Great faith – Matthew 15:21-28

Sometimes we think of great faith as the kind of faith that prays for great things and sees amazing answers to prayer.  That is probably how great faith frequently looks, but great faith need not always look the same.  Consider the case of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The greatness in the woman’s faith is not that she asked for anything more than others might ask.  The Gospels give several examples of people coming to Jesus on behalf of their children and Jesus healing them or even raising them from the dead.  He cast out plenty of demons.

Jesus commends her faith before granting her request, but only after an interaction in which Jesus seems to refuse her.  First he says nothing (v.23), then he pushes the Gentile/Jewish distinction beyond what we might even consider polite (vv. 24-26).  Her humility and persistence in the face of Christ’s seeming condescension and persistent refusal brings out his praise (v.28).

If you are like me you have several prayer requests that God has not seen fit to answer even after many years, maybe decades or most of your life.  And like me you struggle and are tempted to give up.  You might see numerous reasons why God would never answer these prayers.  “I’m not worthy.  I’m really not worthy.  God doesn’t answer prayers like these for people like me.  Why should he?”  These reasons (and I have more) sound a lot like “The Jewish Messiah isn’t about to grant the request of a Canaanite woman, is he?”  But he did.  

The point is that neither an unanswered prayer nor what looks like a humiliating refusal are the same thing as a final “no.”  Jesus used his delays to draw out further expressions of the woman’s faith.  That faith was in her all the time, but had Jesus responded quickly, none of us would have seen it and we might never know.  

Let’s be the kind of people who hang on like the devil – or better, like this Canaanite woman – with whatever faith we have and then even more.  Sometimes faith grows in its praying, its asking, humility and continuous kneeling before God.  Sometimes God’s answers come only after long delays.  A paltry, weak and sickly faith can be satisfied with quick answers, and then it may mislead us into thinking such faith is great.  In fact, great faith, like this woman’s, may be the faith that keeps asking without any answer in sight.

A Prayer for Good Fruit Prompted by Matthew 12:33-35

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 

Heavenly Father,

I deeply desire that my life would bear good fruit, the kind that would please you in every way.  For that to happen I ask first that you would make the the kind of person that might be comparable to a good tree, so that good fruit would naturally appear.

Since it is true that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, I ask you first to purify my heart.  Let my heart be filled with an abundance of good. Then let my mouth speak good things that would impact others for good purposes.

Let me be a good person in your eyes because I allow you make me good.  There is no possible way for me to be good on my own.  Then let my life bring forth good out of my good treasure.

One way or another, I am going to leave a legacy.  Let what I leave behind be good.  Once again, Father, I desire that my life would bring forth good fruit.  For that to happen I ask you to change me from within, so that good would be the natural outcome of all that I say and do.

And I ask this for Jesus’ sake and for his glory.

Amen.

 

A Prayer for Endurance Prompted by Matthew 10:16-25

Heavenly Father,

Your Son reminded us that sometimes the best we can expect out of this world is trouble. 

His disciples often faced difficulty, opposition and persecution and they endured.  Give us that same kind of strength.

From Christ’s instruction we learn that our worst enemies and betrayers might be those we would expect to be our closest friends.  Those who should love us and those we love may respond with hatred and rejection.  We thank you that Jesus experienced all of this first.  We are certainly no greater than he is.

Help us, Father, to remain steadfast, to be faithful and to endure.  We may desire happiness, comfort, approval and blessings, but they may not be ours at this time.  Just as Jesus endured to the end and was glorified, help us to stand firm knowing that his story did not end at the cross and neither will ours.

If we experience no glory or honor in this world, may our lives still bring glory to him, for Christ is worthy.

Amen.

Matthew 9 Verse by Verse

Matt photoChrist’s public ministry moves forward with even more miracles.  He ends with a prayer request for us, to pray for laborers that will help with the spiritual harvest.

Matthew 09.pdf

Matthew 09.mp3

 

A Prayer Prompted by Matthew 9:36-38

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Heavenly Father,

Christ had compassion on the shepherdless crowds who were harassed and helpless.  In response he asked us to pray, and so this is what we are doing.  He alone is their true Shepherd, their Good Shepherd and Chief Shepherd.

There are multitudes who need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of who he is and what he has done.  There are multitudes more who need to hear it again, who need to be reminded or given one more opportunity to respond.

None of us can accomplish this task alone.  Please, heavenly Father, send out laborers.  As Jesus pointed out, the harvest is truly plentiful and the laborers few.  Send out laborers into this great harvest field.  Let their labors lead to the increase of your church.  Let their labors be used to build your church.  Let eternity be filled with more people brought into your family as a result of the laborers that you send out in response to our prayers.  Let disciples be multiplied and the knowledge of your word be increased.  And let your name be glorified throughout all ages as a result.

Amen.

Vicarious faith – Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26

Christ’s death for our sins is sometimes referred to as vicarious atonement.  He took responsibility for us when we were incapable of atoning for ourselves.  That is a wonderful fact and an essential concept that is basic to the Christian faith.  If you want, you can read more about it here.

Now we are going to talk about something else — vicarious faith — an idea central to the Christian life.  Needy people are not always in a position to believe.  They may need us to step in for them and take the responsibility upon ourselves to believe.  Our faith can stand in for their faith, our prayers for their prayers.  Matthew 9 shows us an extreme case.

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. … 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.”And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.

The ruler came to Jesus on behalf of his daughter.  She was dead.  In the house was a lifeless, breathless and certainly faithless corpse.  Her father reached out in faith when she was unable to believe for herself.  The mourners were no help.  Their expressions of grief were interrupted by their laughing at Jesus.  But Jesus did what Jesus does and the girl arose.  I want to exercise that kind of faith on behalf of others.