“And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.’ Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once.” (Matthew 15:21-28 NASB)
This story is for those of us who have gone through seasons where we felt like God’s work went “quiet.”
Notice in verse 23 that Jesus “did not answer her a word.” And the disciples were even sick of hearing this woman crying out for help. It seemed like Jesus was ignoring her! Then when He finally did give her attention, He appeared to be less than immediately sympathetic.
I wonder how many of us out there have prayed for something and felt as if God wasn’t listening. We’ve prayed until we felt that surely our constant request had become an annoying clamoring in God’s ears... because certainly we were exhausted with hearing this same prayer from our lips. In fact, we are pretty sure our friends and Bible study members inwardly cringe when it’s our turn to share prayer requests because we sound like a broken record. But the need continues to compel us to cry out for our Lord’s help.
Sometimes all the external circumstances make it seem as though God isn’t paying attention to our plight or that He doesn’t really even care all that much. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Jesus wasn’t ignoring the Canaanite woman or lacking compassion toward her need. He was “setting the stage.” This woman who was an “outsider” to the Jewish faith displayed more belief than the very people who were supposed to have been ready and waiting for Jesus’ coming. In addition, her story prepared the way for the Gospel being preached to those outside the Jewish faith. She was a symbol and foreshadowing of the work God was planning to accomplish among the gentiles. And she was a great example of faith!
Jesus' response to her only allowed the rest of us to see her faith and humility clearly displayed. If He hadn’t responded to her the way He did, we wouldn’t be challenged and inspired by her heart for God.
When you feel like the Lord isn’t hearing your prayers, take heart and emulate this woman’s example by:
Continue to pray.
Like the Canaanite woman who kept lifting her request, we also need to keep praying!
Read the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8 for another example Jesus highlighted pertaining to a steadfastness in our prayer life. The Lord cherishes a person whose faith keeps compelling them to come to Him.
Be completely humble.
The Canaanite woman engaged Jesus with total humility. She was on her face before Him.
Sometimes we are tempted to get frustrated in the Lord’s timing and spiritually shake our fists at Him, demanding an answer. That is simply not our place. A crucial piece of this woman’s availability to be a good witness was tied to her humility. We, too, need humble ourselves before the Lord.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Expect your Lord to meet you.
The Canaanite woman knew who she was talking to: the One who gives generously even to the littlest and weakest among us. She was there to receive from His hand whatever He saw fit to give her.
I’ve walked through situations where I didn’t get the answer I prayed for or where I watched my world (or a loved one’s world) get turned completely upside down. Despite all of that, the Lord meets us in, over, and through our circumstances.
Regardless of your situation, like the Canaanite woman, remember who you are talking to: the One who has gone to the ends of Creation to meet you. The One who did not even withhold His very own Son in pursuit of you. Hang on to the truth that He will meet you.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-32)
Be thankful for whatever the Lord sees fit to give you.
The Canaanite woman declared that she would be content with crumbs, because even God’s crumbs were more than enough.
Sometimes crumbs are the very best because it leaves room for an appetite for the True Bread of Life. Sometimes, God opens the floodgates and we are shocked at His overflow of blessing. Whatever He chooses to give us, the right stance of our heart is gratitude.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
From my own desert experiences, I know human words can’t fix the places in our heart that ache for understanding or connection with the Lord. But I am praying the Holy Spirit would meet you and encourage you with the Canaanite woman’s story, so that you would go on to be a light and witness even when it is the hardest for you to pray.
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, mom, and women’s ministry director. For more encouragement in desert places, read When God Meets You in Desert Places. You can also stop by her blog or sign up for encouraging resources at MotlMinistries.org.
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