The Persistent Widow: Perseverance in Prayer

Luke 18:1-8

“Jesus taught a parable to illustrate how necessary it is for people to persevere in prayer. He said, ‘There was in a city a judge who cared nothing for God or man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Vindicate and protect me against my adversary.’ For awhile he was unwilling to do so, but later said to himself, ‘Though I care nothing for God or man, yet because this widow is harassing me, I will vindicate her.’ Contrast the thoughts of this cold-hearted judge with those of God. He patiently affirms that His own people, who cry to him day and night, will be vindicated. I assure you He will speedily avenge their wrongs. But when the Son of God does come, will He still find men on earth who believe in Him?” (paraphrased)

This parable, the story of The Pharisee and the Publican, and the parable of The Friend at Midnight combine to show how prayer necessitates both perseverance and humility. All three narratives verify God yields to resolute determination in prayer (Lk. 18:9-14 & Lk. 11:5-8). 

Our parable is framed by two powerful statements. The first speaks of the earnestness we must have in prayer (v. 1) and the second addresses the faith prayer produces (v. 8). The concept of perseverant prayer runs consistently throughout the New Testament. God hears and is motivated by sincere prayer. True prayer is both our duty and our privilege, expressing our needs and our gratitude to God. We must continue to ask, seek and knock in order to receive (Matt. 7:7 & Jn. 16:24).

We are to pray with ceaseless perseverance (I Thess. 5:17 & Eph. 6:18). The heavens yield rain to Elijah through impassioned prayer (Jas. 5:17). Jacob prays all night (Gen. 32:24). The Syrophenician woman is also dauntless in her importunity. Because she will not be hindered, her request is finally granted (Mk. 7:25-30). The Word of God strongly promotes strenuous, urgent intercession. Jesus prays until He sweats blood (Lk. 22:44).

What is Prayer? Here are some maxims that may help define it:

<> Prayer is the path from our world to God’s world.
<> Prayer shapes both your future and your character.
<> Prayer is spiritual aerobics, keeping our souls in shape.
<> Perplexity drives me to prayer and prayer drives away perplexity.
<> Some see prayer as optional; God sees it as mandatory.
<> Our true estimate of prayer is proven by the time we devote to it.
<> Prayer is not measured by eloquence but by earnestness.
<> Gospel seeds only germinate when sown with praying hands.
<> Praying makes a person stop sinning and sin makes a person stop praying.

v. 1
Jesus taught this parable for a specific reason: “that men ought always to pray and never stop praying.” Because God has given us the privilege of communicating with Him, we should take advantage of this opportunity continuously. We can talk to God habitually regarding everything. Praying is a pragmatic task. He tells us to pray because He intends to answer our prayers. To “faint” (ekakeo) means to give up or lose heart. Paul uses this term to encourage ministers to bravely persevere in the faith (II Cor. 4:1 & II Th. 3:13).

v. 2
Someone who “regards neither God nor man” is a proverbial phrase used to denote an unethical, disreputable individual. Under harsh rulers such as Herod Antipas, judges with no love for justice were common in Palestine. The attitude of the judge in this parable typifies the prevalent, corrupt judicial system.

v. 3
Widows were often defenseless and destitute. Although protected by Jewish Law, they were often preyed upon and exploited (Ex. 22:22-24 & Isa. 1:17). Jesus denounces evil rulers who “devour widows’ houses” (Mt. 23:14). Disciples of Christ are mandated to care for widows in their affliction (Jas. 1:27). The woman in this parable has no option but to implore a local judge to intervene on her behalf. Believers can identify with this helpless widow, for without a Mediator we have no protection from the enemy.

The Greek phrase “came to him” means she approaches him repeatedly, perhaps daily. The term “avenge” (ekdikeo) may be misleading, for vengeance is not the issue here. Ekdikeo means “to exercise justice or to vindicate.” “Adversary” (antidikos) indicates one who is unlawfully opposing someone. Seeking deliverance from her oppressor, her statement is a cry for justice. No details are provided concerning who has wronged her or whether she sought compensation. Her earnestness proves she is determined to plead until she receives justice.

vv. 4-5
By his own admission, this judge is neither a spiritual man nor a humanitarian. Jesus does not say if he is Jew or Gentile – only that he is shamelessly hardhearted and self-serving. This self-centered judge responds to the widow only because he is personally inconvenienced. Neither the wrongs committed against her nor her civic rights are factors in his decision. Although he is sick and tired of her, he knows he cannot continue to ignore her. He wants only to avoid trouble and be rid of her, for she is “troubling” (parecho) him. Parecho carries the idea of embarrassing or distracting someone. This judge does not admire the widow’s persistence: she has begun to get on his nerves.

