Parables On Prayer

By Aude McKee

Jesus used parables extensively in His teaching. Matthew, Mark and Luke record several of the same parables, and each writer was used by the Holy Spirit to preserve for us some specific parable teaching that the others did not record. Without doubt, His masterful use of this method of teaching is one of the reasons men could truthfully say, “No man ever spake as this man.”

In Luke 11:1, the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to teach them to pray as John had taught his disciples. Some of us have been “reared in the church,” as we say, and this idea of needing to be taught how to pray seems a little ridiculous. But when we think more about it, we begin to realize that we had to learn how to pray just as much as anyone. I was recently in a meeting with a local church where a brother had handed a note to the preacher in which he said that he felt he needed some instruction so he would be qualified to lead a public prayer.

One way Jesus teaches us how to pray is by parables. On several occasions He told a simple little story that had something to do with the content of our prayers, our attitude, or some other matter of importance. The purpose of this article is to look at those parables that have to do with prayer, and do our best to learn the lessons the Lord had in mind.

Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

One of the petitions most often included in our prayers is that the Lord might forgive our sins. Those who are members of the Lord’s family have the right to approach God as one of His children and call Him Father. But one of the hindrances is our own failure to forgive our fellow man. How could we expect a just God to forgive our trespasses when we refuse to extend the same privilege to those who have wronged us? To impress this truth, Jesus gave the parable found in Matthew 18:21-35. A man was brought before a king, and he owed the king an enormous amount of money — several million dollars, in fact. The man had no ability to pay such a large sum, so the only thing he could do was to beg for mercy. Justice would have demanded he and his wife and children, plus all his earthly possessions be sold and payment be made. But instead of demanding justice, the king extended mercy and through his grace the debt was forgiven.

But at this point the story changes into a sad chain of events. The forgiven servant then went out and found one of his own servants, who owed him a very small sum of money and demanded payment immediately. The man lacked the ability to pay even that small amount, and so he begged for just a little time to arrange his affairs so he could pay his debt. Instead of granting the man the opportunity to work the problem out, he threw him into prison. News of things like this gets around, and the king heard about the treatment his servant had meted out to his fellow servant. The mercy he had extended to him was retracted and he was thrown into the debtor’s prison. In verse 35 Jesus made the application: “So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also to you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”

A man once said to John Wesley, “I never forgive.” Wesley replied, “Then I hope, sir, that you never sin.” Each of us needs to look deep inside his own heart. We certainly may be able to deceive others, and it may be that we can deceive ourselves, but it is certain we cannot deceive God. God knows if we harbor ill will toward someone, and we can mark it down that “God is not mocked.” Our own sins will remain until we bring ourselves to forgive those who have wronged us! And we can be sure that whatever someone may have done to us, it cannot be compared to the terrible debt of sin we have. I sometimes think that the better known a person becomes, the more likely he is to feel “above the law.” David broke at least five of the ten commandments when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, then only recognized his sin after a year had passed. Those of us who preach the gospel, edit papers, and serve as elders perhaps need the teaching in this parable more than some others. We are not above the law, and we are not so important to the Lord’s cause that we cannot lose our souls!

The Friend At Midnight And Importunate Widow

In Luke 11:5-13 and 18:1-8, the Lord presented twin parables that deal with our faithfulness and persistence in prayer. In the first one, a man had a guest arrive at midnight and he had nothing to feed him. So, having a friend not far away, he went to his house to borrow some food. His friend wasn’t happy about being awakened, so he gruffly told the borrower to be on his way. But he would not be discouraged-he needed that bread badly. He shamelessly continued knocking until his friend got up and granted his request. In the second parable, a widow went to a judge to seek relief from an enemy who was oppressing her. Not only was her situation hopeless in regard to her oppressor since she was a widow without the means of protecting herself, but the judge she had to deal with was about as wicked as a man could get. He was her only hope, so she laid her case before him. For a while he refused to assist her, but she kept coming to see him and begging for help. Finally, though he still had no compassion in his heart and no concern for the poor widow, he gave in and consented to help her.

