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Wearing God Down
August 18, 1996

MATTHEW 15:21-28

Wearing God down is a definition of prayer! To pray is to wear God down. To pray is to convince God of the worthiness of your request. I am talking about petitionary and intercessory prayer. Other types of prayer include praise-- when you give thanks to God; invocation-- when you invoke Godís presence, when you ask God to be present; confession-- when you look at your life and honestly take inventory; and meditation-- when you listen to God. But, petitionary prayer is asking God to do something for you. And, intercessory prayer is asking God to do something for someone else, when you intercede with God on behalf of others. In both petition and intercession praying, you are asking God, petitioning God.

Sometimes the prayer is not quickly answered, or clearly answered. Sometimes we feel as if God is not listening, or that God isnít willing to heed to our request. Sometimes, prayer is frustrating. Sometimes we feel like the little boy kneeling beside his bed for his bedtime prayer, and saying with a measure of disgust, "Uncle Jim still doesnít have a job; Sis still doesnít have a date for the prom; Grandma is still sick-- and Iím tired of praying for this family and not getting results!"

What do you do when you feel you are not getting results? What do you do when you feel your prayer is hitting a brick wall? Quit? Shrug your shoulders, accept defeat, and conclude, "I guess it isnít Godís will?" Or, do you persist, hang in there, until you wear God down?

A Gentile, Canaanite woman wore Jesus down. Jesus probably was tired. People were continually clamoring for his attention, either to get something from him, or to criticize him. Jesus especially had a tough time with the religious people who were so sure they knew what was right. Jesus left the crowds and headed for a quieter region to get away from all of the controversies and demands. But, there on his August vacation, Jesus was met by a pushy, Canaanite woman who, like everyone else, wanted something from him. She wanted her daughter to be healed.

At first Jesus ignored her. Men did not speak to women in public. Besides, she was an outsider. She was a Gentile. Perhaps she was even speaking in a dialect he didnít easily understand. His disciples tried to be helpful. They said, "Send her away for she keeps shouting at us." So, Jesus stopped and told the woman he had his own pressing work to do. "I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," he said. His mission was to bring Jews into Godís kingdom. She still wouldnít let him go. She was pushy. "Lord, help me," she cried. Jesus got a little hard on her. Was she getting on his nerves? After all, he was tired. He said, "It is not fair to take the childrenís food and throw it to the dogs." That would have stopped most people. To compared someone to a dog is not likely to win friends and influence people. Most people would have been offended, or humiliated.

But, the reprimand didnít stop the woman. After all, it was her daughter who was ill. She was interceding on behalf of her daughter, her flesh and blood, and this arrogant man was not going to stop her! She cleverly retorted to his insult, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their mastersí table." That did it. Jesus was very impressed. He complimented her. He praised her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed. She wore him down. Let it be done for you as you wish, he said.

If you really want something for yourself, your daughter, or someone else, persist, hang in there. Do you like the word agonize? I donít, but effective pray-ers agonize. An inner city ministry was having difficulty. There was not enough money. The needs were great, but they couldnít seem to get the ministry working. They closed the day with a brief service of prayer. The group was intense, tired, arguing with each other, discouraged. An elderly black man stood to read the Scripture lesson. He had agonized through the Civil Rights movement. He knew what it was like to be on the bottom of the ladder. He knew what it was like to be the last hired and the first fired. He had battled prejudice. He had battled for equal rights. He had battled for affirmative action, to give a chance to those who had no advantages, to give a chance to those who had never been given a chance before.

Now, he stood before a group of white Christians who were discouraged because their ministry was not succeeding, discouraged because results werenít easy, discouraged because God was not seeming to recognize how hard they were working, how hard they were trying. God was not answering their prayers. The elderly black man stood before them, and read them the story of the woman who wore down the judge.

Luke 18:1-5, Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.í For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.í"

The elderly black man closed his Bible and said, "Until you have stood for years before a locked door, your knuckles bleeding but still knocking, you do not really know what prayer is." Knocking, knocking, wearing God down.

Notice, how Luke introduced the story of the woman who wore the judge down, the woman who kept bothering him. Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. Jesus taught us that prayer is the act of wearing God down, of knocking at the door even when your knuckles bleed. To pray is to agonize.

Iíve been on a trip! Ellie and I drove to Minnesota for four reunions-- two family and two high school class reunions, all in one weekend! We also visited friends and family in the Denver area. Ruth, who is married to my cousin, told us how God answered her prayer. When her son divorced his wife and moved out of the house, Ruth was very worried about her grandson who was entering his teens. She worried about the influences and pressures that would now be even more difficult for a boy being raised without a father. Ruth told us she prayed every night for her grandson-- prayed hard, she said. She prayed for God to keep him safe. She persisted. She agonized. Now, her grandson is 21 years old, and not only were Ruthís prayers answered, but God went one further, and called him into the ministry! I told her I was pleased to hear that even Presbyterian prayers work!

Why can God be wore down? Because, God listens to you. Because you have Godís ear. Because you are important to God. Because God loves you. When you pray, open yourself to God. Begin with praise and thanksgiving. Begin with "I love you, Lord." You will usually feel peace, feel loved, feel Godís presence. When you pray, ask the Holy Spirit to help you. You do not knock at the door alone. God even helps you knock. God helps you wear God down! Paul said that the Holy Spirit helps us pray when we donít know how, and when we recognize our weakness and inadequacy. That is why anyone can pray. You do not need to be gifted. You do not need to be spiritual. You do not need to be religious or holy. What you need to be is to be needy!

Martin Luther said, "In prayer we are all beggars." No one is better than anyone else. No one is worse than anyone else. Some of us pretend to be wiser than we are, stronger than we are, better than we are. But, in prayer we see ourselves as we are: needy, lacking, yearning. Our secrets are discovered, and they are okay. It is okay for you to wear God down. It is okay to tug at Jesusí robe. It is okay to ask.

And when you ask, persist, hang in there, and the Holy Spirit--God himself--will intercede and do your praying. To pray is to wear God down.

ã 1996 Douglas I. Norris