Sermon: Be Persistent in Our Prayer

September 09, 2018
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

James 2:1-10; Mark 7:24-30

Be Persistent in Our Prayer

The Sweet Image of Jesus
“Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…” This is one of my favorite songs; I like to sing this song when I feel down. When I sing this song, I can think about Jesus as my Shepherd, friend and Savior. Those are images of Jesus to keep in our faith’s journey.  Jesus is sweet, gentle, kind, loving and caring for us. That’s how we want Jesus to be for us. Yet, the problem is that this sweet image of Jesus is not always what we experience in our real life.

Just look around and see what has happened. How can we sing “Jesus loves me this I know” to those who are terrified by wars or terrorist acts? What can we say about God’s love to those who are suffering and dying of diseases, hunger, or any unexpected accident? If Jesus is our Good Shepherd, why do so many people end up with tragedy in their lives? We don’t need to look around the world to figure out how difficult life is. We all have our own stories. We all know what it’s like.

Yes, Jesus loves us. This is what we believe and what we always cling to. But when we finish our worship service and go back to our lives, we happen to experience that the world is not easy and simple and that Jesus is not always there for us. Just ask the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel. She will tell you all about it.

Insulted by Jesus
When Jesus traveled to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon, which is now called Lebanon, a local woman was eager to meet him because her daughter was possessed by demons. She probably heard that Jesus was merciful to people and he had a healing power; she must have had a high expectation of him. But surprisingly, he didn’t care about her situation in the first place, as he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (v. 27). In other words, he said, “We don’t give dogs human food.” It is very racial words!?!

Is he really the same Jesus we know and believe? As far as we know, Jesus came to the world as the Savior of all humanity and taught us that whoever believes in him deserves God’s kingdom. Then how come he humiliated this Canaanite woman in front of his own disciples, just treating her as a dog? What he spoke to her was totally against his own Gospel of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation of the world.

Many biblical scholars have tried to explain it away. Some says that maybe Jesus had a long day and was now resting from his difficult works. Or he was using her desperation just to teach his disciples something. Maybe he wasn’t yet aware that he was sent to be the Messiah of the whole world, not just of Israel. Others say Jesus was only testing her to have strong faith. They offer some excuses, trying to justify his behavior, in this story. But whatever it is, we don’t like it. How can we understand that our sweet Jesus rejected and insulted this poor mother? That’s not how we want Jesus to be. But unfortunately, that is the Jesus the Canaanite woman got in today’s Gospel. And sometimes that can be the Jesus we may get in our life too.

Although we believe God is good and loves us, we know that life is neither simple nor easy at all. There are times that we are desperate for God’s help, (so we come before the Lord, express our feelings, and wait in our broken hearts) but God is still silent and nothing really happens. It’s like talking to the walls of our room or wrestling with trees in the wilderness. If you have ever felt that way, then you can understand how this woman felt when she talked with Jesus. She was shouting to him, “Lord, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession,” but he was silent and even insulting her.

Move Closer to Jesus
What do we do when we face God’s silence or ignorance? Do we give up? Do we get disappointed and angry? Do we quit the church? Do we blame God? Sometimes people come and ask me, “Why?” “Why does this bad thing happen to me?” “Why is God silent?” “Why is my prayer not answered?”  I wish I knew the answer.  After listening to you, I only have to say, “Let’s continue to pray that God will answer you.” This may sound like a cliché or a truism, but “continue to ask” was what the Canaanite woman did in her situation.

After shouting a few more words, she could have given up and gone home back. Now she had a good reason to blame Jesus. However, she didn’t give up nor step back but moved even closer, fell before him, and really begged like a dog. She even replied with some good humor, “[You may call me dog], but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (v. 28). She found a way to be more persistent when it seems everyone and everything was against her. She continued to voice out, not even knowing whether Jesus would really respond to her. But she was just there before the Lord. That’s it!

