Learning to Pray from a Foreign Woman

Last Sunday’s Bible text and message (August 14, 2011) covered a very perplexing incident wherein Jesus first ignores someone who wants help and then tries to brush her off. The woman succeeds in persuading Jesus to do what she asks (free her daughter from a demon) and, in doing so, joins a long list of major Bible characters who were willing to push — even argue with — God. Some find it difficult to come to grips with Jesus’ trying to ignore and brush off someone who needs help. But the woman teaches us a great lesson about prayer. Prayer is not a flaccid, wet-fish, passive encounter with God. You are a person with a will and a mind — as God created you to be! Kids don’t just passively accept whatever their parents say (as much as parents might wish that sometimes!). As children grow, parents expect children to engage them and sometimes push back. Most parents would worry if their child quietly and passively followed every instruction without feedback.

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a model. He engages the Father, asking for anything other than what’s about to be done to him. Then he concludes his prayer with, “Not my will but yours be done.” We must be careful, however, because “Thy will be done” can come from either end of the faith spectrum. “Thy will be done” can be a statement of courageous and confident trust in our loving God. Or “Thy will be done” can be the prayer equivalent of the teenagers, “Whatever. God’s going to do what God’s going to do and I don’t really see the point of praying.”

The central lesson from Jesus’ encounter is one we learn over and over in the scriptures. God is not an immovable wall of will any more than an earthly parent is. God is a compassionate Father who hears our prayers, is moved by our desires, and can even be won over.

Do you want peace in your heart? Learn to pray with vigor. Engage God in prayer over the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 proclaims, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” The twist on this verse, however, is that probably more often than not, it is the desires of our hearts that change rather than God’s simply giving us what we want. Either way, in the end, God promises peace that passes all understanding.

An essential part of this process that brings peace to your spirit is engaging God with your true self. Of course you want to praise God for who He is when you pray. Of course you want to pray in the spirit of “Thy will be done.” But that doesn’t mean you turn into an invertebrate — a spiritual slug without desire or will. This foreign woman teaches us to pray: engage God!