They Should Always Pray And Not Give Up
Key Verse 18:3
“And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’”
For the most part, we can say that there are three aspects to any prayer. The first aspect is, ourselves— we who pray, the second is God— to whom we pray, and the third is the enemy, who is Satan. Very few actually see the truth as it is, that in a true prayer, there are always three aspects of prayer. That is, there is themselves, there is God, but there is also the enemy, Satan who is very much involved. Yet every true prayer is very much related to all these aspects.
When we pray, we naturally prayer for our own welfare. Of course we do! I have needs you have needs. We have want and expectations, you have wants and expectations— and so we pray. We pray that God meet our requests. Still, let me tell you that in true prayer, we shouldn’t only ask God for things that pertain to our own welfare. We should also pray for the glory of God and for his rule over the whole earth. Although we are the ones who benefit when God answers our prayers, the Lord himself also gets the glory for that answered prayer. Answered prayers really glorifies God because it reveals how great is his love and power in answering his children’s prayer. At the same time, it really shows that his will is being done, because we know that God will not answer prayer which contradicts his will. We are the ones who petition God in prayer, and God is the one who is petitioned. In a triumphant prayer, both we the petitioners and God who is petitioned are victorious— or gain from the prayer. The petitioner, or prayer servant gets his or her heart’s desire, and at the same time, God himself, who is being petitioned gets his will done. We don’t really need to dwell on this truth since all of God’s faithful prayer servants who have some experience in prayer know the relationship between those two aspects of prayer. What we need to remember now is this: If in prayer, we only consider these two aspects alone, that is the engagement of both God and us, our prayers is deficient. Even if is effective prayer, it is imperfect and we can say that we have not mastered the art and meaning of what prayer really is. Most true Christians know that prayer is related to the will of God— that prayer is not just for our own benefit but for the glory of God. Yet, such knowledge is insufficient unless we notice the third aspect of prayer— which is that as we pray to the Lord, our prayers and God’s answer to our prayers hurts the enemy.
We know that the Sovereign Ruler of all things is God. Yet, we cannot ignore what the Bible tells us about Satan: It tells us that he is the “prince of this world” (John 14:30) and it tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), that is that the world is under his control. So what this tells us is that there are two opposing forces in the world, each seeking for supremacy or the upper hand. We know for sure that the ultimate victory is in God’s hand. But in this age of ours, before the Lord’s kingdom is established on earth, Satan continues to usurp power in this world. He does so for a reason. He does so in order to oppose the work of God, and all that is in God’s own interest. Without doubt, we who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior belong to God. Therefore, whatever we gain through prayer from God naturally will mean that his enemy Satan suffers loss. Whatever we gain through prayer is that which is done in the will of God. And whatever will of God is accomplished is that which Satan suffers in loss. What does this teach us? It teaches us that since we belong to God, Satan is determined to frustrate us, afflict us, oppress us, and allow us no foothold. This is what he aims for anyway, even though his intention may not be achieved because we have the privilege to approach the throne of Grace by the blood of our Lord Jesus, and to ask for his protection and care. As God hears our prayer, whatever Satan may plan is thwarted. So, whatever we gain in prayer, is certainly the enemy’s loss. Therefore, we see that whatever we may gain in prayer is to the Lord’s glory, to Satan’s loss. One gains and the other loses. One loses and the other gains. As such, we must carefully think about this: that in our prayers, we should not only be thinking of our own welfare and the glory of God— but we must also consider the third aspect of prayer— the enemy Satan. A prayer that does not consider all three aspects of prayer is often superficial, of little worth and is bound not to accomplish much.
We do not need to talk about the superficial prayers at this time for they have no effect on any of the three aspects of prayer. The prayers of the fleshly Christian focus only on the one aspect of his own welfare. The motive of that prayer is to benefit the self, the needs and wants. He or she thinks that if God would only give them their heart’s desire, it would suffice. They have no concept that there is such a thing as the will of God, nor are they aware of what the glory of God is all about. Furthermore, that person has no idea regarding the aspect of making Satan suffer loss. But thankfully, not all believers are of the flesh. Praise God that many of his children are spiritual. When they pray their purpose is not so selfish as to be only concerned with God supplying their needs. They also pay attention to the glory of God and to God’s will. They want him to respond to their prayer not because they only want to get something for themselves, but because he will surely be glorified in answer to their prayer. When the spiritual man or woman pray, he or she do not insist on having what they pray for, because they are really concerned with the will of God more than getting what they want or need. What they care about more than getting what they want, is whether their prayer conflicts with God’s will, his work and his plan. They think about their prayer in relation to the work of God, and thereby their prayers cover the two aspect of prayer, God and man.
