Faith and Prayer in the Midst of Suffering
Matthew 15:21-28 - 2nd Sunday in Lent - Feb 21, 2016

Dear Believers in Christ, baptized of God,

God never said that He wouldn’t try us. He never said He wouldn’t test us. He never said, you won’t have to suffer. But He did say, I will be with you when you do. I will help you. I will strengthen you. I will get you through it. And I will never leave nor forsake you.

Trials and temptations will come. And sometimes the only thing we can do is pray. And God promises, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us.”

“Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.” (TLH 457 "What a friend we have in Jesus")

God not only wants us to ask for help, He wants us to keep asking – to persist in prayer. Scripture says, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.”

Today we have the story of the Canaanite woman. It clearly is for our comfort, that we would be encouraged to keep praying, and not give up on God. It might feel like He’s not listening. It might seem like He doesn’t care. But we have His promise, He will hear, He will answer, He will give us the desire of our heart. Even though the answer may be delayed for what seems to be a long time, it will come.

The woman of Canaan had every reason to feel abandoned and ignored. She had every reason to give up. She had every reason to turn away, and say, “this just isn’t worth my time and trouble anymore. I tried. I prayed. And Jesus doesn’t seem to care. So I’m going home.” Yet in true faith, she persisted. This is recorded to strengthen us in faith and prayer.

It all started with her daughter getting sick. It wasn’t just a cold, or the flu. Her daughter was possesed. That itself, was more than enough to make her feel abandoned.

But when she goes to Jesus for help, look at the position she finds herself in. She’s a Gentile. She’s not of the house of Israel. She really doesn’t have a right to approach a Jew. But even worse, she’s a Canaanite Gentile. The Canaanites were long-time enemies of Israel.

Despite all this, she still has the courage to ask, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David.”

“But He answered her not a word.” Not one word. Certainly, that’s not what we would expect from Jesus. This just doesn’t sound like the Jesus who said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” She did ask, seek, and knock, and Jesus seemed to not be answering the door.

To make matters worse, the disciples seem annoyed with her... “Send her away; for she crieth after us.”

But it just keeps getting worse. Jesus does respond. But not to her. He responds to the disciples, as if she’s not even there. As if she doesn’t even exist.

“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In today’s politically correct world, that sounds like a racial slur. It seems like He won’t help a non-Jew.

But it just keeps coming. She tries again, “Lord, help me.” He responds, “It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.”

As insulting as this sounds, and as insulted as we would have been, she doesn’t give up. Her faith persists. She finds the diamond in the rough. She finds the tiny little loop hole Jesus left for her. Even little dogs receive love from their owners. Even hungry little dogs eat the bread crumbs that fall from the master’s table. “If I’m a dog, then treat me like one, and help a starving dog.”

Jesus responds, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

This is for our strength and comfort, that we would be encouraged to continue in prayer, and not give up on faith.

We’ve all suffered. We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all felt ignored, isolated, and forgotten. Yet it is especially then that God is with us. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, and to comfort all who mourn. And He says, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience."

When God delays answering, we should never give up. We can be assured that He will help. In time, He will say yes. Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, prayed for over a decade. But it seemed like the more he prayed, the worse things got. He was sold into slavery, later thrown in jail, and later accused of adultery from the same woman whom he faithfully resisted.

Year after year after year, his prayer to return home, seemed to go unanswered. Of course, God could have answered immediately and sent him home. Joseph would have been happy, his father would have been happy. But because God did not answer immediately, Joseph became ruler over all of Egypt. And his brothers, who sinned against him, were restored to God.

God gave him more than what he asked for. Scripture says, God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

This is the way God answers our prayers too. The answer may be no, even for years. But there’s always a reason. Often because He has more to give than what we ask. “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you.”

The time and the manner of His giving it, is hidden from us. Yet, in time, He will help.

It may feel like God is not hearing or that He doesn’t even know, or care. But in time, He will answer. He will give us the desire of our heart. Because of Jesus, there is always a “Yes” in God’s heart. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

Trials are not meant to harm us, but to help us. He wants our faith to be strengthened. He wants our faith to grow. Contrary to the wisdom of the world, God sends suffering because He cares. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” He wants us to come to Him, rely on Him, pray to Him, and find comfort, strength, and healing in His promises. He wants our faith not only to survive, but to grow and be strengthened, and bring forth much fruit. “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”

Whatever our trial may be, Jesus says, “All things are possible to him that believeth.” “If ye have faith…nothing shall be impossible to you.” “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.