There have been books written on how to have a successful prayer life by people who have studied and lived a life of prayer. So, I don’t want to come across as someone who has the final answer on what it takes to have your prayers answered.
But I do want to discuss a teaching that Jesus gave about prayer in Luke 18:1-8, which provides several keys to successful prayer.
In this parable, Jesus talked about a widow who was seeking justice from a corrupt judge.
The Lord described the judge as a man who did not fear God or care about what people thought of him (v 2).
He was a narcissist. All he cared about was himself. In other words, justice was for sale in that town.
Judges in this day typically travelled from village to village, where they set up a tent, so people could come to plead their case.
Often you had to bribe the tent’s gatekeeper just to get a hearing, much less a favourable ruling.
And Jesus used this story about a corrupt judge to teach three important things about successful prayer.
The first key: Persist in prayer
Jesus was very clear at the start of this parable that it was intended to show people that “they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
Though the judge kept refusing the widow’s petition, she persisted. She came back time and again asking for the same thing, justice.
We are not told how many times she went before that judge, but she returned so many times, it started to irritate and bother the judge (Luke 18:5).
Finally, he realized that the only way to get rid of this woman was to provide the justice she requested.
And in His summary of this parable, Jesus says God differs in one key way, He wants to answer your prayer:
“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7).
But we need determination, because the idea of praying day and night implies that we are calling on God about this same issue every day. Jesus even implied that we should consider praying into the night.
The Lord says we need to be persistent in our prayer. Keep praying. Don’t stop praying.
The second key: Don’t go by what you see
Perhaps the biggest hindrance to persistent prayer is that we lose hope because outwardly nothing seems to be happening. You may be praying for your children and nothing is changing, in fact, if anything, it’s actually getting worse.
In this instance, the corrupt judge was not just ignoring the woman’s pleas, he had gone the next step and actually said ‘no.’
It couldn’t get any worse than that. The woman had every legitimate reason to give up.
But unknown to the widow, things were happening:
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” (Luke 18:4 NIV)
Even though the judge outwardly and repeatedly said no, things were changing on the inside. He was thinking of giving her justice.
Notice how Jesus said the judge “said to himself.” He did not tell his wife. He did not tell his fellow judges. He did not tell the widow. He did not tell his friends. He was speaking to himself.
The widow had no idea this was happening. All she saw was the repeated rejection and unanswered prayer.
But things were changing in the judge’s heart, and if she had given up and refused to petition him that one last time, she would never have received her justice.
Don’t let outward appearances determine what is going on inside a person’s heart.
The third key: Persistence prayer is sign of faith
And finally, Jesus finished off this teaching by stating persistent prayer is a sign of faith:
8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV)
Though a single prayer uttered in faith can move a mountain, Jesus said persistent prayer about that same mountain is also a sign of faith.