These parables are much alike because in neither of them is there a comparison made between God and the friend in bed or between God and the wicked judge. The lesson is drawn, not from comparison but from contrast! How unlike God is to those in the world who are hardhearted, unconcerned and unwilling to assist in time of need. In both parables this contrast is emphasized by our Lord. At the same time, we who do the praying are to be like the man seeking for bread in the first parable and like the widow in the second one. In Luke 11:9-10, Jesus pressed the lesson home. “And I say unto you, ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”‘ In verses 11-13, Jesus makes it clear that God is loving and concerned:

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

In the parable in Luke 18, the problem is not obtaining help in time of distress. The widow needed relief from an oppressor. When Jesus drew the lesson from this parable, He said, “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” (vv. 7-8). Down through the years God’s people have suffered much at the hands of the enemies of truth, but as Paul told Timothy, “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). In times like this, as well as at other times, we need to “cry unto Him day and night,” but keep in mind that God’s timetable may not be just like ours. He may “bear long” with us, and then when the time is right He will act. If we had our way, life would always be a “bed of roses,” but it takes some stormy days in our lives to develop character. How could we possess the sense of dependency we so badly need if the sun shone seven days a week? Paul said, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

The Pharisee And The Publican

In Luke 18:9-14 is the last parable that concerns prayer that we will notice, and certainly none could rank higher in importance. How easy it is for us to become self-righteous. We have the truth, we are members of the Lord’s church, etc., and by the time we have finished exalting ourselves, God is indebted to us. Jesus spoke this parable “unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others,” and that could include me and you! It is a simply story. Two men, one a Pharisee, the other a publican, went to the temple to pray. As you read the Pharisee’s prayer, you get the feeling that his words were designed for the ears of men instead of God’s. He compared himself to others and came out extremely well. Other men were extortioners, unjust, adulterers, but not him. Certainly he was not as lowdown and wicked as that publican who was praying at the same time. But his righteousness was not altogether negative. This Pharisee fasted twice every week, and he was careful to give a tenth of everything he possessed. No wonder he acknowledged no need, sought no blessing, confessed no sin and sought no mercy. He was self-sufficient in every way! Someone has observed that he had a big eye on himself, a bad eye on the publican, and no eye at all upon God. But the prayer of the publican was altogether different. He was humble, he recognized his sinful condition, and his complete dependence on God is clearly evident. His prayer was for the ears of God alone.

I feel that no point at all can be made on the number of words in each prayer except to observe that it probably takes more words to extol one’s own virtues that to simply confess one’s utter dependency on God. With such an attitude, the virtues will be numerous and the dependency non-existent. In Luke 6:23, Jesus “continued all night in prayer to God,” and the length of that prayer would certainly be as much ane example for us as the one in Luke 18:13. The lesson Jesus is teaching in Luke 18:9-14 is not the length of our prayers, but the attitude of heart when we pray! The man who lives with a scornful attitude toward his fellow man cannot get on his knees with a spirit of humility toward God.


We have tried to say that Jesus, in His parables, has taught us three major lessons about prayer. First, it is useless to pray for forgiveness and not be forgiving. No “ifs, ands, or buts” – there are not exceptions. If I refuse to forgive others, my own sins remain. Second, we must be faithful, persistent and constant in prayer. The need is always there. We may not be facing a major crisis every day, but the old song, “I Need Thee Every Hour,” states a truth. Remember, if we ask, seek and knock, the Lord will respond. But we need the wisdom to appreciate that a delayed response may be best for us. If we receive a “no” answer, let’s be as happy and appreciative as if we had gotten exactly what we asked for. Third, when we pray, we must approach God’s throne with a humble and contrite spirit. David expressed the matter perfectly in Psalms 51:17: “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 15, pp. 457-458
August 1, 1985