Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

Luke 18:1

In today’s gospel reading (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus tells his disciples a parable “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” It is a rather strange little story, about a judge who neither fears God nor has any respect for people, and a widowed woman who is desperate for justice. She pesters this judge so much that the judge finally relents. “And will not God,” Jesus concludes, “grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” Indeed. God is no unjust judge. Our God loves this world too much to judge it. Our God loves this world so much that he gave his only son, who came to not judge the world but to save it. 

But this parable raises an obvious question: Why did Jesus tell it to his disciples? Didn’t they already know this? Didn’t they already know that they should pray always? In fact, weren’t they already doing that? Apparently not. You don’t tell someone to get more exercise if they are already exercising daily. You don’t tell someone to pray always if they are already doing so. 

So Jesus told this parable to his disciples to encourage them to pray always not to lose heart. Because even Jesus’ disciples were not praying always, and even they would occasionally grow discouraged. It happens to everyone. Great saints, lowly sinners, you, me. We all struggle with this. We all struggle with prayer; we all get discouraged in life. So what do we do about it? What does Jesus teach us? That is what I want to wrestle with today.

Pray Always (So You Don’t Lose Heart)

But first, let’s think about the reason for today’s parable: To pray always and to lose heart. What does Jesus mean by that? Two things, I believe. 

First, Jesus means that these are connected. These are not two separate suggestions from Jesus. Praying always is connected to not losing heart. Why? Because when we give up on prayer, we inevitably lose heart. And when we lose heart, we often give up on prayer. So maybe this would be better translated as: “Pray always so you don’t lose heart.” 

But what did Jesus mean by praying always? When I think of Jesus telling us to pray always, what I think that he means is not that we should pray every second of every day, but that we should not ever give up on prayer. Don’t give up on God; don’t give up on prayer. No matter how discouraging our life gets, no matter how long it seems to take for God to answer our prayers, we should not ever give up on God. I think that is what Jesus means when he tells us to pray always. And he wants us to pray always so that we do not lose heart. So, with that in mind, let’s see what we can learn about how to do this. 

Why Don’t We Pray Always? 

But before we get to how to do this, let’s think about some reasons why we don’t do it already. We all go through periods when we are not as active in our prayers as we know that we should be. Why is that? Why do we not pray always? Why do we not pray as we know that we should? I want to suggest three reasons. 

First, we all have times in our life when we just give up on prayer. Our prayers go unanswered, and we just quit. I think we can all relate to Huck Finn, who shares his thoughts about prayer early in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” He says that: 

“[Miss Watson] told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way. I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to my self, there ain’t nothing in it.” 

Just like young Huckleberry Finn, we all sometimes give up on prayer because it seems like “there ain’t nothing in it.” 

But even if we believe that there’s something in it, we can sometimes get out of the habit of prayer. Why is that? Often it is because we do not prioritize prayer; doing something about whatever we are dealing with often seems like a better idea than praying about it. And life keeps us so busy, who has time for prayer? And when we try to quiet ourselves for prayer, life comes at us with everything it has to try and distract us. How many of you can relate to this very honest poem about prayer by Marie Howe? 

Prayer by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention – the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

We have all been there, I suspect. Intending to spend time in prayer, but as soon as we quiet ourselves, all of these distractions come up. Our minds become very noisy. Every little sound interrupts us; and when there are no sounds, the silence is just as disruptive. And when we quiet down, we immediately think of ten other things that we almost forgot about, that are really, really important. So, we put off our prayers, and eventually fall out of the habit of prayer. 

But there is one more reason why we don’t pray that I want to mention today. Sometimes we fall out of the habit of prayer because there are no consequences to our not praying. We get in trouble if we don’t show up at work or school, or if we don’t pay our bills, or if we don’t show up for Jury Duty. But pray? Nothing bad happens when we don’t do it, right? So it becomes tempting to give it up. 

Life is so busy these days! We are all looking for ways to make it a little easier, or to just get through the day. And giving up doing something that no one even knows about is very tempting. Put “prayer” on your to-do list, and when do you do it? After doing the laundry, and paying the bills, and after everything else that is squeaking louder. The noisy wheel gets the grease, as the old saying goes, and prayer is usually not a very noisy wheel. 

What Happens When We Don’t Pray?

But you know what happens when we don’t pray? According to Jesus, we lose heart. We get discouraged. Our souls need prayer; without it, they shrivel up. What does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our souls? In Thomas Moore’s best-selling book, “The Care of the Soul,” first published in 1992, he begins his Introduction with these words: 

The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is ‘loss of soul.’ When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it.”

Our souls need care. And the best way to care for our souls? Pray, spend time with God. Otherwise, we lose heart, we get discouraged, life becomes too great a burden to bear. Prayer is how we remind ourselves that God is with us, involved in our life, in our world. Prayer helps us to see God at work in our life. 

How Should We Pray? 

Okay. But how should we pray? There are endless ways to answer that one. Let me offer one: Pray all ways. Not “always” but all different ways. 

Pray with short prayers, like arrows piercing the heavens. Pray with long prayers. Pray silently. Pray alone. Pray with others. Use written prayers, whether you write them yourself or use prayers others have written. Pray with Scripture, especially the Psalms. 

Martin Luther once wrote a booklet on prayer for his barber, and offered these wise words near the beginning of this booklet: 

First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where a congregation is assembled and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.” 

Pray with Scripture. But if you don’t have Scripture handy, pray without it. As a famous spiritual director, Dom Chapman, would often say, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Because there really is no wrong way to talk to God, other than to not talk to God at all. So pray all ways, all different ways, so that you don’t lose heart. 


At the end of today’s reading, Jesus asks us a simple question: When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? When Jesus returns, will he find people praying, people who have not given up on God? If so, he will also have found people who have not grown weary and discouraged by life. Because they have continued to see God at work in this world. They have not given up on prayer. And may we be among them, people who learned to pray always, so as not to lose heart. Amen.

7 thoughts on “Pray Always (So You Don’t Lose Heart): My Sermon on Luke 18:1-8

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