How has your prayer life been? Seriously – stop, take a moment, and consider how your prayer life has been. Take a couple minutes and get a sense of where your prayer life is. I’ll wait while you do.
I don’t know how strong your prayer life is. However, I do know this. It can always be stronger, deeper, and more meaningful. I’ve spent time praying, walked away, and never felt as though I did much of anything other than converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. That’s frustrating to me. I desire a vibrant prayer life and want to do what it takes to maintain it. And if that means locking myself in the bathroom, lights off, and block out everything else, (don’t laugh, I’ve done this), then that’s what I want to do!
The Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 paints a picture I think of an active vibrant prayer life for the Christian. She begins crying out “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon possessed.” I read “crying out” and envision that she’s some distance away from Jesus. She’s not at His feet yet pleading with Him.
Jesus doesn’t answer her, which I find intriguing. Matthew records “But He did not answer her a word.” which indicates to me that Jesus was at least aware of her cry for mercy. Why would Jesus not answer or even acknowledge her cry?
I think we often ask that question – Why haven’t you answered yet, Jesus? While I could write about why some prayers are answered and others are not, that’s not what I want us to focus on here. I want to examine this woman’s experience with Jesus.
Her cries start some distance from Jesus. She’s not described by Matthew at first as being at His feet. She’s crying out to Him. She was a Canaanite – a Gentile. In that culture, the Jews were to receive the message of the Messiah first, then the Gentiles. She was aware of this (see verses 26-28). She was desperate enough to cry out, but not to the point of crossing cultural lines and approaching Jesus.
When she doesn’t receive any word, or acknowledgement from Jesus, look at what she does next. She puts herself at His feet. Matthew 15:25 “But she came and began to bow down before Him saying “Lord help me!”
Can you hear the desperation in her voice as she cries out at Jesus’ feet? There are three key words in her second plea for mercy that I want to focus on.
First she came. Physically, she closed the distance between her and Jesus. Her plea from a distance was not answered nor did she receive any confirmation from Jesus that He heard her.
Sometimes confirmation through the Holy Spirit is all we need when we bring our petitions to Him. We simply need (and may not be aware of needing it) confirmation in our spirit that we have prayed through. We may not get an answer, but the confirmation is all that is needed.
From a distance, the woman receives no answer or confirmation, so what does she do? She closes the gap. How close our walk is with Jesus directly effects our prayer life. Half-hearted, half-faith prayers will leave us like the woman with her first plea, no answer, no confirmation. But when we close the gap between us and Jesus, amazing things begin to happen in our spirit. Confirmation is there, answers come according to His will and timing.
The idea is to be so close to the Holy Spirit that we have a bold confidence in our prayer life. My desire is to be so close to Him that I feel that I am constantly in the flow of the Holy Spirit, never outside of it. It’s what Paul describes as “Pray without ceasing”. It’s a heart choice really. It’s choosing to rejoice always, irrespective of what’s going on. (that’s a hard one, especially on days that don’t go our way!) It’s giving thanks in everything knowing that everything that happens is God’s will. Nothing happens outside of God. (see 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
So the first thing we can do is close the gap. Move closer to Jesus. At His feet is a great place to start!
Next she began. She took action and started doing something. While God is omniscient and knows our needs before we ask, we still need to take action on our part and bring our petitions to Him. Discerning an answer or direction to our petitions isn’t a mystery. Prayer coupled with careful study of scriptures and time spent at His feet can bring us an understanding that we never would have discovered had we not made the investment.
I can recall so many times I struggled with discerning an answer from God, trying to figure out what to do in certain circumstances. I’d go, for sometimes months, before I’d realize I had not invested enough time and closed the gap to be able to receive discernment or an answer. Confession time – I’ve done this often and still find it a struggle sometimes. I’m a slow learner!
My point? We need to take action within the closeness discovered by closing the gap.
The last word or phrase is bow down at His feet. The Greek word used for bow down means to fall down to worship. She’s physically and spiritually moved herself to a position of worship. She pleads her cause once more in her cry “Lord help me” and seals it with worship.
When we bring our petitions, sealing them with worship reminds us of how truly awesome in power our God is. Worship is one way we express sometimes the inexpressible. It’s not until I begin worshiping in song, that I find I can express what I need and it seals the prayer, trusting that He hears me when I call. Let me explain it like this.
The Chris Tomlin song “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)” has the following lyrics
You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear
You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear
I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side
The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side
When I sing this song in worship, I am reminded of how big God is. I am reminded that He always hears me, that His lovingkindesses are renewed in the morning (“You are my morning song”), that even though troubles still are present and darkness seems to fill my night, He has already crushed the enemy and is my sword and shield (put on the whole armor of God Ephesians 6:10-20). I know that He goes before me, I know that He stands behind me. He is all around me and He commands all the armies of Heaven and never leaves my side! He is my closest friend!
See what worship does?!?!?! You can’t read that and not get blessed! Sealing our petitions with worship makes what we see as impossible, completely possible with The God of angel armies! In extreme confidence and trust we are able to place our requests in His more than capable hands and when we do so, worry and anxiety that drain us begins to fade, leaving us renewed, strengthened, and able to live abundantly!
Who knew you could learn so much from one little passage!
After all this, Jesus gives her a little lesson in who He came to give the message to first – the bread being the message and the children being the Jews. She persists her plea, acknowledging her undeserving position and lack of any rights in the covenant, but uses Jesus’ words to further her claim and cause.
Matthew 15:27 But she said “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
In other words, she is claiming the scraps from what the Jews didn’t eat (bread), for her daughter’s deliverance. She understood more than the disciples probably did! And Jesus honors her faith and persistence.
Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
Persistence pays. She did not give up. She persisted her case and Jesus acknowledged her faith and granted her request.
Close the gap.
Seal with worship.
This isn’t some magical formula that will bring you answers to all your requests, so please do not misunderstand. God is sovereign and engages His perfect will when and how He desires. We may not ever receive an answer to something we spend a lifetime praying for while following this example. But that’s not the point.
The point is this; we are to draw ourselves so close to Him (closing the gap) that when we take action and worship, we receive peace in our petition. This is irrespective of His will, accepting that in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (paraphrased from 1 Thessalonians 5:18) We are to persist in prayer, appreciating that it is a privilege to boldly approach God in prayer.
So, I ask again. How’s your prayer life? Do you need to close the gap or seal your petition with worship? Have you given up on a petition? I encourage you to take action in response to your answers. Write down your prayers and keep a journal on your experiences as you bring them to Him. Describe what happens at each stage so you can see tangible results.
And if you have to go to your bathroom and shut the lights off, then take action and do it! It is worth it all!!!