One day Jesus’ disciples requested something of Him that I believe is very essential. They said, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). That’s an excellent request, isn’t it? Don’t we all have room for more faith in our lives? On the heels of their request, Jesus likened their faith to a mustard seed (see Luke 17:6). In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus used the idea of a mustard seed again. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt. 13:31-32). Faith, much like the kingdom, must be sown to produce something extraordinary; without works, faith is dead (James 2:17). Yet, when we sow what God has given us—putting our faith to work—there will always be an increase. In fact, Jesus indicated that the kingdom of heaven initially appears small and insignificant, but when sown the kingdom will be large enough that others will find rest (the birds of the air will nest in the branches). Faith, therefore, must grow like a mustard seed until its influence touches the lives of many people.
Let’s look at another passage that might seem like we’re changing gears, but keep reading. The Bible says, “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). The purpose of this parable was to inspire prayer, and the contrast is simple: pray or lose heart (enkakeo), which literally means to become so depleted of hope you are immobilized by discouragement. We are to pray at all times, Jesus said; every occasion is an opportunity for prayer. Prayer is central to everything that we do and all ministries must flow out of our intercession. Even Jesus modeled this by pushing the crowds away from time to time to enter the chamber room with the Father (see Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:15-16). If we don’t persevere in prayer not only will ministries fail, but we’ll lose heart and give up because of no hope. I can’t begin to count the people who have left the ministry due to discouragement, but I can tell you that those who I’m aware of didn’t devote themselves to a lifestyle of prayer.
The parable that Jesus told was quite simple (see Luke 18:2-5). An unrighteous judge who neither fears God nor respects people is bombarded by a widow who is seeking legal protection. After her perseverance the judge finally says to himself I must grant her request or she will wear me out. Jesus said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly…” (Luke 18:6-8). Obviously, if an unrighteous judge responded to a widow though he didn’t value human life, then how much more will a loving Father respond to His elect (eklektos, those personally chosen or hand-picked)? There is no comparison, our Father will quickly move on our behalf.
According to Jesus, the Father’s response toward us is attached to this phrase: “who cry to Him day and night” (Luke 18:7). The word cry (boao) is a present tense verb indicating that it doesn’t stop. It means to cry out, to shout aloud, or to utter a desperate scream. That doesn’t sound very appealing to people these days. That’s probably why there aren’t enough prayer meetings surrounded by the desperate cries of God’s people; we’ve become too dignified and satisfied to cry out. I realize that this isn’t the only style of prayer, but it’s the one that Jesus identified in this passage. I’ve had people tell me, “I’m just not comfortable crying out.” My general response is that they aren’t desperate enough for His presence or for His transformation to cry out. I usually explain that if their house was ablaze and their children were concealed in a bedroom about to be consumed by the fire, they wouldn’t calmly request help from someone. How much more do we need God’s Holy Spirit to move on our churches, our cities, or our country? How desirous are we to see corporate revival? It was the cries of a desperate Syrophoenician woman that captured Jesus’ attention (Matt. 15:22). It was the cries of two blind men outside Jericho that made Jesus stop (Matt. 20:31). It was the cries of blind Bartimaeus that brought his healing (Mark 10:47-48). Isaiah wrote, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’” (Is. 58:9). God always shows up to the cries of His people because our cries usually demonstrate our posture of humility and brokenness, and it’s in that position we’re most ready to be touched and used by God.
By using the phrase “day and night,” Jesus indicated our willingness to persevere. We all desire immediate results because that’s the culture in which we live, and sometimes we’ve had the blessing of instantaneous answers to our prayers. But I believe Jesus was underscoring the necessity of ongoing, consistent prayers until the breakthrough is experienced. Too many prayer meetings have fizzled because of a lack or perseverance, and too many unanswered prayers have been accepted by discouraged followers who failed to cry out day and night until they saw results. Don’t quit! Don’t stop! Stay on the wall and cry out day and night; never keep silent (see Is. 62:6).
It’s interesting how Jesus ended His lesson, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? Wait a minute, is Jesus talking about prayer or faith? Yes! Which is it? The answer is it is both. It takes faith to persevere day and night until we see the response that we’re petitioning God for. Persevering prayer is an indicator of faith; it means that we’re tenaciously looking into the heavenly realm to apprehend something that we are confident will manifest in the earthly realm. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The prayer Jesus talked about in this passage is same thing; we persevere in prayer because we have the assurance of things we’re praying for and this produces a conviction in our hearts to cry out day and night until it breaks forth. Faith, like prayer, is a seed that must be sown, and if we’ll sow into the Spirit and not lose heart, we will reap a great harvest (Gal. 6:8-9). So when Jesus asked if He’ll find faith on earth, maybe He’s asking if He’ll find people praying! Either way, I want to my faith and my prayers to increase like a seed planted in a garden because I’m confident that the end result will be huge.