My mother-in-law is a one of a kind pray-er. The type of Godly woman who prays as if God’s head is tilted in her direction ever so yet somehow, just barely, not touching hers. My wife has on occasion admitted to fear when she’s heard the words “I’ll be praying for you” from her mother. I make my apologies in advance. For in all kindness I cannot think of my mother- in-law without hearing the words of Christ echo in my head,
“And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” Luke 18:3-5 (ESV)
Often times the purpose of this parable gets lost because of God’s comparison to an unrighteous judge (18:6-7) or the rhetorical question with which Jesus concludes (18:8). But the purpose of this parable is that Christ’s disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (18:1). As we walk through Luke 18 it should become plain that I take the view that this teaching on prayer permeates the whole of Christ’s teaching in this chapter. Christian prayer is thus utterly essential to Christian discipleship from a multitude of angles.
But what can we learn directly from the first of Christ’s parables? It might be easy to just say, “Pray always.” But it is instructional and encouraging to look at the conditions of the widow in the parable. For starters, she is a widow. She has no husband. And it is evident by her direct interaction with the “judge” (18:2) that she had no son or male representative in her family to rely on for protection. She was down cast and without a redeemer. She was the epitome of the down trodden in this life.
Second, she had an adversary (18:3). Life was already not easy on this widow. She was without a redeemer, but she had enemies. She was without a defense attorney before the judge, but she had an accuser (the word in Greek literally means an opponent in court). She was down trodden with an enemy pushing her deeper down.
Third, the widow’s judge was “unrighteous” (18:6). The downtrodden widow hounded by her enemy must make petitions to a judge with little chance of justice. And yet she does. Repeatedly. And she is the person Jesus Christ uses to model Christian prayer. For even the unrighteous judge can be beat down with constant petitioning.
Desperation for Grace and Deliverance
But Christians have a Righteous Judge (18:7). Isn’t this all the more reason for us to “cry out” throughout the day and night? Luke 18 begins with Christ teaching us that his disciples must practice the trepidation and begging of a widow in distress for there is humility, not pride, in Christian prayer. There is desperation, not pretension. But also ultimately for Christians there is grace and deliverance.
The beauty of Christian pray in discipleship is that everyone, all the times, can practice it. For we are always in need of grace and deliverance. We are always called to prayer. Whether for ourselves or for others downtrodden in this life, the disciplined life in Christ is portrayed as one that batters down the doors of heaven with prayer.
Earlier this year my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. From all outward appearances, she is now a part of the downtrodden in this life. The world would have her join together with others downtrodden as she is. Together they could encourage each other to “pull through.” But her reputation is one of prayer. And her testimony is that she has grown closer to her Savior.
We are all in distress like the widow of Christ’s parable. Some of us are just more aware. Christian discipleship is about crafting a prayer life that matches the true level of our despair. That’s what being a mature disciple of Christ looks like.
Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @AustinPreterism and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.