Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Sermon for Sunday
When Is God Deaf?
Virgil Smith - Pastor
When is God Deaf? Matthew 15:21:28
Dear Jon.. My Sermon from thinking about Amy (with Cancer at the time)
When you have prayed, do you ever come up against a blank wall? God is deaf to our prayers, or so it seems.
People have prayed for fine weather and it has rained cats and dogs.
They have prayed for health and been dogged all their days by chronic illness.
They have prayed for the life of a loved one and even while the prayer was uttered, the loved one died.
People have prayed for peace and wars have broken out all over the world.
People have prayed for deliverance from tyranny and have suffered torture, imprisonment, and death.
Now strangely enough, the Bible is full of examples of this same apparent deafness on the part of God. In the Psalm, that real devotional book of faith and praise , you run across passages like this: "O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer." Or this: "Be know silent unto me lest if you be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit." Turn to the prophets and one of them starts right in with the complaint, "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and you do not hear?" Or move over into the NT and you stumble over the same experience, Paul prays three times that his thorn in the flesh be removed but his prayer goes unanswered and for the rest of his life he has to make the best of it. Even Christ on the night before he dies prays in an agony that the cup of suffering and bitterness be removed, but shortly he rises from his prayer and drinks the cup to the dregs.
What shall we make of it, when God seems to go be deaf? At lest we can start out by knowing that the experience is not common only to and me, and that it is not necessarily and indication of lack of faith on our part. We can take comfort from the fact that the great spirits of the OT, Saint Paul and even our Lord himself knew what it is like to pray and apparently have the prayer go unanswered.
When we turn to the story of this woman of Caanan, which is a kind of case history dealing with the problem of unanswered prayer. To her petition for help for her sick daughter, Jesus "answered her not a word" Why? Well, in the first place, the woman was a stranger.
Jesus had just left Judea and was traveling into a non-Jewish country where he had not been before.
How did this woman come to know about him? Why had she come to this Jewish Rabbi with her sick daughter? Stories, no doubt, had gone on ahead of him telling of his miraculous cures.
Possible she was at her wits end trying any and every possibility to find a cure for her daughter. After all, what had she to lose? And perhaps right there you will find one obvious answer to a lot of unanswered prayers. Is it too much to say that when in our extremity we turn to God for help we come, more often that we'd care to admit, as comparative strangers to him, getting around to prayer only when we don't know where else to turn, and then not bothering to pray until we are up against it again?
And have you ever thought what a mess this world would be if every prayer were answered? Just consider the spectacle of all sorts of people, many of whom are strangers to Him. And so sometimes , are we. But the woman persisted. She came and worshipped him, saying "Lord, help me." And though persistence she awakened a response. And that's the second thing we can learn from the story of this woman. You have to be prepared to prove your sincerity in prayer by your persistence, throwing your whole self after the prayer until the prayer becomes indeed your "soul's" sincere desire.? This means persistence not only in the asking but in thinking and working too. Prayer is no substitute for your own efforts. God is a father and he will no more do your own thinking and working for you than any father will do his boys homework for him night after night. The father loves the boys and he could presumably, work out his problems for him. But the father knows he should not if the child is going to develop its own powers and character.
Very often I suspect, when our prayers go unanswered we have failed here. We have failed to submit to the necessary discipline of thinking and working.
Perhaps no single prayer which you and I have offered in the past few years has had so much of our heart in it so the prayer for a just and lasting peace. What will come of it? Will God again seem to turn a deaf ear? Or will the answer depend upon the depth of our sincerity?
Is God, perhaps waiting for us to throw our whole selves after the prayer, head and hands as well as hearts?
There is not much sense in praying for peace while we look down our elegant noses at "inferior" races, or sit down comfortably on top of the highest standard of living in the world with rarely thought, much as a had lifted toward millions of people living on a bare subsistence level in Asia and Africa. No doubt God will, one day answer the prayer of mankind for peace. When you and I and the rest of us prove with open hands and outgoing hearts that we really mean it and are willing to work and sacrifice for it.
