What do we do when our loved one has barricaded themselves from God? When, despite our desperate prayers and all the times and ways we’ve tried to reach out, they slip further from Him and into greater deception, greater sin, and greater emotional and spiritual slavery? In those situations, when decades pass with no hint of progress, it’s easy to give up. To conclude the person is simply too hard-hearted.
Have you been there? I have. With that friend who’s so quick to downplay and discount the miraculous. With the relative who, during times of crisis, seemed so open to spiritual conversations, only to numb themselves with Netflix and social media once their difficulties pass. That individual that had been so clearly touched by God, was being drawn by Him, then turned the other way.
When that happens, our fervent and steadfast prayers can turn rote. Then silent.
At least, that tends to be my progression. But then God reminds me, no matter how dark the human heart or how bleak things appear, His arm is never too short, His hearing and His heart never too dull, to save.
May we all exhibit the courage of the Canaanite woman who pushed her way into a house filled with religious students, and Jewish ones at that, for the sake of her child. You can read her full story in Matthew 15. To paraphrase, Scripture tells us Jesus and His disciples traveled 30-40 miles into Gentile country where they found a place to stay.
I imagine this made the disciples quite uncomfortable—to be in Gentile territory, in a Gentile home, most likely eating off of Gentile dishes. According to 19th century theologian Charles Ellicott, “The strict Jew would not enter a Gentile’s house, nor sit on the same couch, nor eat or drink out of the same vessel.” To them, “the very dust of a heathen city was defiling.”
But there was Jesus, intentionally taking His disciples into Tyre, a port city known for its idolatry, corrupt merchants, and sexual immorality. This would’ve been the equivalent to the mega-church pastor and his staff sleeping at the local crack house.
The disciples must have felt on edge from the moment they crossed over ancient Israel’s borders. But before they’d even had a chance to settle in, a Gentile woman barged into the house.
A woman with a demon possessed daughter.
To the Jewish mind, I’m not sure this situation could’ve been any more “unclean.”
The more devout would’ve seen this intruding woman as a threat. Rather than a desperate mother pleading for the life of her child, the girl she’d once nursed and swaddled and sang to sleep. The daughter she’d watched take her first steps and speak her first words, ravished and enslaved.
How did the disciples respond to this woman’s anguished pleas? In essence, “She’s a nuisance. Get her out of here.”
And I have to wonder, who’s my Canaanite? That person I’m tempted to categorize by their sin rather than their humanity? The one I’ve deemed hopeless, beyond God’s love and grace? The person who, if I’m honest, disgusts me?
And who is fervently praying for that person I’m so quick to cast aside, as I am for my loved one and this anguished mother was for her child: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”
In this simple yet profound address, the woman displayed more faith than the “righteous” Pharisees who’d gotten all worked up over some dirty dishes in the passage prior. More faith, perhaps, than the disciples acting so contemptuous before her. She knew Jesus was her daughter’s only hope and so she boldly came. She refused to leave until she received what she came for—her daughter made whole.
That was precisely what Christ provided.
Jesus said to her, “‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment” (Matthew 15:28, NIV).
Here’s what I find most inspiring. The woman’s daughter wasn’t going to come to Jesus on her own. In fact, had she encountered Him, I imagine she would’ve cussed Him out or mocked Him. She was about as far from Christ as a person could get. A hopeless case, from a human perspective.
But her mom wasn’t dissuaded by human logic, the disciple’s scorn, nor Jesus’s delayed response. Her love for her daughter was simply too strong.
I want that same kind of determined, persevering faith, whether I must pray for a day, a week, or years.
We all have “Canaanites” in our circle, maybe even in our families. Those people we fear might be too far from God. Those loved ones we’ve prayed for for decades, only to see them slip further from Christ. But even now, God’s arm is not too short to save.
Our prayers matter.
Who have you been desperately praying for? How does this woman from Tyre encourage you to persist? Share your thoughts, and your prayer requests, with us in the comments below, and let’s encourage and pray for and with one another!
For those following our chronological reading through the New Testament, can you believe we’re on week 26?! Here’s this week’s reading, beginning with the account of this faith-filled Canaanite woman: