Prayer is Not a Transaction

Recently I was teaching on Luke 18:1-5 (verses are below) about the parable of the persistent widow and developed some thoughts that might be pertinent for you today.

In our world, commerce is based on the idea of a transaction. I give you something (like money) and you give me something in return (like a service or a product). We are immersed in this concept. Give=Get.

The world treats prayer in same way. Note how it is portrayed in books, television, and film. Worldly prayers (aka the pagan prayer) is a transaction. “I give, I get.” Or through persistence, pleading, begging, bribery, or flattery we get what we want. “If you will just give me this right now I will do that for you in the future!”

Every Christian starts their faith journey with this preconceived idea about prayer. We were taught that if you do or say the right thing or, like the persistent widow of the parable, ask fervently our wish will be granted.  Because that is the way business works. It is a simple transaction. Quid pro quo.

But with God? It is not.
It is never a transaction.

Read the parable and notice that God is not the judge who relents after being cajoled into shame. It even states that the judge, in this parable, did not fear God nor respect man.

It is a parable of contrast, not comparison. We cannot compare that “transaction” of persistence to our relationship with God. In fact, in 18:1 Luke writes that this parable was told so that the disciples should always pray (“at all times”) and not lose heart. Not a teaching that if we keep haranguing and coaxing that God will eventually relent. Instead it is the opposite.

Jesus is teaching us that God wants us to always be praying. (Ask, Seek, Knock.) And in contrast to the pagan judge who rolls his eyes and relents, God welcomes our prayers with open arms – anytime, anywhere.

Today God welcomes your prayers. Amidst violence in the street, storms on the coast, tragedy in the home, rampant Godlessness at every turn, discourse on ideas becoming ad hominem attacks, and disappointment in the publishing industry and our writing, we need to pray more than ever.

God may not grant us our wishes just because we pray. But he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Eph 3:20). We have been taught to pray in this way:

You are holy and your will is what we seek (we seek you first).
Give us our daily bread (only you can provide, for you are the source of it all).
Forgive us of our sins (only you can wash us clean).
Keep us from temptation (only you can protect us from our selfish desires).
For Your Glory.
For Your Kingdom (the now and the not yet).


Luke 18:1-5
He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, Give me legal protection from my opponent.’

For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” (NASB)


24 Responses to Prayer is Not a Transaction

  1. Michael Emmanuel October 10, 2016 at 4:11 am #

    Thank you Steve.

  2. Jennifer October 10, 2016 at 4:57 am #

    Excellent reminder of how we should be communicating with God. I take it a step further and in addition to praying constantly, I try to make sure a good portion of my “prayer” is praise and thanksgiving. It is important to me to express my gratitude for those answers I’ve been given…as well as those still to come.

  3. Christina Lorenzen October 10, 2016 at 5:02 am #

    This was a wonderful post needed during turbulent times in a chaotic world. Thank you!

  4. Kenneth Kinghorn October 10, 2016 at 5:49 am #

    Splendid post, Steve. Many thanks.

  5. Katie Powner October 10, 2016 at 6:22 am #

    Prayer is not meant to change God’s mind, but to change the man.

  6. Christine L. Henderson October 10, 2016 at 6:25 am #

    Excellent points. Yes, people often pray like the widow’s example in Luke. However, like the lyrics to the popular Christian praise song, “Thy Will Be Done,” we seek understanding why and wish for more than because God is God.

  7. Jill Williamson October 10, 2016 at 6:29 am #

    Love this, Steve. I recently heard a devotional about the definition of prayer. The English word “pray” means to “ask or beg.” But the Hebrew word tefillah means to “self evaluate.” So to the Jews of the Bible, prayer was not a time when they asked God for help, it was a time when they examined themselves. They used prayer as a way to compare their actions, behavior, and attitude against God’s holiness. That really changed the focus of prayer for me.

  8. Ruth Taylor October 10, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    I was just praying about this last night regarding my publishing career. I hope to be published in the near future, but I recognize the Lord’s timing may be completely different than my own desires. I just keep praying all things according to His perfect plan and accept it no matter what.

  9. Barbara Blakey October 10, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Thank you for this post. Your perspective was a new thought for me and I greatly appreciate it.

  10. Melissa Henderson October 10, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    A wonderful message. Thank you. One of my Bible Study groups is reading a book about prayer and this post is perfect to share with them.

  11. David Barkey October 10, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    Thank you for the insight. The parable, on first reading by a reader looking for a quick proof text, can be interpreted to make God out to be crusty old judge who has to be cajoled into doing what I want Him to do. Thank you for reminding us that God loves to hear from us. He is generous, abundantly blessing us even when we don’t ask.