Which brings us to the third aspect of prayer. Very few Christians consider the third aspect in their prayers— which is Satan. The goal of this prayer is not just for personal gain, but more importantly for the glory of God and for the loss of the enemy. These Christians do not put their own welfare on the pedestal, as of primary importance. Rather they would consider their prayers powerful and effective, or successful, if it will cause the enemy Satan to lose and God to be glorified. What they are looking for in their prayers is largely the enemy’s loss. Their way of seeing things goes beyond what is seen in the here and now, and into what benefits the work of God and his will in the world. This does not mean that they forget about their own personal and important needs. Actually there is no doubt that when the enemy loses and God is glorified through their prayers, it is to their own gain as well. Our progress as saints of the Lord in the school of prayer can be judged and determined by what we will begin to emphasize in our prayers— how we take into consideration the spiritual world and what is going on there.
Which brings us now to the parable of the Lord in Luke chapter 18, our passage for today. In this parable the Lord Jesus touches upon all the three features of prayer we have been talking about all this time. Look at who is involved in this. First there is the Judge, second the Widow, and third the adversary. The judge here— in a negative way— represents God. The widow represents the individual faithful Christian as well as the church. And finally, the adversary stands for our enemy the devil. In studying this passage, we often pay attention only to the relation between the judge and the widow. We consider how this judge— who neither fears God nor cares about men— finally grants the widow justice because of her persistent coming; and often we conclude that since God is not at all heartless as is this judge, will he then not bring justice to us when we cry out to him night and day! But there is much more to this passage than this.
Many of us are often unaware that we are neglecting another important person in the parable. But let’s consider what happens if there were no adversary. Would the widow find it necessary to go to the judge? Yet, look at her, she is driven to seek out the judge because she is oppressed by her adversary. Especially when we consider her words to the judge, we have to admit that the adversary has an important place in the story. The word of God is often written in understatement. So the words of the widow: “Grant me justice against my adversary” have much to say about what she’s going through. Don’t they tell us about her agonizing situation? When she asked for justice, it really means that there were wrongs done to her. And where do such wrongs and grievances come from? From none other than the oppressor, her adversary. And so her words uncover some deep enmity that existed between her and her enemy. They also tell us of how much she might have suffered harassment at the hands of the adversary. What she is complaining of before the judge must be a picture of her past experience and her present situation. What she is asking for is that the judge avenge her the wrongs done to her by bringing this adversary to justice.
In a sense, this adversary is the central figure of this parable. If it were not for him, there would be no trouble created in the system of justice where this widow lived. Nor would the widow herself be troubled. She could live in peace. Therefore, without the adversary there would be no story nor parable, because the one who is stirring up all this trouble is none other than the adversary. He is the mastermind behind all troubles and afflictions. In this case it would be necessary for us to focus our attention somewhat on this adversary while we look at the three characters in this parable one by one.
First, the Judge: This judge seems to be the only authority in the town. He governs it entirely. In a sense this is a picture of the power and authority of our God. Even though at present Satan temporarily rules the world, he is only a usurper who has occupied this world by force. When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, he already cast the prince of this world out. The Bible tells us that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities, [and] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15) Although the world still lies under the evil one, his dominion is entirely an illegal one. And God Almighty has set a day when the Kingdom will be retaken and his Son Jesus will be king and ruler over all forever. But before that time comes God only permits Satan to remain active, while he himself holds the reigns of government of this world. Satan may rule over all that belongs to Satan himself; he may even persecute all that belongs to God; but in reality all this is only for a short time. And even in this short time, Satan is entirely restricted by God. We have to believe this. Satan may harass the saints of the Lord but he can only do so within certain limits. We have to believe this also. Apart from what God permits, the enemy has no authority whatsoever. We know this for sure from the story of Job where Satan is seen as taking permission from God before he can inflict anything on God’s people. Just as this judge rules an entire city, so God rules over the whole world. And just as it is extraordinary for people under the rule of a judge to harass others and so to become adversaries, so it is most extraordinary for Satan who is under God’s rule to persecute saints. But he does!