She was right! As she was persistent, Jesus finally turned around and spoke to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter” (v. 29); “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Mt. 15:28). And that very hour her daughter was healed. She was clearly the underdog who won the prize of highest value for any mother.

So what can we learn from this story? There is nothing we can learn from Jesus in this story. We can ignore him. But I want you to look at the Canaanite woman and learn from her. She wore Jesus down, moved his heart, and let him offer his mercy on her. She was rewarded for her own persistence. Her persistence reminds us of Jesus’s words: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7).

I don’t know why Jesus acted the way he did in today’s Gospel. Certainly this story is not about Jesus but about the Canaanite woman. And it’s about us. It is about our faith. It is about our world. God may or may not do what we expect him to do, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether we are faithful and patient enough before the Lord, and before the world. To give up is only to deepen our despair. To turn away means we will miss when God finally turns around to us. If we give up, we will never know that Jesus really loves us.

Persistent in Our Prayer
“Your faith has healed you,” This is what Jesus replies to those who come forward to seek his mercy. What kind of situation do we struggle with now? What kind of God do we confront now? Is it “Ignorance?” “Is it “Rejection?” Is it “Silence?” Is it “Failure?” Is it “Despair?” Is it “Broke up?” Is it “Get lost?” Is it “Illness?” Whatever it is, this lesson teaches us to remain strong, faithful and persistent, that we may hear God say “Your faith is great! Your request is granted!”

Yes, God is good and loves us! We never doubt it. But we also know life is not easy and simple at all. Despite our faith in God, we don’t know what to do and where to go. But, remember, God has a plan for us, knows when we are in trouble, and our Lord of mercy comes to us in God’s time. Today’s lesson teaches us that in the tough days of life, we not only say God is good but also need to let God say, “You have great faith!” as we are persistent in our prayers. That is how we draw God’s grace, overcome our crisis, and transform the world.  May God’s love and compassion be poured out to you as you are persistent in your faith and prayer. Amen.

Sermon: Persistency and Spirituality

Persistency and Spirituality Luke 11:5-11 24 July 2016

Several years ago, the legendary radio host Paul Harvey told this story on his radio broadcast. Once there was a 3 year old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother.  Before they went inside, she told her son in no uncertain terms that “She would not buy any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask.” Once inside, she put her son in a child’s seat in a shopping cart and began to shop.  Everything was fine until they came to the pastry and cookie section.  When the boy saw the chocolate chip cookies, he stood up in the seat and with persistency said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” As expected, the mother said, “I told you not to ask. Not today.”  So he sat back down.  As they continued down the various aisles in the store they searched for certain items, but as luck would have it, they ended back down the cookie aisle.  The boy with a little more persistency said, “Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you, once before, ‘no’ now sit down and be quiet.” Finally as they approached the checkout lane, the little boy sensed this might be his last chance, he stood up and shouted in his loudest voice. “In the name of Jesus, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone around the checkout counter began to laugh.  Some people began to applaud.  According to Paul Harvey, due to the generosity of the other shoppers, this little boy and his mother left the store with a number of boxes of chocolate chip cookies.

In our passage of scripture for today, Jesus invites us to pray and not give up. Though God does not always answer prayers right away, we will see answers if we become regular and persistent in our devotional life.  My text is Luke 11:5-11.

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?   This is the Word of God.

The setting for this parable takes place in a small agricultural village; back then there were no 24 hour convenience stores. In that type of society, most families lived in a small one room mud brick home.

What we learn in this particular parable is that the entire family slept on a mat which was on a raised platform at the one end of the house, while at the other end slept the sheep, goats, and chickens that were brought in for protection. Just before the oil lamp was blown out, the husband pulled a door bolt through an iron wall ring, then everyone went to sleep.

Here is the twist in the story; we are told a man and his family showed up at a friend’s house at midnight. It was the custom in those days, to provide for neighbors no matter the hour.

Now it may seem strange to us to hear of a family traveling that late into the evening, but in ancient times, many people did this to avoid the heat of the day. This particular family ran out of food and made their request for assistance.

