The Word of Jesus on Prayer

They ought always to pray.

— St. Mark. 18:1

Perhaps a man has once believed in God, and prayed to him in great trouble of heart and mind, and at last decides that God did not hear him, and has not prayed since. How, I ask, do you know that he did not hear you? “He did not give me what I asked, though my very soul depended on it.”  In your judgment. Perhaps he knew better. “I would have believed in him if he had heard me.” Till the next desire came which he would not grant, and then you would have turned your God away. A desirable believer you would have made! A worthy brother to him who thought nothing fit to give the Father less than his all! You would accept of him no decision against your desire! God has not to consider his children only at the moment of their prayer. If a man be not fit to be refused, if he be not ready to be treated with love’s severity, what he wishes may perhaps be given him in order that he may wish it had not been given him; but barely to give a man what he wants because he wants it, and without further purpose of his good, would be to let a poor ignorant child take his fate into his own hands. Yet is every prayer heard; and the real soul of the prayer may require, for its real answer, that it should not be granted in the form in which it was requested. God knows you better than you know yourself. You shall be satisfied, if you will but let him have his way with the creature he has made. That God should as a loving Father listen, hear, consider, and deal with the request after the perfect tenderness of his heart, is to me enough; it is little that I should go without what I pray for.

Commentary

 

Father Knows Best
by Dave Roney

Had you ever stopped to consider our Lord's use of the parable?  They are always brief, often terse,  to the point, and upon them, once spoken, He spends little effort in either explanation or exhortation.  In His parables He uses things of the world to relate higher truths, and does so because His hearers have eyes which see and understand the things in the world but do not yet see and know the things from above; we know this true, for above all other things they did not truly know Him Who came down from the Father of Lights and is that Light.  The Lord was ever teaching by parables, using them as a bridge; for it is the simplest way a profound truth can be understood, by use of either comparison or contrast to lesser things, common, of the world, which are understood.

Consider now the particular parable of the widow and the unjust judge; it is located in St. Luke, comprises only eight of our verses (18:1-8).  As bookends are the Lord's exhortation to prayer in v. 1 and His closing question in v.8; contained in four scant verses (vv.2-5) is the actual parable itself; the Lord's explanation of the parable is in v.6 through part of v.8; there is a protagonist and but a lone antagonist in the play, and the drama is set forth in only a single scene.  Jesus, as the master teacher, makes the application of the parable at the end; “God will answer prayer apace.”  He tells them to pray and by means of a question the final thing He does is to cause them to think.

“They ought always to pray and not lose heart... yet, will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He returns?”

As said, there are in the parable only two actors, a protagonist, or main character, and a single antagonist, or supporting actor; in your mind, which player fills which role?  It is a crucial question because depending on which, the widow or the unjust judge, will be determined our understanding of the parable.  Is, then, the widow of centermost interest, or the judge?  Is the Lord's instruction to be understood through her or through him?  Whichever, the Lord will teach through contrast.

Many the believer who, faced with dire need unrequited, has found resolve in the widow's example and by that has learned to cling tenaciously to prayer.  It may seem obvious that this is the Lord's instruction; men ought always to pray and not faint; the widow was always persisting with her petition and her example forms a model for us; God will, like the judge, respond to such dauntless prayer and grant us our desire (will, as the Lord says, do so speedily).  But that is not what the Lord is saying.  He says men ought always to pray, without regard to their perceived needs of the moment, in fair weather as much as in foul.  But I think that many do not pray except when pressed upon by dire circumstance, being much like the proverbial squeaking wheel groaning to be greased.

Nor does He say that God will, like the unjust judge, grant our petitions; what He tells us is that God will give us Justice immediately.  And here, Justice means fair play.  Bear in mind that so called justice in the world and the Justice of God are not necessarily the same thing; in the world the widow finally received justice after much beseeching; with God her true Justice might have been to be turned away for all her life.  Is it “fair,” therefore “justice,” to your child to give him all he wants at any moment he desires it?  Do you not your mature eyes see what his little vision cannot, and that you must guide and train him up in the way he should go?  Is not his trust in you the first and chief thing for him to learn while he is young, and if you give him an unpleasant chore and return later to see if he has done it, will you find faith on his earth revealed, find that he obeyed even though he did not understand, that he endured his chore because he trusts you to know the best for him? 

