This is the third of a five-part series on how God invites us to pray. Don’t miss the previous posts (“Why Do We Find It So Difficult to Pray?” and “Pray Desperately”). And check back in throughout the rest of the week for the remaining couple of posts.
I think Jesus’ first disciples must have found his teaching about prayer in Luke 11 as alarming as we do. That’s one of the reasons why, just a few chapters later, Luke records the same essential teaching. We are so slow to believe what Jesus says about praying with bold desperation that Jesus repeats the lesson. But this second story is even more shocking than the first:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 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 18:1-5 CSB)
Jesus concludes this parable, unbelievably, by saying, “Yup, this is what it’s like to pray to God.”
Here’s the thing about parables. When you listen to a parable, you should be thinking, “Somebody in this parable is me. And somebody in this parable is God.” That’s how parables work. So the disciples are listening in, saying, “Okay, we have to be the needy old widow, right? Right. But that would make God … woah, wait a minute. You’re saying that God is like a grumpy old judge who doesn’t care—about people or about justice—and only gives this woman what she wants because she’s annoying him?”
Who else but Jesus could get away with that analogy?
But the point here isn’t to simply compare God to an unjust and uncaring judge. It’s to contrast him with one. Even an unjust judge will eventually grant a request because of your boldness. How much more, then, should we boldly approach our heavenly Father?
The woman in Luke 18 approaches the judge as a stranger; we approach our God as beloved children. The judge in Jesus’ story cares neither for justice nor for us; but our Judge is a God who cared so much about us that he climbed out of his Judge’s chair and took the penalty of judgement himself.
The neighbor in Luke 11 is asleep and unwilling to answer his friend; but we approach a God who never sleeps, who is so attentive to us that he knows the number of hairs on our heads. He gives us not merely loaves of bread from his cupboard but the bread of his own, torn flesh.
When we understand this, we suddenly find that we can pray with startling boldness. You know who approaches me with more boldness than anyone else in my life? My kids. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve opened my eyes at 3 a.m. to one of my children saying, “I want some water.”
Honestly, who else could get away with that? If someone from my church—even my small group—did that to me, I might call the police. But when it’s one of my kids, I do what any good dad would do: I get up. (Sometimes my spirit about this is less than joyful, but I always do it. Pray for me.)
My kids approach me with undaunted confidence in my goodness toward them. That’s precisely how God wants us to approach him. We are like children who are welcome right in their daddy’s bedroom, at whatever hour of the night, with whatever need we have.
My kids approach me with undaunted confidence in my goodness toward them. That’s precisely how God wants us to approach him.
Jesus presses this point in Luke 11:13, saying, “If you, who are evil, love to give gifts to your children …” (CSB) Now, “evil” is a pretty dramatic word to use in this context, isn’t it? Why does Jesus use it? Is it just another reminder of our depravity? Not really. Jesus calls even our good parenting moments “evil” because, when compared to God’s love for us, that’s precisely how they look. When I’m being the best dad I could possibly be, Jesus says, even then God’s love for his children is so superior that my love might as well be classified as “evil.”
Think of how tenderly you love your kids. That is nothing compared to God’s compassion for his children. Grasp that, and it will transform the requests you make of God. You will enter his throne room with boldness, asking for great things and small things—just like your kids do with you.
What would your prayers for others look like if you really believed God had that kind of love for you and for the world? Why not start praying those kinds of prayers this week, this day, or this very hour?