And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8 ESV
I have to admit, I’ve struggled with the concept of prayers of petition. I’ve always fallen more toward the “God’s will” side of prayer than the “ask and receive” side.
Think about it. The God of all creation, maker of everything. The omniscient and omnipotent Lord of the universe is who we pray to. He knows what I need and want and will pray before I ever ask it. Why, then, do I need to ask anything? I always felt it was better to seek God’s will in decisions and circumstances than to ask for specific things. If God is good and just, and has a perfect plan for my life, ought I not seek that plan rather than try to figure out my own path and drop a couple prayers into some sort of divine vending machine?
But then you run into this parable. Right out front the reason it’s told is laid out: So you will always pray and not lose heart. It’s the story of a woman’s persistence over whelming a judge, who didn’t even fear God or respect men. But here is God, who loves us as opposed to a judge who tolerates us, will he not give justice? There is a similar story in Luke 11 about a sleeping neighbor’s bread.
It’s clear that prayers of petition are encouraged here.
Now, let’s not go crazy. Obviously God says no all the time. He won’t do something against his nature. He will often allow us to go through hard times for his purposes. He heals some, and allows others to die. He is God, we are not.
And many times when the Bible talks about asking and receiving, there is a second part of the concept that reminds us that this works not because God has to agree, but like John 14 says, we receive so “the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So don’t expect God to agree to give you a million dollars just because you add the words “in Jesus name” at the end of your request.
So let’s assume that you are asking something of God, something within the calling he has placed on you, something that could be within his will for your life. Something that will either bring him glory in itself or through some result of the request. Wouldn’t a prayer of petition like the widow’s be not just OK, be welcomed and encouraged?
But wait, If God knows my heart, and everything I will say before I say it, why do I need to pray?
It’s the act of praying, of asking for something that acknowledges that this thing is out of your power. You are bending your will to God’s. Prayers of petition aren’t about what God learns of our desires. They are about us learning to rely and depend on God for everything. Even if he says no.
So bow your head and bend your will. Do not be discouraged. Keep asking. Don’t lose heart.
This is my petition: I need a job that allows me to provide for my family and still do what You have called me to do. I am going to be as persistent as the widow. I believe that you can give this to us, and you will.