And this widow in the parable, her trait of persistence, is it godly or worldly?  It could be either: It takes no saint to be importune, through personal discipline and will power it is within the domain of every person.  It is a quality that can be turned to both good and evil, and I suppose the widow was much more interested in getting her way than in seeing true justice served—in her case justice and getting what she desired being one and the same thing to her; her adversary was not present to speak for himself, we have only her side of the story; what good judge would render a decision based solely on the testimony of the plaintiff without hearing also the defendant?  Have you two children set at odds, and do not their versions of the dispute vary so that each one casts the problem in a light conducive to your administration of what each considers to be justice?  The truth of the matter, at best, more than likely lies somewhere in the middle!

We are to be like neither the widow nor the judge in the parable; both are set forth in a manner by which we may see what is better, higher, and thereby glimpse the Divine.  Until the widow finally got her way and received what she desired, was she not frustrated?  And are we to be such as that when our prayers, as it seems to us, go wanting?  What if the judge had sent her away and closed his doors upon her?  Would she not have then been bitter, or forlorn, thinking she had been slighted?  But having received that which she desired, what of the next time she desired a thing; would she not return again with the same persistence expecting the same positive result; having been satisfied once, would it not whet her appetite for even more satisfaction, so that being satisfied would grow to be her consuming interest of Self?

In a child we call this is the condition we call being spoiled.  MacDonald, in another place, says that a beast does not know it is a beast and the more beastly a man becomes the less he knows it so.  It is also true that the more a man is spoiled the less he knows himself spoiled; he thinks his self-serving condition to be normal.  He grows more and more, probably unconscious of it, to see God as his servant, to grant him his desires which he counts as “blessings.”  He, then, is becoming his own god.  But what does the spoiled man think when his Divine “servant” does not leap to his requests?  Ah, he becomes displeased with his servant, judges him, may in fact dismiss him altogether:

“Perhaps a man once believed in God, and prayed to Him in great trouble of heart and mind, and at last decides that God did not hear him, and has not prayed since... “He did not give me what I asked, though my very soul depended on it!... I would have believed Him if He had heard me!”

Did He not hear you?  Is He at all like an unjust judge?  Perhaps He knew better; you are concerned with what you want, He with what you need.  You say you would trust Him if only He had granted your desire; but in such case you would only trust Him until your next desire was not accommodated by Him to your satisfaction; what “a desirable believer you would have made!”  Know that the desires of our hearts are often for very good things; know as well that what is good may not be what is best.  You want relief from pain, suffering, from a thousand ills and evils which, if God granted, would not grow you an inch, but only serve to leave you as you are, only more pleasured—He is interested in helping you grow from your childhood into maturity, and often it is that tribulation is the only and best growth hormone for you.  You pray after the manner of the widow; He would have you to pray after the manner of His Son.  It is a hard lesson to learn.

What is the main thing the Lord is trying to teach through the parable?  Namely, I think, He is showing men what He was ever showing them; His Father.  If that be true, then the widow is incidental to the parable; note that when the Lord begins to briefly tell His men what the parable means He does not include her but, rather, focuses on the protagonist, saying, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.”  He is by contrast showing covertly what God is by showing overtly what the judge is not.  The judge is imperious; God is the childlike Father.  The judge abhors and endures the widow; our Father loves His children and delights in them. The judge had not the woman's best interest in mind; our Father's entire focus is outward, giving, loving, and set upon His little ones.  The judge only responds to extended, nagging, importunism; our Father abides with and in us and feels our every pain more, deeper, purer, more excruciatingly than we ourselves.  Where the judge despises the woman, her Heavenly Father loves her without end or mixture.

This and more is included in the Lord's words “Hear what the unrighteous judge says.”  It is not alone what that man said, but what he thought, what were his feelings, what were his values, reasons, and motives; all which is about him stand in highest relief as a contrast to what is to be discovered in God.  Had the judge refused what very well may be the widow's self-centered desire, surely he would do so from that same poisoned well of Self; whether he refused or granted, the source of his judgment was the same—it was what, to him, was in his, not her, best interest to do.

Jesus makes sure to encourage His men—we as well—that God responds at once to our prayers; His response may not be what we desired, but is always the very best a good God can offer.  The Lord ends the short parable with a question; “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Our Lord had desires; are not ours, springing up from our needs, real (but often, I think, only perceived) like unto His?  Yet He subjected His desires, His will, to the Will of God, praying always “Not My will but Your will be done.”  And the Apostle, following closely upon the Lord, declared that in whatever state he found himself to be, therein he was content; are we such as that?

