How many times should you pray about the same thing? And when should you give up?
Jesus told his disciples a parable ‘to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). It concerns a widow who has been wronged and wants justice. The judge isn’t interested. But the woman just keeps coming and coming, and eventually he takes up her case just to get her off his back.
The point Jesus makes here is that if even a judge who doesn’t care about justice can be persuaded to act,
“will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? … he will give justice to them speedily”. (Luke 18:6–7)
A similar parable in Luke 11:5–13 describes a man who won’t stop knocking on his friend’s door until the friend gets out of bed (it’s midnight) to provide some food for an unexpected guest.
As we develop in prayer we learn to stop asking for what we think we need, or what we want, and learn instead to ask to see and understand the demonstration of God’s will in our circumstances.
Jesus only told two parables about prayer and, as you can see, both emphasise persistence.
A ‘real life’ example of a persistent pray-er is Cornelius in Acts 10, who ‘prayed constantly to God’ (Acts 10:2). Because of his devotion to prayer, an angel visited him with instructions to send for Peter, who would tell him the good news about Jesus Christ.
Such examples demonstrate the truth and effectiveness of Jesus’ words:
“Ask if you want to receive. Seek until you find. Knock until the door is opened” (Luke 11:9–10).
We won’t always get what we want. Jesus himself prayed three times that the experience he was facing would pass away from him (Mat. 26:39, 42, 44), but above all he prayed “not as I will, but as you will” (Mat. 26:39). As we develop in prayer we learn to stop asking for what we think we need, or what we want, and learn instead to ask to see and understand the demonstration of God’s will in our circumstances.
But we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him (Rom. 8:28). We ought always to pray and not lose heart.