We can tell the character of this judge by his very own words: “I don’t fear God nor care about men”. What kind of immoral person is this, having no regard for neither God nor man! Yes, because of the widow’s persistence in coming and in asking for justice, he is so disturbed and worn our by her pleas that he finally avenges her and grants her justice. The Lord Jesus in this parable portrays the judge in negative terms in order to highlight the goodness of our God— for our God is not at all like this heartless and dishonorable judge. On the contrary, God is our gracious Father who protects us; he loves us and gives us the very best things; he is intimately related to us unlike the judge’s relation to this nameless widow. Now, therefore, if a judge like this is willing to avenge the widow because of her persistent coming and pleading with him, how much more will God, who is so gracious and kind and so intimately related to us avenge his children who pray to him night and day? If a merciless judge will avenge a widow for her incessant crying, is it not true that God will at least work because of his own children? The reason why the widow finally gets the judge’s consent is interesting and central to Jesus’ teaching. The reason is found in her persistent asking. In fact, she can put no hope in the judge himself, for she knows how heartless he is. Yet we cannot but see that the answer to our prayers to God not only comes because or our persistent prayers— which in themselves should be sufficient for us to get what we ask for— but they come also because of the goodness of our God. That is why Jesus concludes the parable by asking this question: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones”? (7) These three words: “will not God” are glorious words of truth and comfort for us.
Second, The Widow. The word “widow” tells us of her situation. The husband on whom she had always depended for her living is dead. She is now a widow. She has no one she could rely on. She really stands as a good type for us Christians in this world. Jesus has already ascended to heaven; and so from a physical perspective, we are as much without someone to depend on as this widow. More than that, when we consider Matthew chapter 5, we see what a painful situation we Christians are in. We are asked to be the meekest of all people. We are expected to offer no resistance of any kind. Consequently, we find our situation in this world to be most humiliating. Neither our Lord Jesus nor his apostles instruct us to seek power or position in this world. Rather we are told that we ought to be humble and lowly and accept all the unkindness that this world has to offer us. We are told that we ought to have no possessions nor to claim anything for ourselves. We are not to seek neither vengeance nor justice for ourselves, but are commanded to give in to any kind of evil done to us. This is the position that we Christians find as we walk the path the Lord himself walked and set for us to follow. As much as the Lord Jesus was to die on the cross without resistance or complaints, can his people ever expect any better treatment from the world? In view of all this, the widow here is surely a good picture of us Christians in this age.
Third, The adversary: Just as the widow has her adversary, so also we Christians have ours as well. And our adversary is none other than Satan. Actually, the very meaning of the word “Satan” is “adversary” which signifies an enemy. Peter tells us: “Your enemy the devil prowls around… looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We should therefore clearly recognize who is our enemy. If we do, then we would know how to approach the judge who is our Father and in turn accuse our enemy to him. I am not sure if its necessary for us to examine the root reason for the enmity that exists between us and the devil. But according to the Bible this enmity started way back in the Garden of Eden when God himself cursed the devil and put an enmity between him and all of mankind, especially those who belong to God. (Genesis 3) From that scripture we also know that the seed of the woman who was promised to come destroy the devil and his work is our Lord Jesus himself. (1 John 3:8) Jesus and the devil are eternally at enmity. How does this affect us? In every way! We who believe in the Lord Jesus stand on the Lord’s side, and therefore, we cannot but consider the Lord’s enemy to be our own enemy as well. In the same way, Satan who is the enemy of our Lord will not pass us by but will oppose us because we belong to the Lord. Satan considers the Lord his enemy, so that he cannot but look upon the saints of the Lord as his enemies as well. We who have believed in and are united with the Lord Jesus will no doubt incur Satan’s hatred because of his hatred for Jesus our Lord. And this enmity doesn’t subside but actually deepens day by day. Since the enemy is so strong and we are so poor and desolate like the widow, he uses all his powers to oppress us— causing us great loss. We have suffered so much at his hands that we cannot stress enough how we Christians are wronged by the devil. And if these wrongs are not avenged, we will suffer loss forever. What a pity that so many of God’s children are still unaware of the oppression they suffer from their adversary the devil! If we are blind to that we are indeed in the darkness when we pray.
