It all started with a recent ‘I told you so’ from a friend who walked patiently with me through the valley of the shadow of death. While going through my hardest year ever as a Christian and numerous tests from God, I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel and my health started to return and many of the trials ended.
He told me while in the dark valley that God would come through and helped me through all the questions that rose in my heart about God and His ways. Finally at the end of last year I mostly came out of this horrendous trial and he told me: ‘I told you so’ . He was right, but how hard it seems sometimes to believe that when you in the pit.
While going through that journey, I cried out to God in desperation, sometimes I cried to Him for hours on end in physical and emotional agony with no sign of relief or answer to my prayers. My mind got flooded with so many questions about God and His ways. I knew my faith was tested, but with the purpose of being cemented on the rock. I have learned a number of lessons through this trial, especially about God and prayer. Some of the lessons are revealed below:
Tonight I was drown to the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman in the Bible – from Matthew 15:21-28 – who came and asked Jesus to heal her daugther. Just to refresh your memory, the woman had a daughter who was demon possessed and she came desperate to Jesus asking Him to heal her. He first ignored her, than she told her He is not allowed to help her and finally told her it’s not good to take from others to give to her, but she would not take ‘No’ for an answer. In the end, He praised her faith and gave her the miracle she wanted.
I started to ask myself the questions:
- What did Jesus see in this woman that moved Him to seemingly do what He felt He was not allowed to and was not ideal – meaning to seemingly break His own rules – and then praise her faith and give her what she wanted? What was so special about this woman that moved Him to do this?
- What did the woman believe about Jesus that made her insist and not take ‘No’ for an answer?
I will endeavour to unpack this and also draw a comparison with our experiences in our prayer life.
The events took place as it follows:
Jesus went through a Gentile region, boarded at a house and really wanted no one to know He was there (see Mark 7 for the details), but this woman found out who He was and came to the house. She heard that the One who was famous for doing miracles was accessible, just like Jesus is accessible to us in prayer. She believed that He was the Lord, the Son of David, as the Bible says she worshipped Him. She had an attitude of worship.
She went without an attitude of entitlement, but in desperation to ask for mercy.
She somehow, amazingly, had a revelation of the heart of God: that He is good and that He is more than willing to help, even though as a Gentile she was considered unclean by the jews and outside a covenant relationship with God. With this image of God in her heart, she went determined to get what she had on her heart, and not willing to take ‘No’ for an answer.
We, as believers, with full access to the throne of God and His covenant, many times become discouraged in prayer and start to let doubts creep in that somehow, God will not give us the things we ask for – maybe we are not holy enough, maybe God does not like us somehow, He does not think much of us and maybe even doesn’t really care about ‘insignificant us’.
Not this woman, she knew the heart of God, a generous, good, more than willing heart towards us, human beings. She was not going to accept, as an answer to your prayer, anything less than that which fits with God’s character and heart. Any less than that would not do and frankly, she could not afford to have less – after all, living with a demon possessed daugther makes life hell. And so she was determined that no matter what circumstances throw at her, no matter what obstacles seem to come her way, she will not take ‘No’ for an answer.
Let’s look at the events, I will paraphrase some points for the sake of emphasizing some lessons:
Firstly, Jesus ignored her when she cried out to Him behind her, the Bible says ‘He answered her NOT A WORD.’ (Wow, some of us give up right there in prayer). Her prayer was a humble prayer, asking for mercy, a worshipful prayer calling Jesus Lord and a supplication, specifying her need and asking for it to be met. Nothing wrong with this kind of prayer … Why didn’t Jesus answer her?
She did not let this seeming unwillingness to help stop her – she knew the heart of God – He will never cast out those who come to Him, He will give good things to those who ask, He who gave the most He could in His Son Jesus would He withhold the less from her? She might have to persist in asking, knocking and seeking, but she will eventually get what she asks for. She set her mind to believe in the God who would not say ‘No’ to her asking for a very needed miracle.
If she believed that He might say ‘No’ she probably would have given up along the way of shouting after Jesus for help. But that’s not what she believed about Him. She was convinced of His character, His ways and His heart. He is good and more than willing to give, though the answer might take a while to come.