  12. Maggie McKenzie October 10, 2016 at 11:40 am #

    Thank you for the wonderful message. God loves to communicate with us- it’s relationship.

  13. Pamela October 10, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    This is an excellent reminder of how God’s ways are different than our own. I often forget that it’s not a transaction. We have been going through tough times and I know that God will carry us through (He has never failed me), but this is timely. Thank you!

  14. Norma Brumbaugh October 10, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    Prayer is not a transaction and it is not a formula like A + B = C, although there are elementary elements of this in ask, seek and knock. God delights in the prayer from the heart; prayer that longs for the loving intervention of God that guides, helps and leads.

    • NormaBrumbaugh October 10, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

      And I appreciate this reminder about the importance of prayer.

  15. Judith Robl October 10, 2016 at 6:37 pm #


  16. Rachael M Colby October 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    Thank you Steve. This is so counter culture to the entitlement mentality of today that can seep even into the Christian’s life. Thanks for the reminder and confirmation. Here are my posts on prayer in the same vein as you speak of of. Yeah, I’m working out my salvation with fear and trembling, and quite often, it’s on paper.

  17. Laura Finley October 10, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    This is so good.. I pray to make connection with my loving Father God… The peace in my heart, the comfort from the Bible verse He quickens to my spirit… Yes, knowing that He will meet my needs, answer my prayers for others, but first .. I give Him my love and praises,,, and He gives me love of the eternal heart… Glory. Thankful for prayer time…

  18. Terry Barnes October 11, 2016 at 6:45 am #

    Thanks, Steve.

  19. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. October 11, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    Steve, thanks for the reminder. Sometimes we get so hurried that we forget that! Today seems like one of those days, as I grade major assignments for three colleges……

  20. Janice S. Garey October 11, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    Thank you, Steve, for helping me have better understanding of the purpose of that parable. I had only heard it mentioned as a reason for persistent praying for something. If we are not praying according to God’s will then no amount of persistent prayer could ever be enough to make Him change His mind.

    I have recently felt convicted about saying I will do something within a set time frame. I did not think it through enough when told that in addition to setting a goal that one needs to make the statement,”I will do ____ by ____so the commitment is firmed up in one’s mind. Unless it is God’s will, it willnot happen.

    We never stop learning as God refines us. Your post was affirmation of my recent feelings and promptings. Again, I need to seek His forgiveness for jogging ahead of instead of walking with Him.

  21. Dominic Laing October 12, 2016 at 7:10 am #

    Thank you for sharing, Steve. Timely words.

  22. Matthew Sheehy October 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    This was incredibly timely for a sermon I’m working on. I never thought of this specific example. Jesus so often used this logic. For instance, if someone can bench press 200 pounds, why would you look at a 100 pound barbell and think that person couldn’t bench press it. Or maybe a better analogy would be, if you or I could lift 100 pounds and we’re not in great shape, why would we think that the Olympic champion couldn’t lift 100 pounds.

    When talking about prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (right after speaking on asking, seeking, and knocking), He said (total paraphrase here), “If you wouldn’t give your son a stone when he asks for bread, or give him a snake when he asks for fish–and you are evil–why wouldn’t you expect God–who isn’t evil–to give you good things when you ask for them?”

    The logic in Luke 18 is the same. If a judge, who is the polar opposite of God in his character, will answer your request for vengeance because you annoy him, don’t you think a loving God will answer your similar request and in a faster time frame?

    I hope that doesn’t sound like babbling, but I came on here to read about publishing, and instead I received a great biblical example that reinforces a biblical truth that’s been on my mind. Thanks.

  23. Carla Jo October 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm #

    Great to know who G-d is not to know better who He is . I often questioned this section. I never got it before. Thank you.

    Because Ephesians 3:14 to 20 is part of my work, I would like to share something I learned there since you mentioned it. After I diagrammed, architecturally arranged the section and looked it up in over 15 research books I saw something I never noticed and is rarely seen.

    The section is about Paul’s prayer that they get strengthened with G-D’s power to know the immeasurably amount of His love that is more. Get the power gift to know His love more. There is more. I figured that then I could love Him more.

    This has been my new amazing journey of getting to love Him more in soul and actions because I constantly know agape love more. Prayer then is a richness that is about personal relationship development between my G-D and me based on His amazing love.

    Long story, but here is the short version.

    Thank you for your writing blogs that make me consider and ponder, become a better Christian and Writer/Speaker.

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