“Weary” (hupopiazo) means “to strike under the eye.” The contemporary equivalent literally means “to give someone a black eye.” Here it is used figuratively to imply the judge knows he will become increasingly frustrated by her annoying visits. He knows he cannot put her off indefinitely, for she has a formidable weapon called perseverance. Such powerful weaponry causes this hard man to grant her petition.

v. 6
Jesus said we must “hear what the unjust judge says.” To “hear” is His summons to listen carefully, obey and benefit from this parabolic lesson. Sixteen times in the Synoptic Gospels we find Jesus’ maxim: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.”

v. 7
God has nothing in common with this unjust judge. The Lord will hear and answer the prayers of Believers. This judge is exactly the opposite of our loving, compassionate Heavenly Father. But if an unjust judge will respond to persistence, surely God will heed our petitions. Courage may fail but importunity will prevail. 

Jesus puts His statement in the form of a rhetorical question. If a selfish, egocentric judge will eventually grant a request, how much more willing is God to grant the requests of His children? God often allows suffering to continue after we have begun to pray for deliverance. Although some may think so, the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promises (II Pet. 3:9). He deals with us in infinite patience and encourages us to exercise the same persistence as this widow. God does not intervene in our desperate circumstances immediately, not because He is unwilling to bless us, but to draw us close to Him through intercessory prayer. Unlike the unjust judge who ignores the widow, God is never reluctant to grant the request of sincere, perseverant Believers. While an insensitive judge postpones his answer due to his indifference, our sensitive Heavenly Father postpones His answer due to His beneficence.

This parable does not suggest God gets weary of our prayers. Neither does it infer God reluctantly answers the prayers of those who “wear Him down” by the amount of time they spend praying. We cannot harass God until He responds, but importunity will always triumph.                         

v. 8
The term “speedily” does not imply God will respond immediately when we call upon Him. Jesus means that when He comes to our aid, He does so decisively and proficiently. If He seems to keep us waiting, it is for our own good. Every crisis in the life of a Believer is designed to stimulate intimate dialogue with God, teach us patience, and increase our faith. We will never learn these things if He answers every prayer instantly. God’s justice is depicted as coming “swiftly.” Although a delay may seem lengthy from our perspective, it should not be viewed as a denial. 

“Nevertheless” is a term that joins two thoughts. Though this widow perseveres, it does not follow that myriads of Believers will be as determined as she is. When Jesus returns, evil will be rampant on earth. Because sin will be so prevalent, “the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). Satan seeks to deceive even mature Believers (Mt. 24:24).

Jesus is not implying there will only be a few who exercise true faith when He returns. The question He asks is rhetorical. Although God is faithful, will He find His followers have remained faithful? The Greek language indicates He is referring to the kind of faith illustrated by this parable. Persevering faith anywhere on earth will be rare in the end times. Will this type of steadfast, determined faith greet the Son of God when He arrives? Every Believer who reads this verse must personally ponder the question.



1. Summarize the results of prevailing prayer (James 5:16-18)

2. What were the results of Jesus’ earnest prayer? (Luke 22:44)

3. Who helps us to pray fervently – and why? (Romans 8:26-27)

4. How did Paul use this gift?  (I Corinthians 14:14-15)

5. What is Jude’s advice concerning this?  (Jude 20)

6. How does Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:7-8 relate to prayer?

7. What did Jacob do in Genesis 32:24-28 – and what was the result?

8. What is Jesus’ stated reason for teaching the Parable of the Persistent Widow?

9. What does Jesus consider to be the minimal prayer-time?  (Matthew 26:40)

10. From Matthew 6:5-8 and 16-18, list the specific instructions Jesus gives regarding prayer and fasting.


Maxim of the Moment

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars. - Les Brown