A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, and "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely." But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. "Tell her to go away," they said. "She is bothering us with all her begging." Then Jesus said to the woman, "I was sent only to help God's lost sheep--the people of Israel." But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, "Lord, help me!" Jesus responded, "It isn't right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs." She replied, "That's true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters' table." "Dear woman," Jesus said to her, "your faith is great. Your request is granted." And her daughter was instantly healed. -- Matthew 15: 22-28 (NLT)
Sometimes we can over-mystify what God has made pretty clear. We can wrap up something simple in grand pageantry that leaves most confused or at least uncertain. Prayer seems to be one of those things. One of the top fears I have witnessed in church over the years is praying in front of other people. Part of that might be because of the person we all know who is so gifted in public prayer. But God hears the small prayers and the large ones. And in this story above in the Gospel of Matthew we see a wealth of insight from God to us on the subject of prayer.
We see here the story of a gentile woman coming to Jesus as a picture of prayer when we come before the Lord. Now at this time, salvation had not yet come to the gentiles so this woman was asking for what was supposed to be reserved for the chosen people of God, the Jews. Jesus gives her no reply at first. The first lesson about prayer that we see is that while God will always hear our prayers, sometimes at first we will not hear an answer back. Some may wonder about this but James reinforces it:
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. -- James 4: 3 (NIV)
Let's face it, sometimes we do not hear because we are asking with impure motives. Or we are asking with unforgiveness harbored in our hearts against another. There can be any number of sin issues that could block our ability to hear properly from God. In this woman's case she was not even a follower of God. Sometimes we can get confused in our walks and think God is saying no, when we really are not even hearing from Him at all because something is blocking the communication. We need to examine our lives and cleanse our walk from the sin that can easily destroy our prayer life with God. The Prophet Isaiah teaches us:
It's your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. -- Isaiah 59: 2 (NLT)
It is not a matter of hearing. There is nothing wrong with the auditory capabilities of God. It is a matter of listening.
Secondly, we can be assured that we will face discouragement in our prayer life. Look at the response from the disciples here! Tell her to go away! She is bothering us with all her begging! We too will face discouragement from the world that will tell us God does not listen. We will face discouragement even from within the church. These were the disciples of Jesus who were insisting that He send this woman away! "Your child is demon possessed? Yeah, whatever -- tell your story walking." How sad. But don't we see the same thing sometimes within our own Christian circles? People would rather say -- "I'll pray for you" -- rather than taking the two minutes out to actually pray. The sad truth is most Christians are not comfortable discussing any problems they may need prayer for because they fear judgment from fellow Christians. We are always too quick to bury our wounded. I have seen and heard the most callous and insensitive remarks from people who claim the mantle of Christianity. Sure it is wrapped up in Christianese so they can feel spiritual but it is devoid of the love and compassion of Christ. Yet what was the only new commandment Jesus gave us?
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." -- John 13: 34-35 (NLT)
Jesus didn't say they will know we are disciples by our sense of superiority or super-spirituality. Sometimes a person needs a hug and a prayer -- not a Bible verse.
Thirdly, what do we need to do when we face discouragement? We need to persevere in prayer! This woman could have just slinked away after receiving no answer from Jesus. She could have felt wounded in her pride or even self-righteous -- I mean who can refuse a sick child! He didn't even answer me! The truth is that we do not persevere in prayer very well anymore. We believe in a microwave society where we get what we want yesterday. But look at the Bible and see how long sometimes it takes for prayers to be answered.
A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, "If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed." Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition. -- Mark 5: 25-29 (NLT)
Twelve long years of endless suffering. Twelve years of being an outcast being considered in a constant state of being unclean. The worldly solutions of her day only furthered the suffering. Not only that but she must have been well off for Mark to mention her money and that in the pursuit of the worldly solutions she had exhausted all of her temporal riches only to find her condition worse! How many can feel her pain? The answers of this world rarely solve our problems and certainly never as well as God can. But we must persevere. How many of us would have given up by now? Twelve years of bleeding only to see the condition grow worse and become destitute. How many of us would have truly been pushing through that crowd to touch the hem of His garment? This woman had a persevering faith; an overcoming faith. That is how God intends for us to approach our prayer life. Not everything happens according to our timeline. God knew exactly when Joseph would be ready to leave prison and rule Egypt. But Joseph had to wait 13 years for the answer to his prayers. David was anointed King of Israel but had to spend the next 15 years waiting for the deliverance of the promise while trying to not be killed by Saul. Twelve years. Thirteen years. Fifteen years. But you have to possess two things the woman with the issue of blood had. You must believe that God will answer you and you must push through the discouragement.
Continuing in the key story we see Jesus does answer the woman and tells her His answer is "no." He politely explains why, but His answer is no. The next lesson we need to learn about prayer is that the answer does not always go our way. Do you think that the woman with the blood issue only prayed after 12 years? Or Joseph only prayed for release after 13 years? Of course not. They had been praying all along and not giving up. God has three possible answers -- yes, no, and wait. Unfortunately we tend to approach prayer in the mindset of only accepting a yes answer. We can even read a yes into our prayer when He has not said yes. That is how much we are pursuing OUR will. Instead we need to seek His will only.