This morning, my eyes tricked me, which resulted in a wonderful discovery.
As I turned to read Luke 18, I misread the publisher’s heading of the chapter as “The Parable of the Protestant Widow.” Surprised by this, I took a double look and read correctly: “The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” I smiled as I then read this story of a desperate woman pleading for justice. She was persistent in her request. In fact, she protested against the way things were and pleaded for things to change. When you think about it, she was indeed a “protesting” and hence a “protestant widow.” She was persistently protestant. The Lord used this parable to teach “that men ought always to pray and not lose heart” (v. 1). He is telling His people that we are to be “persistently protestant” in our praying.
Prayer includes many elements such as adoration, praise, thanksgiving, intercession and supplication. But surely prayer is a means to reverently and submissively protest against the way things are with the faith-fuelled expectation that things will change.
The origin of the word “protestant” was the result of Christians in the 16th century protesting against the corruption of the church by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Such Christians were calling for heresy to fall and for the citadel of gospel truth to be set up in its place. These persistent protests resulted in a wonderful, God-wrought reformation.
Though the parallels are not perfect, nevertheless this is precisely what prayer should include: We are protesting against what is wrong and asking God to set things right. The beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is a case in point.
When we pray, “Hallowed be Your name,” we are protesting against the defaming of God’s name and pleading for God to do something for the honour of His name. We are praying, “Defamation must fall!”
Likewise, when we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we are protesting against the way that things are and pleading for this to change. We are protesting that falsehood and injustice must fall, and that truth and justice must arise. The same “protestant” spirit is seen in the third petition: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Disobedience and all evil must fall, and holiness must reign!”
The parable in Luke 18:1–8 is a wonderful illustration of this principle of “protestant praying.” Christians are not to passively sit by, shrugging our shoulders and simply acquiescing to the way things are. No, and a thousand times no! Rather (among other righteous responses), we are to pray for things to change. We are to make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6). We are to humbly and reverently protest to the Lord that things must change for His glory and for His church’s good.
God likes this kind of persistent, God-centred protestation. We honour God with such “protestant praying.” When we pray like this, we are acknowledging Him as all-powerful to change things. When we reverently protest, we are confessing His lordship. When we submissively protest we are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we practise biblical protestant praying, we are practising our faith in our sovereign Lord. This is implicit in this parable of protestant praying.
The point that Jesus is particularly addressing is the prayers of God’s people for justice (“And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” v. 7). Note the emphasis on their persistence (“cry out day and night”) coupled with their protest (“avenge”; that is, they are crying out for things to change; they want the status quo to be no more). The reference to God “bear[ing] long with them” is further evidence of their humble spirit of protesting. Jesus is commending such “protestant praying.” Is that how you pray? Does such “protestant praying” characterise our corporate prayer meetings? According to Jesus, it should.
In v. 8 Jesus speaks of His coming in judgement upon Jerusalem in destruction in 70 AD (see Luke 17:20–37 for the context of this passage). He asks, “When I come, will I really find faith on the earth?” In light of the parable’s immediate context, Jesus is rhetorically asking, “Will My people really believe that God hears their prayers for justice? When I do come in judgement, will it be in response to faith-filled ‘protestant praying’ or will my people fail to believe God?”
A similar question can be asked of us: Do we believe that God both can and will change things? If we do, then we will be characterised by protestant praying. We will find ourselves praying, “How long, O Lord?” Not with a poster-carrying, property-destructive, belligerently irreverent attitude. Rather, with Scripture-informed confidence, we will humbly and expectantly protest against the status quo, believing God to change things in His way, to His ways and in His time.
Luke 18 ends with a wonderful example of the fruit of “protestant praying.”
As the Lord is walking near Jericho, a blind man hears of His presence and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”(v. 38). He is protesting against what he knows he deserves: justice. And he cries for mercy. The crowd tells him to hush, but he won’t. He persists and his protest continues. Jesus responds asking him to be specific, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The blind man answers, “Lord, that I may receive my sight” (v. 41). And, in response to his faith (demonstrated by his protestant praying) “immediately he received his sight, and followed [Jesus], glorifying God” (v. 43). Protestant praying was answered to the glory of God and for the good of a believer.
So, what do you see that needs to change for the glory of God? Be protestant about it. And do so persistently. Be protestant in your prayers about rainfall. Be protestant in your prayers for our government. Be protestant in your prayers for the salvation of loved ones and for the global spread of the gospel. Whatever needs to change for the glory of God and for the good of His Church, let us “protestantly pray”! And finally, let us as a church “give heaven no rest” (Isaiah 62:7) as we persistently pray, protesting against the injustice experienced by orphans who are in our midst. May God answer “speedily” (v. 8).