Why Should We Pray? (Luke 18:1-8)

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At the behest of my father-in-law, I’m listening to Andrew Wommack‘s provocative CD series: “A Better Way to Pray.” I’m enjoying it quite a bit — he has that combination of humility and chutzpah I tend to admire — even though I’m still not sure I buy his argument. Then again, I’m only on the second CD, where he’s still focusing on how not to pray — which is fair, since Jesus did as well.
Anyway, this is a good time to stop and evaluate his central argument to date: that a lot of the way we pray is motivated (in practice and/or theory) by a view of a God as a tight-fisted, angry tyrant we need to appease/persuade. Conversely, if we had a healthy view of God and His sovereignty, prayer would be a natural part of everyday life and work(s), rather than an intense isolation from everyday life.
I suspect he’s overreacting — he admits to having himself done all these things he preached against. I believe there is a time and place for withdrawal and focus, even in earthly relationships. But, that essentially agrees with his larger point: our relationship with God should look like a healthy earthly relationship, where at least the bulk of interaction is easy and ongoing, rather than subservient and pleading.
Still, that’s a psychological argument. The ultimate question, as my wife pointed out, is whether it is biblical. This in turn depends crucially on Andrew’s exegesis of the parable of the unjust judge. [Read More] for my exploration of what that parable truly implies about God’s character.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.
When trying to look this up, the first thing I noticed is that the parable itself is in verses 2-5:

Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

If all we had was that, I’d tend to go along with the conventional interpretation that the widow is a model for us; i.e., we need to wear down a recalcitrant God by our continual coming. Most of us would probably not put it that bluntly, but that certainly does seem the subtext of much of the teaching I’ve heard on this passage.
But of course, there is always a context. Does that make a difference? Well, the preceding verse does lay out the purpose of the parable:

And he spake a parable unto them [to this end], that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

Still, that doesn’t help a whole lot. It does strengthen the argument that the purpose of this parable is to encourage us to continue in prayer — which Andrew would not disagree with. The question remains, though, what is this parable saying about God? Let’s look at the epilogue:

And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

The crucial words are long vs. speedily. I must admit, I can barely parse the King James English, much less the Greek. Let’s see how the NASB renders this:

now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.

Fascinating. The implication is that the parable really is a contrast, and the latter half of verse 7 is merely a rhetorical question — along the lines of Luke 11:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If 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!”

In other words, if a desperate widow has enough hope to continue pestering a lazy, unjust judge for justice, you ought to have even more hope that a loving, quick-acting Father will answer your prayers.
That is certainly a plausible interpretation — and surely more in keeping with God’s revealed character — but it leaves us with a paradox: if God is so speedy in answering prayers, then why do we need to pray unwearyingly* Why can’t we just pray once, be confident of the answer, and move on to something else?
With my father, even if he’s willing to help me with a request, he might delay in the fulfillment because either a) it takes him a while to acquire the necessary resources, or b) he forgets. That is, I am secure in his love, but I am not as secure in his a) power or b) wisdom.
Are either of those true of God? If not, then why must we persevere in prayer? And why would Jesus even bother to tell this parable?
Alas, we’ve ended our study with as many questions as when we began. Still, there are three CDs left; perhaps the answers will be found there. Meanwhile, it has at least forced me to re-evaluate what kind of relationship I do want from God, and encouraged me to take better advantage of that. The rest — as always — lies in God’s hands.
Prayer
Father, save me from thinking too much about prayer, but even more from thinking wrongly about prayer. Ultimately, Father, I want to know you as you are, and see your character and kingdom magnified on the earth. I know that prayer is an essential part of both things, but I freely confess that I understand so little — and much of what I think I understand may be wrong! Grant me first of all humility, to submit to your reality. Next, fill my heart with love for you, that I may persevere in seeking you out, no matter how long and winding the road. For I acknowledge that all I desire is ultimately found in you, and that to settle for anything less is to miss out on true happiness. Thank you that everything I need is already provided in the name of Christ Jesus. In which I pray; Amen.
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