Some people remember Winston Churchill’s famous speech, where he said, “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”, and sat down.
As it turns out, remembering this story is quite a feat, since that isn’t actually what happened. As near as I can tell, this is a paraphrase of an excerpt from a speech given by Churchill in 1941, which you can read in full at the link, below:
(Look in the middle of the 4th paragraph of the speech for the parallel to the commonly-misquoted object lesson. Or, maybe you heard the speech accurately from your teachers, and already knew this. If so, bravo!)
Whatever the exact words of Churchill or those who misquote him, Jesus delivered a similar message once, as recorded in the 18th chapter of the book of Luke. Luke starts the retelling of this illustration by giving the reader some context – why this parable was important:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,
Luke 18:1 NASB
Here’s a reminder when reading the Bible: There are often well-known stories or passages where – to really understand them more deeply – it helps to read both before and after the parts that we’re used to hearing. The context may shed some more light on the verses we’re familiar with, or it may help us understand what it meant for those to whom it was originally addressed.
So, what was the message that was intended to remind us to remain faithful in practicing these things?
saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'”
Luke 18:2-5 NASB
Taken by itself, this might make a good motivational speech, or a coach’s halftime reminder. If we keep up, even those who don’t want to give us what we want will eventually cave to persistence. Watch the kids in the grocery store that seem to know (probably subconsciously) that mom or dad is tired and can only handle a certain number of requests for candy before caving in…if only to bribe the kids into behaving. (Who knows, you might spot me with my kids, tired and willing to trade snacks for good behavior.)
But, Jesus had a bigger picture in mind. If we could imagine human beings yielding to the persistence of others, how much more would God – who loves us – be willing to help us out when we ask for what we need?
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:6-8 NASB
Contrary to certain opinions, God isn’t trying to keep good things from us, or to make us jump through hoops to get what we need to survive. Yes, He sometimes determines that we need to go through lean times, or that we need to have our faith stretched for something that we’ll experience in the future. However, He loves us and cares for us, as the apostle Peter said.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7 NASB
(See also 1 John 4:7-11.)
So, if you – like me – feel like your prayers aren’t getting answered in the timeframe you want, remember this parable. Remember that you’re not pleading to an unrighteous judge, but a loving God who cares for you. And, if we run out of steam (see I’m Tired), here are a couple of passages from Romans to remind us to keep going: