The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge is found in Luke 18:1-8. Jesus told this parable to illustrate the importance of persistent prayer. Here are some key lessons we can learn from this parable:
1. God hears our prayers and will answer in His timing
The parable begins with Jesus’ statement that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Even when it seems God is not answering or does not care, we should persistently bring our requests and burdens to Him in prayer. The widow kept pleading for justice before the unjust judge until he finally gave in (Luke 18:4-5). Similarly, if even an unjust human judge will respond to persistent petitions, we can be assured our righteous God hears and will answer our prayers in His perfect timing.
2. Persistence and boldness are honored in prayer
The widow’s continual coming before the judge demonstrated her persistence and boldness. She did not give up but kept asking, seeking, knocking (Luke 11:9-10) until the judge responded. God honors persistence and boldness in prayer. Coming before Him humbly yet urgently and persistently shows our faith and dependence on Him. As in the parable, He may not grant our petitions immediately, but persistence shows we trust He hears and will answer in His time.
3. God acts on behalf of His people for His glory
The unjust judge did not ultimately answer the widow’s petition out of compassion. He said he would grant her justice “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (Luke 18:5). But God does not answer our prayers begrudgingly like the judge. He acts because He is righteous, merciful, and kind. He acts for the sake of His people and His own glory (Psalm 23:3; 2 Peter 3:9). We can have confidence He will respond to our persistent cries for justice, vindication, and protection.
4. Prayer should characterize the life of a believer
Jesus begins this parable by saying believers “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Prayer should be a defining characteristic of every believer’s life. We are to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17) bringing every situation and need before God. Like the widow, we are to consistently bring our petitions to our Lord through prayer, trusting Him to act in His perfect time and way.
5. God’s patience has limits so we must repent before it is too late
Though God is patient and long-suffering with mankind, Jesus ends the parable with a sobering warning about the limits of God’s patience. When Christ returns, will He find His people persistently crying out to Him in faith? Or will the delays lead to apathy and lack of perseverance? Jesus wonders if at His coming there will still be faith on the earth (Luke 18:8). We must persistently repent and seek God while there is still time.
6. God assures and cares for His elect though the answers seem delayed
Jesus ends by assuring believers God will provide justice and act on behalf of “His elect” who cry out to Him day and night (Luke 18:7). Even when we grow weary in prayer, God does not. He will care for those who persevere and trust in Him. The delays are intentional on His part to grow our character and faith as we learn to trust His perfect timing and ways.
7. We are called to emulate the persistence of the widow
The widow sets an example we are to follow in prayer. Her persistence came from a sense of desperation and dependence on the judge to help her obtain justice. We should have that same fervency, importunity, and sense of dependence on God. As we emulate the widow’s faith and persistence, we can have confidence our Lord hears and will answer according to His will.
8. Prayer changes us and expands our capacity
Persistence in prayer does not change God but certainly changes us. As we continually seek God, even when answers seem delayed, our faith increases. We begin looking at situations through an eternal perspective. Our capacity to depend on God expands as we learn to trust His timing. Persistent prayer deepens our relationship with Christ as we bring everything to Him.
9. God looks for perseverance not perfection when answering prayers
The widow was far from perfect in her persistence. She pleaded for her own selfish motives, not the glory of God. But the character focus is on the perseverance, not perfection. Our prayers also have imperfect motivations and are offered amidst sin and failures. Yet God looks at the heart attitude, seeking persistence that comes from dependence and trust in Him. He often graciously answers the prayers of imperfect people.
10. God is not an unjust judge so we should freely and expectantly come to Him
Unlike the indifferent, unjust judge, God cares righteously and perfectly for His people. We never bother or annoy Him with our petitions! The judge answered the widow only to get relief from her pestering him. But God invites us to come freely and unashamedly to His throne to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have a Friend in heaven who invites us to come persistently!
11. God rewards those who diligently seek Him by grace not obligation
Though persistence does not obligate God to answer, scripture shows He often rewards and honors diligent seeking. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). But this is His grace, not His obligation. Persistence is simply an expression of our great need and His sufficiency to meet it in His time and way.
12. God acts justly on behalf of His elect though it seems delayed
At times from our limited human perspective, it seems God is not acting justly or has forgotten His people. But His timing and ways are perfect. The judge finally acted justly toward the widow, though seemingly reluctantly. How much more will our perfect, holy God ultimately act justly and decisively on behalf of His beloved elect! We can trust His delays are purposeful.
13. Prayer is spiritual warfare against invisible powers requiring persistence
Prayer is battle against invisible powers and principalities of evil (Ephesians 6:12). The widow persisted against an indifferent judge. We must persist in prayer against cunning powers of darkness resisting God’s kingdom plans. Fervent prayer is a weapon of our warfare requiring perseverance and dependency on God (1 Timothy 2:1-3; Ephesians 6:18).
14. Perseverance in prayer prepares us for Christ’s return
Jesus ends the parable asking if at His return the Son of Man will find persistence and faith on the earth (Luke 18:8). Our perseverance in prayer while awaiting Christ’s return is evidence we are ready for His coming again. Continuing in prayer helps us watch expectantly for our Lord and fills our lamps with oil (Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 21:36).
15. God is pleased with His saints earnestly seeking Him day and night
God’s pleasure and delight is towards those who earnestly and consistently seek Him in prayer. The living saints are pictured fervently crying out to God day and night for justice, deliverance, and vindication (Revelation 6:9-11). While persistence does not guarantee outcomes in our timing, it always pleases our Father who seeks hearts devoutly dependent on Him.
In summary, the parable of the persistent widow highlights key principles on the importance of persevering prayer with dependence and trust in our Heavenly Father. Though God does not always answer immediately, He acts justly on behalf of His elect in His perfect timing. We can come boldly and persistently to His throne of grace, trusting the One who invites us to ask, seek and knock in full assurance of His love and care.