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How to Keep from Losing Heart

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 18:1–14

Prayer is not just a helpful exercise for believers. Persistent, humble, faith-filled prayer is a reflection of one’s relationship with the Lord and a necessity for everyone who seeks to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.


All Christians agree that prayer is extremely important. But how few Christians actually act as if it really is! Many seem satisfied with offering a prayer at mealtime and maybe a brief one before retiring for the night. You might pray during rush hour that the slowpoke in front of you would get out of the way!

One church surveyed their members and asked them if they wanted the weekly prayer meeting to continue, and almost 100 percent said yes. But less than 20 percent of them ever showed up for the prayer meeting.

Evidently Jesus understood the importance of prayer. By His words and example, it is clear Jesus loved to talk to His Father in prayer. Now what happens next here in our study through the Gospels is an important lesson on prayer, as Jesus delivers two parables on that subject.

As we begin in Luke 18, we read that Jesus tells a “parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In other words, Jesus is about to teach them—and us—how to live without losing heart.

The first parable begins in verse 2:

“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.’”

Now this widow has several things working against her. She has been mistreated in some way, which is why she is seeking justice. As a widow, she does not have a husband to represent her, and in these days, a woman was not even allowed to present evidence in a court of law. Furthermore, it is likely she has little influence and even less money to mount a case. And to top it all off, Jesus just described the judge as crooked: he neither feared God nor respected mankind.

It would seem that this woman does not stand a chance. But Jesus describes this widow as one persistent woman. She comes to the judge again and again, asking for justice and relief. He doesn’t answer the door or pick up the phone; he ignores her and tries to avoid her at all costs. But she just will not let up! And finally—finally—the judge gives in just to get this woman off his back and out of his courtroom.

The Lord continues in verses 6-7:

“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?”

Now listen, beloved, Jesus is not using this judge as a picture of our heavenly Father; Jesus is giving us a contrast between this judge and our heavenly Father. God does not have to be badgered with our prayers until He gets so annoyed that He gives us what we want just to get us off His back.  

The point of this parable is that our heavenly Father is so unlike this crooked judge that He is always available and always respectful and will always do what is absolutely right and just. In fact, Jesus says here in verse 8, “He will give justice to them speedily.”

So, don’t lose heart. Keep praying! And keep praying especially for God’s kingdom of righteousness to come. It may yet be some time before that occurs, but when it does, we are all going to say, “It seemed like it was taking forever, but now we know it only took a matter of time, as God worked all things out for our good.”

This parable is followed by a question that’s directly related to the second coming of Jesus as He arrives in a future day to establish His kingdom on earth. Jesus says here in verse 8, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Literally, He says, “Will he find the faith” when He comes back? And the answer is absolutely yes! Even after the church is raptured and the tribulation begins, millions of people over the next seven years—from every tongue, tribe, and nation, the book of Revelation records—will place their faith in Christ, even though they have suffered through the dark days of that coming judgment.  

What will they need to do to survive the discouraging days of the tribulation? How will they not lose heart? Through persistent prayer, as they await the second coming of Christ.[1]

While the first parable is addressed to Jesus’ disciples, the second parable is directed to self-righteous unbelievers, those who trust in themselves and assume they are right with God. Jesus presents another contrast here, this one between two men praying in the temple. He says in verse 10, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”

Now as far as the Jewish people in general are concerned, tax collectors had no right to pray at all. They were the scum of the earth, having collaborated with the Romans to take advantage of their own Jewish people. They purchased from the Romans the right to tax their fellow Jews, then raised taxes above what Rome required to line their own pockets. What is a tax collector doing praying in the temple?

The other man is a Pharisee, an upstanding moral, religious leader in the community. As far as the people are concerned, the Pharisee had every right to pray to God. They assumed that if a tax collector prayed, God would be holding His nose; but if a Pharisee prayed, God would be opening His arms.

The Pharisee prays here in verses 11-12:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

This isn’t a prayer meeting; this is a brag session. “Lord, look at how lucky You are to have someone like me on your side.” This Pharisee’s prayer is simply the reading of his resume—his long list of good works.

Then the tax collector prays:

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (verse 13)

He is not comparing himself to the Pharisee; he is comparing himself to the holiness of God. The Pharisee is bragging; the tax collector is begging—“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

My friend, only when you have left your spiritual resume behind and recognized that you have nothing to offer a holy God—only when you come to Him that way—can you receive salvation as His gift to you.

Jesus concludes in verse 14:

“I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“Justified” means to be declared righteous. It is a legal term for the judge declaring you innocent. The Pharisee tried to justify himself before God; the tax collector was justified by God Himself.

You cannot trust in yourself and trust in God at the same time. But when you trust in God alone, you experience His forgiveness and justification—a declaration that you are now right with God.

Both of these parables are about prayer, but they are about more than just prayer. You see, your prayers reflect your relationship with the Lord.

Do you want to lose heart in life? Then focus on yourself—pray in a way that covers up your sin and attempts to impress God and others.

Do you want to live in such a way that you do not lose heart? Then pray honestly, persistently, humbly, as you trust in God alone.

[1] Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary, vol. 24 (Broadman, 1992), 447.

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