Have you ever had to keep on someone until you felt as if you were nagging them? Maybe you kept calling the contractor until he finally showed up at your house. Maybe you stayed on the child until he finished his homework. Or like me, maybe you kept nagging until your marriage proposal was finally accepted. Persistence is the only way to motivate some people.
Is there a difference between persistence and nagging? Will nagging God persuade him to act?
Jesus told two parables to encourage persistence in prayer. He told of a friend who knocks on a neighbor's door at midnight (Luke 11:5-13). The friend wants to borrow bread because he has nothing to offer a traveler who has stopped to visit. The neighbor is not compliant at first because it's midnight and the kids are in bed. But because of his friend's persistence, the neighbor gets up and relents.
So Jesus says that we are to keep knocking at God's door with our requests. We are to ask, seek, and knock without giving up. But in contrast to a neighbor who gives begrudgingly, God is the loving parent who gives good gifts to his children.
The second parable tells of a persistent widow who takes her case to an unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). She begs, "Grant me justice against my adversary." The judge ignores her for some time. He neither fears God nor cares about people. He is motivated by neither faith, nor compassion, but by bribery. Yet because the widow keeps bothering him, he finally gives in and rules in her favor.
Jesus gave the point of this parable when it was introduced. It was to show disciples that they should pray and never give up (verse 1). So how does the parable accomplish this? Is it a comparison or a contrast?
Is God being compared to the unjust judge who is stubborn and slow to listen? Do we have to keep nagging God until we finally wear him down?
Or is God being contrasted with the unjust judge? If a dishonest judge would yield to the persistence of a widow, our compassionate God is certainly more responsive to us.
So the point may be that God doesn't have to be nagged. Will God keep putting off those persecuted disciples who cry out to him for justice? The answer to that rhetorical question is "certainly not!" God will dispense justice "quickly" (verses 7-8). So God is not like the unjust judge.
Does justice really come quickly to those who cry out in prayer? What about the generations of slaves, minorities, or persecuted Christ-followers who died while praying for justice? Some commentators suggest that perhaps the word "quickly" does not mean quickly in the sense of "immediately," but more in terms of "suddenly;" i.e. when the Son of Man comes, justice will be swift. There will be no filing of motions and no appeals court. Justice will be served quickly. So "quickly" may not always mean a quick response to prayer, but swift justice at the Son of Man's coming.
But how persistent are we to be in prayer? Jesus taught disciples to pray and never give up. Should we keep asking for the same thing over a period of months or even years? I think sometimes this is necessary. We hear stories of how years of praying has led to major breakthroughs. I can testify to this in my own life. So keep praying.
The point of this parable is to keep praying--not to wear God down, but to keep the faith by staying in relationship with him. When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth? (verse 8). Will he find a people who have kept the faith as they cry out to him in prayer?