Pray with Persistance
In the Old Testament tabernacle, there was a small golden altar standing before the veil, and here the priest burned the incense. The incense is a picture of prayer. The fire on the altar is a picture of the Holy Spirit, for it is He who takes our prayers and “ignites” them in the will of God. In the New Testament we read in Rev. 8:3-4 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Our prayers are important to God. Throughout the Bible we read how prayer has won victories, opened the Red Sea, brought water from the rock, and bread from heaven. Prayer made the sun stand still. Prayer brought fire from the sky on Elijah’s sacrifice. Prayer overthrew armies and healed the sick. Prayer raised the dead.
Prayer has paved the way for millions of people to know Christ. When we pray, God works through us in ways that He would not otherwise. God has made certain things dependent upon prayer, things that may never be accomplished unless we pray. God can do whatever He chooses without our prayer; however, God has determined that He will use the prayers of His people to accomplish His purposes on this earth.
Persistence in prayer is important. However, sometimes we may wonder if we should just accept things the way they are like Paul did regarding his “thorn in flesh.” He said in 2 Cor. 12:8-9 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
You will notice in Paul’s situation he got an answer – My grace is sufficient for you. If, we receive an answer, it is wise to accept that answer and not to move outside of the Lord’s will trying to “get our own way;” however, when the Lord has not answered, the Bible teaches that we are free to be persistent in our prayers. We just need to remain humble in our persistence.
READ Matthew 15:21-28 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 23Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 25The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” 27″Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Readers are often surprised at Jesus’ initial response to the woman’s pitiful pleas. At first, Jesus appeared to ignore her. This highlights the mystery of the unanswered prayer.
Jesus came to this area so that He might have some privacy and it was during this time that a valuable lesson is recorded in God’s Word regarding persistent prayers. Sometimes in our persistence we may feel as though our prayers are hopeless but human feelings lie while God’s Word does not lie. Jeremiah 33:3 ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’
Matthew records that the woman coming to Jesus was a Canaanite. Canaanites were descendents of Canaan who was Noah’s grandson by Ham. These were the people that Joshua was originally told to destroy as the Jews came into the Land of Canaan. This was not done completely and they were always a problem for the Jewish nation. The Canaanites worshiped many gods and had many evil practices. The same story is recorded in the gospel of Mark and Mark calls her a Greek from Syrophoenicia. This word reveals that she was a Gentile born in the Phoenician side of Syria. Many Christians today have the “feeling” that they have too much going against them for God to hear and answer their prayers. If there ever was anyone with everything going against her, it was this woman.
To begin with, her nationality was against her. She was a Gentile and Jesus was a Jew. The Jewish opinion was that the Messiah would be for the Jews alone. Besides that, she was a woman, and society in that day was dominated by men. Satan was against her, for one of his demons had taken control in her daughter’s life. Most of the New Testament references to demon possession appear in the Gospels and represent the outburst of satanic opposition to God’s work in Christ during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Anytime you are trying to genuinely work for the Lord, you can expect that Satan and his cronies will be very much against you! The disciples appeared “on the fence” about her. For a time, it looked as though Jesus was against her! It was not an easy situation, and yet she triumphed because of her great faith.
When she first asked Him for help, Jesus did not even answer her! Encouraged by His silence, the disciples urged Him to send her away. Sometimes we are encouraged by the silence of God to the prayers of others and we take it upon ourselves to give our opinion of why the Lord has not answered. We need to learn to be encouragers and not discouragers. We need to bond with those in the need of prayer and become prayer warriors alongside them. It is often a huge encouragement to know that someone else is genuinely praying with you. Matthew 18:19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. In the body of believers (the church), the sincere agreement of two people is more powerful than the superficial agreement of thousands, because Christ’s Holy Spirit is with them. Two or more believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, will pray according to God’s will, not their own; thus their
requests will be granted.
It is not totally clear if the disciples wanted Jesus to just get rid of her or heal her to get rid of her. In the beginning they were not the most compassionate crew so it would not surprise me that if at this point in their spiritual journey they were not viewing her as a “prospect” for the kingdom. When Jesus did first speak, it was not to the woman but to the disciples; and His words seem to exclude her completely: I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel . However, none of these barriers stopped her from pressing on with her plea.