As the adversary treated the widow with contempt, so also the devil this very day treats us who belong to Jesus. Who knows how much each of us has suffered at his hands? Of course, when the devil persecutes us he never manifests himself to us nor acts on us directly. All his works are done through other people or through things that happen. He will not show himself. Rather he prompts people or the things of this world to do his bidding while he operates in secret. Because of this, God’s children often make huge mistakes in recognizing who the real enemy is. How does he work upon us? I’ll be honest here. He sometimes weakens believers’ bodies, causing sickness and pain, (See Acts 10:38) yet how often do believers think of their condition in terms of fatigue or poor health, not realizing that the devil is at work behind the scenes. In this one respect alone, think of how much Christians have suffered at his hands over the years. The devil also causes the people of the world to persecute believers (See Rev 2:10) who end up attacked by strangers, by close friends, even by family members, and even the state. But for the most part, Christians think that such attacks are due to something personal, something they may have done, or may not have done to bring upon themselves such hatred or persecution. Satan is clever at causing confusion and disunity and enmity among people, how much more then among God’s own people. Frequently, the devil will work to bring believers into a situation of hardship, or even danger. There are times when he attacks the believers financially such that they are desolate. Other times he oppresses their spirits and makes them depressed, restless and often aimless. Most often he might inject into their minds confusing or unclean thoughts to weaken us. He might even dress himself as an angel of light to deceive and to lead the believer astray. Often he will create misunderstanding between Christians so as to separate the dearest of friends and cause so much heartache and tears. Consider the times we felt as if we were wronged by a brother or sister, and anger welled up in our hearts, until our hearts became cold and unfeeling towards our brother or sister whom we once loved. What could do that! Not the Lord, of course! The Lord brings healing and unity and blessing and forgiveness even in the direst of situations. But the enemy will do anything to cause us pain, to fall into sin, or to bring upon us damage or loss. Yet, unfortunately so many of God’s children don’t now when they’re suffering at his hands.
One of the most important things therefore, is to identify the enemy. We should know for sure who is our adversary, who is it that causes us so much suffering. How often we attribute our suffering to be from other people. But here’s what the Bible tells us: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) When we suffer from the hand of others, we must always remember that behind that flesh and blood there is a devil whose powers of darkness can very well be directing everything. We need to distinguish what is of natural and what is of supernatural origin. We need the insight to discern when God is working for his glory and when the adversary is working around us to cause injury and loss. That too requires prayer in the school of prayer to discern what only God can show us. And when we pray, surely God will show us what we are looking for. In prayer, we will also generate a heart that hates Satan and his cruel work; we would develop a hostile attitude towards him and his evil works, and we would refuse to be subject any longer to his oppression. All that we have suffered at his hands, all that you have suffered at his hands, and all that we as a church have suffered at his hands, is not a small thing, but they are real grievances which we must bring to God, grievances that must absolutely be avenged. He has no right to harass us, yet he does anyway. This is surely an injustice, an injustice which cannot and should not remain unavenged. And the only one who could avenge us is God.
Now, after this widow has suffered so much under the oppression of her adversary, she comes to the judge for justice. This is something that we should learn to do. We do not come to earthly judges, begging them to act for us. Rather we ask our Judge who is none other than our Good Father in heaven. The weapons of our warfare that we fight for justice with are neither made of flesh nor are they methods, for such things do not work in the heavenly realm where our real struggles are being fought. And neither are our enemies those who are flesh and blood that we should fight them on a fleshly physical level. Here is what the Bible says about that. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) Therefore we will not engage any earthly or fleshly means against instruments of flesh and blood (other people) whom Satan often use— that is, we will not use any earthly means to fight against others when we are wronged. Actually, instead of showing impatience, anger, hatred or hostility towards them, we should pity them for they have been used by Satan as his instrument of oppression or assault. And if we use the same weapons on them as they use on us, we would defy the purpose for which God called us to pray and to bless and to overcome even the world.
Of course we find our spiritual weapons through which we must fight in Epehsians chapter 6. But the most effective among them is prayer. (Eph. 6:18) Truly we are people without strength, and therefore we are unable to avenge ourselves of our adversary. But we may pray to God, asking him to avenge us. Prayer is the best offensive weapon against our enemy. Through it, we may preserve our line of defense intact. Through prayer, we can also attack our adversary andinflict great loss on his plan, on his work, on his power as well. This widow realized that if she struggled with her adversary by herself, she would not win because she is weak and could never stand up against this formidable adversary. In the same way, if we God’s children struggle on our own without relying through prayer on God’s power asking for justice, we too will be injured in the fight. In this parable, Jesus teaches us the best way to overcome the adversary, which is to pray day and night to God— asking him to “grant me justice against my adversary.” (3) And according to Jesus’ teaching, and the promise of God, our Father will surely avenge us any wrong done to us, whatever it may be.