I have given two contrasts from the parable.  The first concerns the antagonist, the second with the protagonist, and now a third; that between importunity and faith.  They are not the same; the former is little more than human doggedness, the latter reliance, which is trust in God, which is faith; does the Son of Man find faith in us, now?  As we are, trust in God must be proven by ordeal; what man sitting in the lap of luxury and comfort was ever tried and tested?  We are God's true gold and He would have us pure; thus, into the crucible we must go, the Consuming Fire must do its work in us to burn out our imperfections and dross; the end is that He will have us like His greatest Son.  And for that He cannot always give us the good things we desire of Him but must defer, withhold, even as a good earthly parent must do likewise to render Justice to their beloved child.  For either the earthly parent or God our Heavenly Parent to do less would be a terrible disservice, to be unjust, to be like the unrighteous judge of the parable.  Therefore, let us learn, with a caveat included:

“If a man is not fit to be refused, if he be not ready to be treated with love's severity, what he wishes may perhaps be given him in order that he may wish it had not been given him; but barely to give a man what he wants because he wants it, and without further purpose of his good, would be to let a poor ignorant child take his fate in his own hands.”

Finally, our Lord was not always serene, and should God demand of us what His own Son could not as a Man do?  Jesus was sometimes sad, at others angry; He had concerns, trials, temptations, was weighed upon by all manner of disturbances, griefs, pains, all such as is common to every person.  Yet He was content in whatever state He found Himself to be; and what does this mean?  Simply that in every circumstance, regardless of feeling, He trusted God.  Therein is peace, even in the midst of storm.  This state of being does not exist by strength, but reliance, dependence, trust, in God.  It strikes the deathknell for anxiety and turbulence, of fear, of inner agitation of spirit. It is the comfort of a little child held in the arms of a father, where he finds refuge and safety from all harm:

“You shall be satisfied, if you will but let Him have His way with the creature He has made.  That God should as a loving Father listen, hear, consider, and deal with the request after the perfect tenderness of His heart, is to me enough; it is little that I should go without what I pray for.”

Will the Son of Man find faith on the earth when He returns?  It is a rhetorical question, for indeed He will find faith among the children of God.  Let each us be such a child to our Father.

 

You Shall Be Satisfied
“...they ought always to pray.” (Luke 18:1)

by Dave Roney

I have written the following knowing full well that it does little justice to prayer, especially that “fervent effectual” praying of a righteous man, which avails much.  Poor saints we, should our faithfulness to God in prayer be at all dependent upon what results we see, and evaluate from our low perspectives.  He may not give us what we want because “Perhaps He knew better!”  Let us not, then, be such as those who turn away from their Father, from speaking to Him, who lose hope, because He has chosen for our best to respond differently than we had supposed and desired.

That our Lord would even utter that men should pray, and that the children should always do so is as needful to us as it was to His men; that it was necessary He should say it is a benevolent shining forth of the love of God toward us, sent out from the Heart of our Father through His Son; “Here ye Him!” echos the Voice of Heaven.  For the Son speaks nothing of Himself; He is ever saying only what the Father says.  Poor children!  He must say it, and the reason is clearly shown to us in them.  For, when He was with them, they seem to have offered up no prayers of thanksgiving, and when He was seized by force they all scattered as sheep; in bounty they took Him for granted, in poverty they despaired; they did not pray as they ought.  They were very much the same as are we. 

Do you doubt it?  What does St. James say to us concerning prayer except his twofold admonishment: We have not because we fail to pray, and in praying we have not because our prayers are amiss!  He prefaces this claim by telling us that our “passions are at war” within us.”  It is these passions upon which we act, and react, without praying; it is also these same passions which drive our prayers when we do pray.  How shall our Father respond, for He hears our every prayer?  If we do not pray, He will bring to our lives those things which shall drive us to praying.  If we pray amiss, for those desires which are contrary to our good, as through passions, He may, often does, refuse our petition; yet He may also grant a man what he asks of Him, for “...with love's severity, what his wishes may perhaps be given him in order that he may wish it had not been given him.”

How shall we best pray?  Is it not by first the emptying of Self, our self-inflicted crucifixion of desires within us which we place before and above His desire and will for us, the surrender of all we are to all God is, along with willingness to love what he gives, knowing it the greatest Good for us even though for a season it may be dreadful?  And to pray, even as our great Brother has taught us, “Not my will but Your will be done!”  There is no prayer uttered by men which the Father does not hear and answer, for; “God should as a loving Father listen, hear, consider and deal with the request after the perfect tenderness of His heart.”  And if we stand in the place of Christ Jesus, we will know it is well with our souls, and say with utterly honest satisfaction that whatever our lot, it “is to me enough; it is little that I should go without what I pray for.”