There are a lot of Christians whose understanding of prayer is so far from Biblically sound, they are more often than not frustrated as they pray because they place an unreasonable burden either on themselves or on God in terms of why God is apparently not answering their prayers.

Prayer is a vital part of the Christian life, yet it is often the most neglected part of the Christian life, and that neglect is often due to a misunderstanding of the nature of prayer. As part of Luke’s story of the life and times of Jesus Christ, he included a number parables told by Jesus to illustrate what prayer is all about. If anybody knew all about prayer, it was Jesus Christ. During His three-year ministry on Earth, He taught about prayer, talked about prayer, and is seen praying often.

At the end of Luke 17, our Lord talked about the last days and His Second Coming. He said those last days would be as bad as the days of Noah; that they would difficult days of faithlessness. Luke 18 begins like this:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)

Since there are no chapters in the original documents, Jesus’ purpose in showing His disciples the importance of prayer is connected to being discouraged, as evidenced by His use of the phrase, “and not give up.” In other words, no matter how bleak the circumstances may be, a Christians should not stop praying. During those times, we are likely to respond in one of two ways: We get frustrated when things don’t get better, so we just stop praying. Or, those difficult times drive us to our knees in prayer. To Jesus, the latter is what should happen, and that’s why He told a handful of parables.

1. Parable #1: The Unjust Judge, Luke 18:2—8

We don’t have to wait for the last days; we are already living in them. This is why prayer is so important.

In this parable, the judge was not a good man; he was a scheming, miserable, cold, godless man. He was selfish and concerned only with himself. Since he had no thought for God, he had no thought for people. The widow had a need and she kept pestering this old judge to help her but he kept putting her off. Finally, we read this:

For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ (verses 4, 5)

The judge was getting sick and tired of this woman nagging him and he did what a lot of us would do: he gave her her day in court just to shut her up.

What is this parable teaching? Parables were short, pithy stories that were very popular during New Testament times that were used to teach a truth. Jesus was the master story teller, often telling a parable to explain something very deep and perhaps difficult to understand. There are two ways Jesus used parables: to compare two things, like when He told parables that started like this, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” The other use of a parable is to contrast something, and that is what we are seeing in this parable about prayer: Jesus is contrasting prayer with something else.

The common way of viewing this parable is that we, like the widow, should keep on going back to God, the unjust judge, until He answers our prayer. But, this is not the point of the parable; this is a parable of contrast, not comparison.

Aside from the fact that God cannot be an unjust judge, we read this in verses 6, 7:

Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

In other words, Jesus’ teaching is that God is NOT at all like the unjust judge, in fact, God is the exact opposite—the contrast to—the unjust judge in the parable.

So, when we go to God in prayer, we can expect Him NOT to act like the unjust judge. He’s not going to withhold any good thing from us just because He feels like it. He’s not a grumpy, miserable, cold, unfeeling, old codger.

2. Parable #2: The Persistent Friend, Luke 11:5—8

Here is another parable teaching us something by way of contrast, not comparison. We almost always hear it taught that Jesus is once again teaching persistent prayer; that we have to keep begging God for something again and again and again until we get it. But while we are to persist in prayer, we are not supposed to nag God to death. By way of contrast, this parable teaches us that God is NOT like the friend who is so selfish he won’t get out of bed to help his neighbor. God, in contrast to that so-called friend WANTS to hear you and He WANTS to answer your prayers!

…indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:4)

So no believer has to keeping nattering at God to answer a prayer! What an insult to God to think that! God wants to hear you; He never turns a deaf ear to your prayers—

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. (Isaiah 65:24)

Now, God may tell you “No,” in answer to your prayer. That’s our problem, not God’s. We have to accept His answer as being what’s best for us. When we get a “no,” it’s not that He hasn’t heard us, it’s that “no” is simply His answer.

God is not like that grouchy neighbor who won’t get out of bed. God is the opposite. God is our Father, whose door is always open to us, as noted in the verse following this parable:

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (verses 9, 10)

The thing is, however, that no matter what our prayer request may be, God’s will must always take precedence. Our prayers should not be prayed to persuade God to come around to our way of thinking; we need to respect God’s will and we need to have faith that He knows what’s best. He is God, after all.

3. Parable #3: The Father, Luke 11:11, 12

This is actually a really short parable that contrasts bad fathers with good fathers. A good father would never give his child something that could be harmful to them. God is like a good Father. In fact, in verse 13 Jesus hits the parable right out of the ballpark:

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!

What is Jesus saying here? The Holy Spirit is the greatest gift any believer will receive from God. Jesus had to die so that we could be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Paul understood exactly what this profound truth meant:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

So here’s an argument that points out the most extreme God could do for us: giving His Son up for us. Now, if God would do that, why would He not give us whatever we need to live our lives? The problem most of us have is that we would rather have what we want, in place of what we need.

4. Parable #4: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9—14

Here is another short parable full of satire; one that Jesus’ listeners would have really appreciated. And here is an example of how not to pray. The Pharisee prayed incorrectly in that he was not praying in humility. There is a difference between coming boldly into God’s presence, which we are encouraged to do, and being bold in God’s presence, something this Pharisee was being. When we are being bold in God’s presence, our prayers go nowhere. Note how Darby’s translation renders verse 11:

The Pharisee, standing, prayed thus to himself…

Because the Pharisee was praying incorrectly, in the wrong attitude, he was simply talking to himself. God never hears a prayer like that; He won’t waste a second listening to somebody praying presumptuous prayers, pompous prayers, or prideful prayers.

We contrast the Pharisee with the tax collector, who was a sinner, who was as far from God as one could get. It is important to note that this man was a tax collector. For him to become a tax collector meant that he denied his Jewish heritage and his religion. In essence, he had turned his back on almighty God for sake of the almighty dollar. His prayer was from the heart:

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (verse 13)

Now his attitude was right. He had a realistic picture of his true condition and his prayer reflected that and it was answered. This is the teaching of this short parable; that we must approach God with a realistic view of our true condition. What this parable is NOT teaching is that we must beg God for mercy. Believers don’t even have to beg God to be merciful because He IS merciful. Being merciful is part of God’s character and that aspect of His character has been manifested in the finished work of His Son.

When we pray to God, let’s have a realistic view of ourselves. We are sinners saved by grace and we have been granted entrance into the most holy place solely on the basis of what Christ did for us, not because of anything we have done to deserve it. Our prayers should reflect that.

Let’s also have a realistic view of God when we pray. He’s a loving heavenly Father and we are His children. He’s not mean spirited. He’s not cheap. He doesn’t need to be told what to do. But He does want us to learn to trust Him and to depend on Him. And those are things that, for most of us, chafe against our skin!


  1. 1 Amit Kenny May 18, 2016 at 9:02 am

    It’s Heartening to see an article that truly shows the real message behind the parables of the unjust judge and persistent friend. Even some of the major bible commentators have got it wrong. God Bless.

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