And of course the family in the mud brick house did not want to be disturbed. The door was locked; everyone was in bed; the chickens and animals were settled and quiet.  But it was through persistency the hungry family got their bread.

The message Jesus would convey to us is that God will ultimately answer his children’s requests if they are persistent and not give up. Let’s look at the different players.
The
hungry traveler represents us when we are in need.
The sleeping neighbor
who supplied the bread represents God or Jesus.

The message for us is this: If we have a need, we need to call on the Lord to help. We may not get our answers right away; more than likely we might have to persevere.

There is a story of a woman who left her diamond brooch pin in a hotel. When she got home, she remembered her brooch and called the hotel.  She told the hotel clerk what happened and thought she left it in the room.  The clerk told her to hold on and he would go look for it.  When he found it, he put it in the safe and returned to the phone to tell her the good news, but unfortunately, she had hung up.

Sometimes Christian believers do not have the patience to wait and we give up too easily. For the Lord to answer our prayers, there is often a time to wait, because he needs to work out all the details and circumstances to bring a situation to a favorable resolution.  But in the meantime do not give up.

The Lord is not like the unhappy neighbor that didn’t want to be bothered. The big difference is that he delights in answering the requests of his children.  But when we pray, we have to pray regularly and be persistent.

Those who have been to Rockville General or Manchester Memorial Hospital, can identify with this. A young man, who was obviously worried about a certain family member, stepped into a hospital elevator and pressed the lit elevator button; he pushed it again and again.  A person who happened to be standing behind him must have been a church person; this person said “Pushing the button is like reminding God you’re still there when he hasn’t answered your prayer right away.” Great spiritual insight.

If we were to pray occasionally, it doesn’t work very well. We must be consistent.  A sailboat cannot sail with only an occasional puff of wind.  So it is with our faith.  We cannot maintain spiritual life if we only pray in emergencies.  Set the same time everyday to say a prayer; it will become a crucial part of your life.

Jesus said: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.”  Notice the progression of ask, seek, and knock.

  • To Ask=to make a simple request.
  • To Seek=implies a stronger desire.
  • To Knock=shows determination. It is not a single rap on the door; but a series of raps.

My observation is a lot of people pray only in emergencies. But when we ask, seek, and knock, we are really changing the habit that prayer is just an option or a last resort.

For years a woman was greatly abused by her non-Christian husband. She prayed frequently and earnestly for his salvation.  Seeing no change in him, she finally said in discouragement, “I will continue to pray for him another six months, and if he doesn’t come to the Lord, then I will cease to pray for him.” On the last day of the six months, the woman felt she had failed and was despondent.  A few moments later her husband came in.  He was deeply dejected and was despondent.  She asked him, “What is the trouble?” He answered, “I am miserable and away from God. Could you ever forgive me for all the mean things I have done?  With tears in her eyes, she said, “I forgive everything.” That day, he gave his heart to the Lord.  Such an amazing story how God honored her persistent faith like that.

I know we all have family members and loved ones who do not follow the Lord or have stopped coming to church. I would like to really encourage you to pray persistently for them that they would come back to the Lord.

If you have any family members not serving God, I would encourage you to pray even though it may look hopeless.  It seems that we pray for those who are sick in body, and we should, but we should also pray for their souls and not give up.

James 5:17-18 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

Ephesians 6:18 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.  

Here are some inspirational quotes:

  • Max Lucado-“The power of prayer is not in the one who prays but in the one who hears it.”
  • “If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ.” C. H. Spurgeon

 

  • EM Bounds-“Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move God.”
  • Charles Spurgeon-“Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the kingdom.”

 

  1. “I look at a stone cutter hammering away at a rock a hundred times without so much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow it splits in two. I know it was not the one blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” George Mueller

God will respond to his children who

  • Unashamedly ask,
  • Who persistently seek
  • Who expectantly knock at His door with prayer needs and requests.

God invites us to pray and not give up, and even though He does not answer immediately, sometimes he will reward our regular and persistent prayers.