Notice how she addressed Jesus in the beginning. The first time she cried for help, she called Jesus the “Son of David.” This was a Jewish title and since she was not a Jew there was no meaning for her to address Jesus by this title. The Bible makes it plain that Gentiles are not saved by first becoming Jews. Notice the point in the story when the Canaanite woman called Jesus Lord. This was the moment He responded! Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Even then Jesus’ response to the woman may seem out of character with a casual reading: It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Symbolically the mention of the children was a reference to the Jews and the mention of the bread was referring to Jesus’ truth about Himself. John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
The dogs referred to the Gentiles, which included the woman. When the Jews spoke of Gentiles they often referred to them as dogs, using the word for wild scavengers much like we scorn people of other nationalities today. We should note that the term Jesus used meant little dogs possibly household pets or puppies. The picture is that of a family meal at which the family’s small pet dogs eagerly awaited scraps of food from the table. I think we can all picture that!
Her reply revealed that faith had triumphed. She did not deny the special place of the “children” meaning the Jews in God’s plan. You could say all she wanted were a few crumbs of blessing from the table. Jesus said to another Gentile woman from Samaria in John 4:22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. This Canaanite woman – someone who was not brought up to be watching for the coming Messiah recognized Jesus quicker than the “learned Jews” who were supposed to be waiting for the Messiah. So what if you were not raised in the church? So what, if you have just recently found Jesus? So what, if none of your family believes? You can still be persistent in your prayers and your faith will be rewarded.
It must have thrilled His heart when she took His own words and used them as a basis for her plea! This reminds me that there are many ways to use scripture in our prayers. We can quote a Bible promise to God as assurance of an answer. We can quote a scripture using it for praise. We can use Bible verses and apply them in our prayers to our current situation. There is one “catch” to this – we must be familiar with God’s Word to do it. We can please the heart of Jesus when we use His Holy Scripture meaningfully in our prayers.
It is significant that the two times in the Gospel record when Jesus commended “great faith,” He was responding to the faith of Gentiles and not Jews: this woman and the Roman centurion. That should not surprise us because the prophet Isaiah foretold it centuries before in Isaiah 49:6 …I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Great faith is persistent faith that takes God at His Word and will not let go until God meets the need. Great faith displays determination to lay hold of even the slightest encouragement and turn it into a fulfilled promise. I have always loved this next passage because it is one that my mother frequently pointed out to me during my youth.
READ Luke 18:1-5 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4″For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
The first thing to remember about this parable which is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning is that Jesus told it because we should always pray and never give up!
Praying with power will always involve overcoming obstacles. The widow had three obstacles to overcome. First, being a woman she had little standing before the law. In the Palestinian society of that time, women did not go to court. Since she was a widow, she had no husband to stand with her in court. Finally, she was poor and could not pay a bribe even if she wanted to. We know that he was a “bad judge” because Jesus described him as a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. He broke God’s two greatest commandments to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We feel surprised when we hear of the bribery and cheating that goes on with government officials today but in reality it is nothing new because people are always the same. However, do not confuse the judge in the story with God who is our Righteous Judge. 2 Tim. 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Unless you see that Jesus is pointing out contrasts, you will get the idea that God must be argued or bribed into answering prayer! God is not like this judge; for God is a loving Father, who is attentive to our every cry, generous in His gifts, concerned about our needs, and ready to answer when we call. If we remain persistent in our prayers, the fulfillment of our expectation will come.
READ Luke 18:6-8 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
At this point I want to mention one of my “most favorite” prayer verses. 1 John 5:14-15 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 15And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. KJV – Sometimes when we pray, we know that we know, that God has heard and we can claim the promise that God will grant the petitions that we have desired of Him.
Our world is currently so depraved we cannot help but believe that we are living in the “last days.” By “last days” I mean the time in history just before the Lord’s literal return. At the end of this parable, Jesus asks a question: However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” His words seem to be an indication that the end times will not be days of great faith. Eight people were saved in Noah’s day, and only four out of Sodom (and one of them perished on the way). 1 Tim. 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Tim. 3:1-4 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–
What is the answer to the desperate times we live in? 1 Thes. 5:17 Pray without ceasing. “Pray without ceasing” does not mean we must always be mumbling prayers. The word means “constantly recurring,” not continuously occurring. Today, many people use what is called bluetooth technology to make hands free phone calls. With a bluetooth in your ear you can talk on the phone continually! It is kind of funny. You see someone walking down the street and they appear to be talking to themselves when they are actually “on the phone.” God’s children need to be in touch with God to the point that our praying is part of a long conversation that is not broken. Let us put it this way – keep your bluetooth in your ear, the battery charged and the line open and you will have power in prayer.