Second, Jesus decides to answer her with:
‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ – not a very encouraging reply for someone who wants answers to prayer. But how did this woman react? She sort of ignored His statement, and came to Him, worshipped Him and said: ‘Lord, help me!’ – in other words, she sort of said to Him: don’t tell me that You aren’t allowed, tell me that You will! I won’t take ‘No’ for an answer. I need this miracle and I won’t let you go because of formalities. You are not a God that gets put in a box, You are bigger than that. You have principles You follow, but You like to jump out of the box and surprise us with new ways and seemingly exceptions to the rules.
In a way, Jesus was testing her – will she believe in His goodness and willingness to help, even if her request did not fit the box.
I will not box You in, God, to say that: You only work in this way, You don’t do this, You don’t do that, You can’t or You won’t. Yes, You put Your Word above Your Name, so You never do something that is not in accord with the Bible and holiness, but HOW You do it, when and what is Your prerogative. And I accept that You might jump out of the box I boxed You in, in my mind, through pre-conceived ideas and things I thought I knew very well. I give You permission to surprise me and I stay open to change and flexible, willing to re-learn if the need arises.
How many of us would take a seemingly refusal from Jesus and still keep on insisting? How many of us would stop when we hear no reply and get no answer to our prayers yet and say: ‘God works in mysterious ways … just accept it … He probably is trying to teach you a lesson through this, don’t bother God anymore.’ But would she take it so? No, she would not take ‘No’ for an answer. Why? We will see further on as we study this further.
Third, Jesus tells her:
‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs’
At this point, some of us would get offended. What, God? Are you calling me a dog? Are you saying I am not as valuable as a jew? What’s so special about them? This isn’t fair? Why God do you bless others and not me? I thought You had no favourites! Why do others seem to have an easier life, more prosperity, more health, more favour in ministry and business than me? Why do You answer others’ prayers more than mine? Am I not special to You? Why do you act more dramatically for others and not for me? – this is the sin of entitlement and of charging God with wrong, which Job was found not guilty of at first in his testing and pleased God.
Her answer revealed there was no entitlement in her heart, only trust in a God of love. She accepted in her heart, God’s rule as King and that He sets the universe and the earth as He pleases. If He wants to give the jews a special job, so be it. who is she to question God’s wisdom and God’s authority.
We need to have this attitude of acceptance of God’s Kingship in our life in prayer. If you want to sit on the throne of your heart and from there ask God to go and run errands for your life like a servant would, in answering your prayers, you are in for a rude shock. He is the King, He is to sit on the throne, and you submit to His will for your life, not Him to your will for your life. Therefore prayer is meant to be: you asking God to do what He revealed in His Word that He would do, in accordance to His character, His ways and His heart – and not to ask Him to do what you want Him to do for you, which is in the end a form of trying to manipulate Him to be your servant.
In her submission to His Kingship though, she did not forget His heart and His character. Even though He had certain rules and principles, He will not leave her out in the cold with no answer to her desperate need. He will find a way to help her, because that’s His heart and His character. He will find a way to help her, even if it means He has to make exceptions to His own rules. His heart is eager and He can’t wait, He longs to help us out of our need. That’s the King she knew and since He is love, He will do what love does: help, no matter what.
What is your image of God? Is He the God of more than enough, who is willing to give, generous and kind and longing to help or is He a distant God, reluctant to give, indifferent, slow to help?
Your image of God has a EVERYTHING to do with what kind of level of faith you enter with in prayer. Why don’t you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any distortions of the character and heart of God that you may be unknowingly or knowingly holding unto? Let Him do His work to shine His light and cooperate with Him to remove it from your life. Trust His goodness and His wisdom here.
Also, study the Bible with the goal of finding out who God is, His character and His heart and take note of the many aspects of His wonderful character and heart. Be dilligent at it and more revelation will be given to you. Meditate on those revelations throughout the day and let them sink from your mind conciousness to your heart conciousness level. This is called ‘I have learned’ in the Hebrew way of thinking, when it has reached your heart and got planted in there.
To be continued …