Be Persistent Through Silence
Be Persistent through Silence
Lent 2 T Matthew 15:21-28
Lent is all about engaging in battle. Last week, we heard about Jesus and Satan engaging in battle. Of course, Jesus came away victorious. And this week, the Canaanite woman engages in a sort of wresting match with Jesus. This isn’t to say Jesus was against her, or she was against Jesus. But she requests something from Jesus, and the text says, “He did not answer her a word.” Thus, the match commences between her and God. It’s the same sort of wresting Jacob has with God in the Old Testament reading. And it’s the same sort of wrestling we have with God in prayer. Why does it seem God is silent to our prayers? We know God’s promises. We believe we’re praying these things according to His will. But things just don’t seem to happen. This is why I think that this Lenten text is perhaps the hardest for Christians to hear. Because it’s the most real. We experience it daily.
Our experiences probably aren’t that much different from the Canaanite woman. She lived in the region of Tyre and Sidon. Her daily life was constantly plagued with pagan influences. She knew a bit about the Bible. She knew there was a Messiah to come for the Jewish people. She even knew that this Messsiah was going to be a blessing even to her, a Gentile! You might say she knew some of the foundational things. But it wasn’t her knowledge that made HER faith particularly great. It was her trust. And as Jesus recognizes, her trust in God was persistent, which got her through her trial.
She had a child who was demon possessed. She trusted that Jesus was the Messiah from Israel who was to be a blessing to even her. She clung to that promise of God, and went to Jesus with this request. Her request was, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
Likewise, we also make requests to God. It’s called prayer! And our prayers to God probably aren’t that far off from what the Canaanite woman asked of Jesus! You might pray for your children too like, “Lord, help my son or my daughter to trust in you! Work your Spirit into them to lead them back to church! Give them saving faith! Save them from the demonic influences thrusted upon them from an unbelieving world!” Or you may pray, “Jesus, you are the Great Physician. Heal my son or daughter of their cancer. Heal my mom or dad of their Alzheimer’s, or at the very least, give them relief from their sufferings.” Or something a little less local and more global, “Lord, dispel the evils of this world, and bring down evil governments wherever they should arise. Especially with the Russian and Ukrainian war.”
But based on your experiences, how does the Lord answer your prayers? It seems so often that we pray for others and we hear crickets from God. And we start to wonder, “where is God? Has He even heard me?” The temptation that we struggle with is distrust – a distrust that God hears and works to answer prayer. As a result, we seek solutions elsewhere. Because we believed that God has abandoned us to our sufferings. Left us to suffer with loved ones who’re far from Him. Left us to suffer the illnesses of the world with no relief. Left us to bear alone the evil schemes of sinful man for as long as I live.
The silence we hear from God about our prayers is deafening. Because it seems as if He is far from us while we’re left to our suffering, our weakness, and our oppression alone. But why? Why would God allow that?
That feeling of abandonment isn’t foreign to your Savior. He bore patiently with His Father as one of you – a flesh and blood human. He is the high priest who has experienced this temptation and feelings of despair just as you do. He even cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” Even the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, wrestled with unanswered prayer. Though, His Father answered His prayer. It just led Him through suffering, death, and His wrath, not away from it. Jesus prayed in the garden, “Take this cup of wrath from me!” Basically, He asked to not die if He could avoid it! However, Jesus concluded, “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus HUMBLY submitted to and trusted His Father’s direction, despite the temptation to be opposed to it. Jesus patiently bore His suffering, while waiting for the Father to deliver on His promise.
That’s just what the Canaanite woman does. After she was ignored, finally, Jesus said “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” So, Jesus more or less says, “I can’t help you”, which only furthers her feeling of despair and abandonment by the holy one of Israel. Because she is a Gentile. But did this stop her trust in Him? No! She kneelt before His feet and said “Master, help me!” Do whatever you need, just help! Jesus responded to her cry: “it’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Basically, Jesus said, ‘it’s not right to take the great blessings meant for Israel and give it to Gentiles.’ And the trust of the Canaanite woman comes swiftly with the counter: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table!” What a beautiful confession! She held on to God’s promise given to Abraham with such a fervent trust – that God does take care of even the Gentiles. And the fulfillment of that we see in Christ – who then sees her faith as GREAT! Why? Because she wrestled with God and prevailed. She trusted in His promises, despite her experiences tempting her to abandon trust in God. Despite Jesus’ deafening silence, she held on to God’s promise in faith. And God granted her request. Her daughter was healed of her demonic oppression.
Now, here’s the hardest part for us: God doesn’t always grant requests as quickly as He did for her. But it also doesn’t mean that God abandoned His promises to you. For example, look at Moses. God promised Him and His people the Promised Land in Canaan. But as they got near, God’s people showed themselves ungrateful, and ultimately, faithless. So, they were punished! They wandered in the wilderness for 40 YEARS! 40 YEARS! Imagine waiting for God to fulfill His promise for 40 years? What would happen to you? Would you pray for the same thing for 40 years? Or would you give up? And distrust God?
Our lives are built on having answers quickly. If you want to know an answer to a question you have, you google it. If you’re hungry, you can swing through Chik-fil-a before going home. If you want to talk to a loved one, you can facetime or call them from across the globe. Thus, silence is particularly difficult for us to bear. Especially when we pray for things we care about – like our children, our church, our communities. But God purposes the silence for your good. Because the suffering that God’s silence produces, gives us endurance in the faith as we go forth into spiritual battle. It gives us perseverance and patience through whatever plagues us. That perseverance produces character – it changes us to be as Christ was. Because we have an everlasting hope that we know and trust will come upon our death, despite whatever we may suffer now.
In that way, God allows our faith to be exercised a bit. He allows a bit of wrestling. He permits us to suffer through smaller things, allowing our faith muscle to be built up so that when the tougher, larger thing comes around, God has equipped us to handle it. It’s sort of like Paul, who repeatedly asked God to take away the “thorn in His flesh” that caused Him suffering. But how did God use those little moments of suffering for Paul’s benefit? It reminded Paul that God’s grace was sufficient for him.
So when we encounter silence from God in our prayers, may we likewise be reminded, that God’s grace is sufficient for us. And that God sometimes gives silence to our requests, that we may persevere in our asking, aligning our faith and trust with the promises of God – EVEN IF that road be particularly long or painful. And we pray for the patience to endure the pain of today, for the promises of tomorrow that well up to life everlasting, are coming.
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