Pray always, the Lord said, over and over again. That commandment is the central message of one of the Savior’s most remarkable parables.
The Savior taught that many times He used parables to keep the indifferent and uninterested from learning more than was good for them (see Matthew 10:10-13). But in the parable of the unjust judge, the message is delivered before the parable begins.
The parable begins with this statement:
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1).
With regard to Christ’s teaching to pray always, what does it mean to “faint”? For that matter, what does the Lord mean when he says we “ought always to pray”? I found 17 places in the scriptures where commands are given to pray always, the first of which is in this parable from Luke:
2 Nephi 32:9
3 Nephi 18:15
3 Nephi 18:18
3 Nephi 18:19
This commandment implies be that we must never stop praying. No quitting or fainting is permitted for disciples. This is not a directive to pray twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It is a directive to pray every day of every week and to pray meaningfully. Prayer sabbaticals are more dangerous than nuclear warheads.
The Parable of the Unjust Judge
There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
This hard-hearted judge refused to be controlled by his fear of God or by his concern about what his constituents thought of him. In fact, the thing that finally moved him to some action in behalf of this widow was his concern that her continual petitions might weary him.
Better to give her what she wants than to allow her to drive me crazy, he seems to be saying. The judge is not a symbol for our Heavenly Father. He serves as a foil. If this indifferent and self-centered judge will hear and answer the appeals of this importuning widow, how much more will our Heavenly Father hear and grant our requests, even though at times He may “bear long” with us, requiring us to wait until the time is right or until we are right.
Verse 8 suggests that He will respond “speedily”, an apparent contradiction to the promise that He might “bear long” with us. But what we are to understand is that He will act in our behalf as quickly as He can without corrupting our understanding of His nature, and without injuring our spirituality. That would almost certainly be after we have learned what we need to learn and have prepared ourselves to recognize the hand of God in our lives. But until that time comes, we must continue to pray always.
Jesus Heals a Blind Man
The Savior was going to Jericho, and near the city limits he encountered a blind man by the side of the road. The location of this event in the same chapter as the parable of the unjust judge may be more than a coincidence.
And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging:
And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant.
And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.
And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him,
Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God. (Luke 18:35-43)
How this man learned of the power of Christ we are not told, but from some source he knew that Jesus Christ could heal blindness. Perhaps one healed on another occasion had spoken to him: “If you ever encounter Jesus of Nazareth, ask for a blessing. He can restore your sight.”
When the sound of the passing crowds reached the blind man and he learned that the cause of the commotion was the presence of Jesus on his street, he began to cry out to Him. Of course he did. What else could he possibly do? Even when those leading the procession rebuked him, he continued to cry out.
This story is a superb illustration of the meaning of parable at the beginning of this article. Don’t give up (don’t faint) because some time passes, or because people encourage you to quit making a fuss, or because it seems hopeless. Pray always! Cry out to Him. The Book of Mormon uses the same form of the verb cry’ about one hundred times as a substitute for the words pray’ and prayer’.
Russell M. Nelson spoke of the willingness of God to answer prayers:
I recognize that, on occasion, some of our most fervent prayers may seem to go unanswered. We wonder, Why?’ I know that feeling! I know the fears and tears of such moments. But I also know that our prayers are never ignored. Our faith is never unappreciated. I know that an all-wise Heavenly Father’s perspective is much broader than is ours. While we know of our mortal problems and pain, He knows of our immortal progress and potential. If we pray to know His will and submit ourselves to it with patience and courage, heavenly healing can take place in His own way and time. (“Jesus Christ-The Master Healer,” Ensign, Nov. 2005, 86)
President Packer said it this way: “Go quietly into the world.
Go quietly about your affairs, and learn that in the still, small hours of the morning the Lord will speak to you. He will never fail to answer your prayers” [Boyd K. Packer: Commencement Address, 17 December 2005, BYU Hawaii].
Richard G. Scott in the April 2007 General Conference echoed that understanding: “He will always hear your prayers and will invariably answer them. However, His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. Hence, you should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. His pattern causes you to grow.”
A President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints observed: “It is true that the answers to our prayers may not always come as direct and at the time, nor in the manner, we anticipate; but they do come, and at a time and in a manner best for the interests of him who offers the supplication” (David O. McKay: CR, April 1969, p. 153).
We must remember two things:
First, God is not a distant despot, enclosed in divine indifference, determined to require the highest levels of devotion and discipline before He will take any interest in us or our needs. He is a Father, full of love and patience, anxious to act in our behalf. He will do so when what we want is right, when we are right, and when the time is right.
Second, we must “pray always and faint not.” God hears and answers our prayers, but He always answers them in the best way and at the best time. We must trust His timing. To do otherwise would be to question His omniscience and His love.