We all have challenging situations in our lives from time to time. Sometimes it’s a financial strain we can’t overcome. Perhaps it’s a health problem we have struggled to improve. Sometimes it’s a family situation we don’t know how to handle. We pray for help and try everything we know to do, but still success or relief eludes us.
What if the reason we aren’t getting the traction we hope for in our prayer lives is because we are using the wrong identity when we approach God? There is a great example of this in Matthew 15:22-28. Let’s look at it together:
And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at 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 said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
The Canaanite woman assumed the identity of a Jew
This Canaanite woman does what so many of us are guilty of in our prayer lives by approaching God under the Old Covenant He had established with the House of Israel. She is not a Jewish woman, but calls Jesus “Son of David” which is clearly an appeal to Him for help based on the relationship the Jews had with God.
Before we are too hard on her, don’t we do the same thing when we come to God based on our recent “good” behavior? We read our Bible today, so we inwardly think God must be more inclined to answer our prayers. We told our neighbor about an upcoming Easter or Christmas church service, so we conclude God must be happier with us and will want to reward us accordingly.
But Jesus’ response to the Canaanite was stone cold silence. He didn’t even acknowledge her, but only responded to the disciples when they complained about her to Him.
The Canaanite woman assumed the identity of a servant of God
Seeing this approach was unsuccessful, she changed tactics. She then appeals to Jesus by bowing down before Him and calling Him “Lord.” But in truth, we have no evidence elsewhere in scripture that she saw Him as her personal Lord at all. In fact, the only reason she is seen talking to Him isn’t to learn from Him, to worship Him, to ask Him for guidance, just to be near Him for any other reason than to get Him to do something for her.
We can be guilty of this as well when we engage in attending church services only when we want something. Or perhaps starting our prayers off with praise and worship out of obligation or religious exercise. At that point, it’s just flattery and it’s ineffective.
Jesus’ response to this “Lord, help me!” seems pretty harsh but there was a deeper reason for it. He needed to get her to stop focusing on herself entirely. The answers she was seeking weren’t going to come through a religious affiliation with a church. They weren’t going to come from flattering or empty lip service to God.