveals the point of the parable in advance: "that they should always pray and not give up." Jesus is teaching continual prayer; praying again and again, rather than continuous prayer; non-stop prayer.

The Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow (18:2–3)

He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

Now Jesus introduces the characters in his story: first, the judge. The phrase "feared God" refers to faith in God (piety) and recognition that God will judge the sons of men. The judge had no regard for God's justice. He seems to have been concerned with himself: his own opinions, his own comfort, his own income.

Second character: the widow. Widows had a difficult place then, around the world. Normally, the wife of a deceased husband had no legal right to inherit her husband's estate, so when her husband died, she couldn't take for granted her living in his house on his land. If her deceased husband had no children, the estate reverted to her husband's male relatives on his father's side -- his brothers, his father's brothers, and then the nearest family kinsman.

We don't know how the widow was being cheated, but her judge apparently was on the side of her adversary. She didn't have money for lawyers. She was probably holding on by a hair. But there is one thing we know about her: she was persistent, as we see in the term, "kept coming to him."

The Value of Persistence (18:4–5)

"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"

This weak little widow, "the squeaky wheel," is starting to make the powerful judge feel some heat. This widow's constant appeals were hurting the judge's reputation. Whatever he had been paid wasn't worth the hassle she was causing. He decided to grant her what she was due just to get rid of her.

This wasn't a real widow, of course, nor a real judge. But Jesus' hearers had met widows like her and had experience with judges like him. They'd met people like that so this story was true-to-life for those who'd heard it.

God's Sure and Quick Justice (18:6–8a)

And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.

Jesus answer is firm: "He will see that they get justice, and quickly." The word "quickly" is Greek tachos, "speed, quickness, swiftness, haste." Incidentally, for you roadway speed demons, the word "tachometer" (measuring speed of rotation) comes from this Greek word.

Will He Find Faith on the Earth? (8b)

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Jesus has told a parable of persistence, of a widow — weak in the world's estimation — who has won a victory because she didn't give up hope; she doesn't give up her plea; and finally she wins the day.

A Hearty Application

But what about you and me? We sometimes become so worn down and discouraged by our lives that we stop praying, stop hoping, stop expecting God to intervene. We get tempted to give up. This makes Jesus wonder . . . "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Hearty Brother: Jesus told this story to us, his disciples, so that we might be encouraged. None of us is weaker than the widow! None of us is facing longer odds than she! But because of her persistence and faith, even the unjust judge gave her what was hers by right.

Yes, we become discouraged. But we must not quit, not give up praying. Amen!

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