So with this woman of Canaan. Her persistence brought a response. But it was not yet the response she wanted. To her continued pleading Jesus answered with a proverb, "It is not meant to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs;" and she answered. "Truth, Lord." Though the proverb does not sound as harsh in its original language as it does to us, it was still a rebuff. Yet there was an uncommon humility about this woman. She didn't grovel in front of Jesus to get what she wanted, nor did she whine and stand on her injured dignity when he tested her sincerity. She simply accepted herself for what she was, a nobody with no particular claim on anybody, lest of all Jesus.
Until you and I can accept ourselves and our difficulties with the same clear-eyed humility, we are going to have a lot of difficulty with unanswered prayer. Some of us, unlike this woman, think we have a claim on God. After all, we say, I go to church and say my prayers; I'm neighborly and lead a reasonable decent life; why shouldn't God grand just this one prayer of mine?
Such a person wants reasons, not mercy. God gives mercy, not reasons. It may seem strange at first, but God probably doesn't see life and its problems exactly as you and I see them.. When you and I are faced with sorrow or suffering or difficulty, everything in our lives is colored by it. Although God sees what we are going through and understand what it means to us, his view of the world is not so colored. He sees our difficulty but he sees live-all of it and thus sees our difficulty in its proper perspective. What this woman of Canaan was doing was seeing her problem in perspective. "Truth, Lord" Even though she loved her daughter and wanted desperately to have her cured, her problem was not so important as some; she was not worthy as some, she had no claim on Jesus at all. Yet, she persisted, there must be mercy given for such as me. And there was. She came to Jesus convinced that he could help here and would respond to her prayer.
I am lost in admiration for that little work, "Yet". "Truth, Lord. YET" It's a remarkable little work along with it oversize twin, "nevertheless."
They keep ringing through the Bible like the sound of trumpets.
There was Job, you remember. When everything had been taken from him except life itself, "Tho he slay me, yet will I trust him." There was Peter after a long discouraging night's work with nothing to show for it "We have toiled all the night and taken nothing, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."
The woman with her, "Truth, Lord. YET.." belongs to a royal succession of those whose faith could not be shaken that God, of life, is basically good and that God will respond to that faith.
Notice that it was not a tentative "YET" not "Well, we'll give it one more try and see what happens" kind of thing. This woman of Canaan put her whole life and the life of her child into that little world "Yet" so with Job and Peter and Christ. They threw their lives after their trust in God and he did not let them down.
The tragic thing is that when life gets us down and God apparently doesn't hear our prayers, we give in too soon to discouragement or despair. It's if we stopped two thirds of the way or nine-tents of the way along the road exactly as if this woman had given up after Jesus? First silence of after his rebuff. It's tragic because God never lets a man down who trusts him all the way. If you and I happen to read life otherwise, read our own particular difficulty or tragedy as evidence that God is not to Be trusted any further, it's our reading of life, not his. For the Christian reading of life is a triumphant affirmation that life is basically good because God is good, because God is faithful, because God the God of Jesus Christ whose will for men is not failure and discouragement and despair, but whose will for us is victory and peace and joy. Those gallant souls, despite what life may be throwing at them at the moment and I know at times it seems as if life were throwing the whole book at them, we trust that God will respond to their trust and will not let them down. "O Woman, great is thy faith. Be it unto thee as thou wilt."
There is no guarantee that you will get exactly what you want. This woman did. She got the health of her child. Paul, on the other hand, still had his thorn in the flesh. Christ for all of his prayer, still got a cross. And so may you.
But this same Christ is also your guarantee that God will never let you down. He will see you through to the end and beyond! When God seems deaf to your prayers, you can be sure that he is not. He is listening. And within his power to grant, he will still answer you. He will respond to every prayer offered in persistent, humble faith. Not in the way you may expect of in the way that you may want, but in the way that is best. You can trust him for that.
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