Importunity is urgent persistence. An importunate person is one who persists in asking for something to the point of being troublesome. Jesus once posed a scenario: suppose a man goes to a friend’s house at night and asks for some loaves of bread to feed an unexpected guest. The friend refuses, saying his family is already asleep and he doesn’t want to wake them. But the man doesn’t give up; he keeps knocking on the door. Finally, Jesus says, “Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth” (Luke 11:8, KJV). This was Jesus’ way of illustrating the need for persistent—even importunate—prayer, prayer that could qualify as blatant begging or, as the NIV has it, shows “shameless audacity.”
Although the word importunity is not used in Luke 18:1–8, the principle of persistent prayer is taught there as well. It was because of the widow’s shameless begging that the wicked judge finally relented and gave her justice. The widow refused to take “no” for an answer and kept badgering the judge beyond the place where most people would stop. Jesus’ advocacy of importunity challenges our understanding of prayer. It would seem to us that importunity in prayer is not necessary, since God has already heard our prayers (Psalm 34:17; 69:33; 1 John 5:14). Yet Jesus says that the Father wants our prayers to be persistent. Importunity reveals sincerity and heartfelt desire.
The Bible also speaks of importunity in Proverbs 6:3. In the context of a person trying to free himself from a rash vow or foolish obligation, Scripture says, “Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself; / Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, / Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor” (NASB). Other Bible translations say we should “plead urgently,” “press your plea,” and “beg” to free ourselves from foolish vows.
Importunity may have value to the Lord because of the humility required to have that trait. When we pray with importunity, we have abandoned any thought that we can help ourselves. Like the widow in Jesus’ parable, we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, the true Judge, and plead from a place of desperation. Importunity is the type of begging a mother would do with a kidnapper who is threatening her child. She will plead earnestly and shamelessly—whatever it takes to free her child. She has left behind any attempts to rescue him by herself. The situation is beyond her, but giving up is not an option. So she pleads with importunity.
When we pray that way, we demonstrate the kind of faith that moves mountains (Mark 11:23). Jesus applauded the importunity of a Canaanite woman in Mathew 15:22–28. The woman refused to take Jesus’ first, rather off-putting answer. In a manner of speaking, she “wrestled with the Lord” until He granted her petition (see Genesis 32:24–28). God honors this kind of wrestling with Him because it is rooted in faith—and Jesus commends the woman’s great faith in verse 28. If we do not believe He can or will do what we ask, we give up and turn away. Faith prompts importunity.
Proper importunate prayers are those that are just, honorable, and within God’s plan for us. When we pray with importunity, in His will, He promises to hear and answer (1 John 5:14–16; John 16:23–24). God created us for relationship and fellowship with Him. Importunate prayers require that we stay at His feet, pleading our case and basking in His presence. Praying with importunity keeps our focus on God and not on our ability to resolve the situation. When we seek Him with all our hearts, He promises that we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).