Persistence: Easy to Neglect, Impossible to Ignore
Persistence means to continue firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. We see persistence in one of my favorite passages in the Bible, the parable of the persistent widow:
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’” (Luke 18:1-5)
Scholars believe that this judge wasn’t meant to be referring to a Jewish judge. Jewish disputes would be brought to the elders. This would have been the kind of judge appointed by King Herod or the Romans. Such judges were known to be notorious in their dealings.
Isn’t it fascinating that a judge who cared about neither God nor people still did the right thing when enough pressure was put on him? Justice was served because of a widow’s persistent pursuit.
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:6-8).
This was the parable that inspired me to pray for my family every day. It also inspired me to pray for our church every day.
During recent events, it hit me that the setting of this parable was the pursuit of justice.
I have had times in my life when the pursuit of justice seemed unattainable. I can find myself feeling individual votes don’t count, or that corrupt authority figures are untouchable. As an American citizen who came as an immigrant, it’s easy for me to think thoughts like, What is my vote worth? The system is rigged. I should just keep my head down and be happy I’m here.
Yet, armed with persistence, we can see that justice isn’t unattainable and that corruption isn’t untouchable.
Widows historically were among society’s most vulnerable. There was almost nothing worse than being a widow in ancient times. They were often ignored or taken advantage of, and almost always poor. That’s why God’s law said that the nearest relative of the late husband should care for the widow. But many times that wouldn’t happen and widows were left to fend for themselves.
This widow didn’t have much. But she had persistence. And she ended up the hero of the story.
How did the judge respond at first? He ignored her. He refused her. Unfortunately, most of us stop there. We get mad. We get discouraged. Or we conclude that it must just not be God’s will.
What we fail to understand, however, is that the persistent widow had the upper hand. When the judge said that she was “wearing me out,” the Greek word is a boxing metaphor for bruising each other, for giving them a black eye. We would think that she would be the one getting weary, but she was actually the one giving the judge a whooping. She was wearing him out with a right hook and a left uppercut of persistence.
Our problem is that too often we Christians walk back to our corner and throw in the towel—when it’s only round one!
In 1955, a few days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, 40,000 black bus riders boycotted the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott lasted 382 days and ended when the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
In 1960, when the Woolworth department store in Greensboro, North Carolina, refused to serve four black students at their lunch counter, hundreds of students began sitting in every day at the lunch counter, which led to more than 50,000 students joining sit-ins across the South. The Greensboro sit-ins ended when the local Woolworth’s lunch counter was desegregated on July 25—almost six months later.
In 1961, Freedom Riders headed south from Washington, DC, on buses, making stops along the way to protest segregated bus terminals. The riders were ultimately met with violence and arson. The Freedom Rides came to an end after 7 months, with the Interstate Commerce Commission outlawing segregation on interstate buses. Whites Only signs were taken down in more than 300 southern stations.
I share these stories as modern day parables. It’s important to be inspired by the persistent pursuit of justice that our black heroes and their allies lived out.
They show us examples of people who got behind a specific cause and did not stop until they saw justice. We are now standing on the shoulders of those who have been persistently pursuing justice in this country for hundreds and hundreds of years. Let’s continue to do our part.
I hope and pray that when we’re able to go shopping again and watch sports again and life becomes a bit more comfortable, that we will stay focused on doing our part to do justice. Pick an important issue or a cause and commit to it.
Make that an extension of your discipleship and use it as a way to make disciples. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:16,
“Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
I think it’s important to ask ourselves, in what areas of our lives are we growing weary? What areas have we stopped pursuing with persistence? Maybe it’s a goal or a dream that has been derailed because of COVID. Maybe it’s a character trait such as humility, purity, or generosity. Maybe you’ve stopped praying for specific family members or friends to become disciples.
Maybe you’ve grown weary in your quest to become a fully devoted disciple of Jesus. It’s time to get back on our knees.
For it is on our knees that our pursuit begins and our persistence is strengthened. How do you build a ministry? On your knees. How do you accomplish any goal or dream? On your knees. How do you see true and lasting character development? On our knees. How will we see our loved ones become disciples? On our knees.
It’s called having a persistent pursuit.
Jesus closes out this parable by explaining, if an unjust judge is willing to give justice, then how much more will God give justice to His chosen people who cry out day and night? Not only that, but God loves to hear us pray.
So let’s get persistent in our prayers.