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This is as clear as a desert evening in Albuquerque: “Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to faint, lose heart and give up” (verse 1).

The story involves just two people: an unjust judge and an aggressive woman, actually a widow. Jesus says that the judge neither reverenced God nor respected man…..he was totally into himself, and probably an arrogant jerk. The widow kept hammering on his door, perhaps even at night, asking for justice against her adversary. Maybe the owner of the house she was renting was ripping her off.

Parable of the Unjust Judge by John Everett Millais(1863). Click on image to enlarge and reference.

Initially, the judge refused to talk with her. However he eventually relented and agreed to represent her, claiming petulantly that the woman would wear him out by her persistence, or even assault him. I guess back then they didn’t have restraining orders that the judge himself could have issued against the provocative woman.

Jesus proceeds to interpret the parable:
• Our God is just, unlike the unjust judge.
• God will defend and protect his elect (meaning us)……(verse 7)
• So long as we cry to him day and night (verse 7).
• In fact He will defend and protect us speedily (verse 8).

This is pretty clear. If we have a problem, we should persevere with prayer, day and night, and night and day ….. There is no thought that we should pray only once and that will be sufficient, arguing that God knows our problems anyway.

Two additional comments. First, verse 8 also suggests that Jesus did not find a lot of persistent faith amongst the folks he encountered. Second, Jesus emphasizes (twice) that the judge did not respect man. In contrast, although not mentioned in the text, it seems to imply that God does respect man (meaning us). Verse 7 says “God will defend and protect his elect”. The word elect means chosen ones. When we were kids we used to choose a boy or a girl on our team because we respected their skill in basketball, or some other game. The fact that God made us in His image suggests a basis for respecting us.

So we are urged specifically to keep on keeping on. I included a chapter about this in Hiking Toward Heaven. This is the direct instruction from Jesus. Even though we do not understand why Yahweh allowed his chosen people to suffer in Egypt for 400 years. Even though we do not understand why some of our prayers are not answered. Keep on keeping on, and do not give up.

Two little examples:
• A relative of mine in Australia (call her S) has physical problems in her arm, hip, and foot. They all started about the same time, and have impaired her sitting, walking, writing, and mouse movement required in her full-time job. Despite this, she told me that she prays constantly for one of her friends recovering from an operation. S herself has seen doctors and chiros and naturopaths, and prayed searchingly for healing. Only now, after a year, has she started to get better.
• I myself have had a condition where I feel a bit disoriented, possible connected to regular anxiety attacks, and with two amnesia attacks to boot. Not serious enough to prevent me from working, but continually troublesome. I have prayed long and hard about this, talked with doctor after doctor, and reduced my workload. I am happy to say that in the past month I have felt better than in the past two years.

My mother, who is 90, learned this a long time ago. Perseverance has been her favorite character word for a long time. She walks with a spring in her step, and has a sparkle in her eye (she just has one eye). The following is her favorite poem*.

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low, and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out,
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worse,
That you must not quit.

Alison Palmer hiking in the Flinders Ranges, August 2012 (Clive Palmer Photography).

The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……

*Don’t Quit, 2001, Scafa Art, New Jersey, with permission.

“He said, In a certain city there was a judge who neither reverenced God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, Protect and defend me against my adversary. And for a time he would not; but later he said to himself…… Because this widow continues to bother me, I will defend and protect her; lest she wear me out by her continual coming, or assault me.

Then the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says! And will not our just God defend and protect His elect (His chosen ones) who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay help on their behalf? I tell you, He will defend and protect them speedily. However, when the Son of man comes will He find persistence in the faith on the earth?” (Luke chapter 18, Amplified Bible).

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6 Responses to Jesus on persevering

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  2. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story which is quite short, but which contains a wealth of guidance.

    Maybe this story influenced British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. On October 29, 1941, when Britain stood virtually alone against the evils of Nazism, Churchill visited his old school Harrow to speak to the students. When he was invited to give a speech, Churchill stood before the students and said,

    “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

    Then he sat down. It is one of his most famous speeches. And his persistence was one of the reasons the Allies eventually triumphed.

    I think Jesus’ story goes a little further in strongly encouraging the development of good character in Christians. What happens to you (out of your control) is not as important as how you react to what happens to you (only you can control this).

    Keep up the good work!

    • I love your Churchill story Neil……its powerful! To me, your comment as to how Christians should respond (when it is in our control) implies with positive perseverance, rather than negative despair. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Anne-Françoise Van den Bulke |

    Hi Ian,
    Just a little comment from equatorial forest of Gabon. I think that we must persevere in our faith in God, but not obviously in our request. Most of the time we say I pray to God but he didn’t answer or he delayed to answer. But are we sure that what we ask for is good for us? Now when something that I feel is bad for me happens, I just say to God: You know better than me what is good for me, so I let you decide, I just follow you. When I pray for one sick person, I never pray for healing or a precise thing, but for what is the best for the person in God’s plan. Why should we ask for limited things when the power of God is unlimited. In the last few years, I have met a lot of difficulties in my life, but I could see that after each time my life has improved. So I don’t want to ask for special things but I only pray for God to keep me in his love plan. Have a peaceful week-end.

    • This is an interesting and astute distinction that you make Anne-Francoise: does Jesus’ story refer to persistent faith or persistent specific request. The abused widow certainly had a specific request, as I read the story. But I think you make a very good point: we definitely need to have persistent faith, at the least to help us accept when things appear to go awfully wrong in life.

  4. Thanks Ian, a great object lesson. Particularly relevant for me as I am struggling to relearn algebra 2 which I must have taken nearly 60 years ago!
    I would add something to your analysis and that is to ask the question what is the reason to persevere? My answer is two-fold: First the widow believed in the rightness or integrity of her cause and so that “fueled” her persistence. And second if we are trusting in the Lord and He has directed our path (way), then we persevere in the knowledge that the God who Created the universe stands behind our decision to persevere. I remember working on my PhD and being discouraged more than once and it was only the knowledge that God had directed me to Texas AandM in the first place (and prayed about the decision) that caused me to persevere. On one occasion I walked into my research director’s office and told him I was going to quit the program because I felt unable to deal with the demands made on me (by him). However he informed me that he had had this conversation with a number of his students, and he agreed to back off.
    No doubt all of us could speak of other experiences of perseverance in the face of challenges where only the Grace of God sustained us!

    • The two additional aspects you mention Garrick are quite illuminating……thank you. I wish you the best with the algebra!

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