Greg Laurie — The Power of Persistent Faith
Today we are in Matthew 15. Turn there with me if you would. I hope you all brought your Bibles. How many people brought a Bible? Hold your Bible up. Oh so many Bibles. I love that. Matthew 15. The title of my message is, "The power of persistent faith". I heard about a woman who went to her pastor and said, "Pastor my husband Joe has threatened me and said if I keep coming to this church he is going to kill me". The pastor said, "Don't worry. Have faith in God. Trust the Lord. He will take care of you. He will protect you. Just keep coming to church". She came back again and told him the same story. Probably five times she said, "My husband tells me if I keep coming here he is going to kill me". Again the pastor reassures her, "Have faith in the Lord. He will protect you. You will be fine". Then one Sunday she comes back and says, "Pastor my husband joe said, 'if I keep coming to this church he is going to kill you.'" the pastor thought about it for a moment and said, "You know there is a great new church on the other side of town you might start attending".
Faith. We talk about it a lot. We tell others to have it. We pontificate about it. What about when we are in a situation where we have a great need. All of a sudden we might find that we struggle with our faith. Have you ever had a time in your life where your faith is being tested? Maybe you are in that time right now. You are having a hard time. We are told in the Bible to have faith in God. You say, "That is not so easy to do". But wait a second. You apply faith every single day. Everybody has faith. Listen. Even atheists have faith. Not in God. They have faith in something. By the way, I am tired of the atheists complaining about Christmas and Easter. They want their own day. They already have a national atheist day. April 1st. They need to get over it. But anyway I digress.
We use faith every day. You go into a restaurant and order off of that menu and they bring that food and have faith that the food is prepared properly and they followed safety standards. They didn't drop it on the ground before they put it on your plate. Of course we never know do we? You have faith when you go to see the pharmacist and he fills your prescription that he is going to put the right little pills in the right bottle for you. You have faith when you get on board that 747 that defies logic with a takeoff weight of 900,000 pounds that that baby is going to fly. You have faith that the pilot and co-pilot know what they are doing. You use faith every single day. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of time putting your faith in things.
Jesus says, "Have faith in God". Some balk at that. I don't know if I can trust the Lord. There is no safer place to put your faith than in God himself. What is faith? The Bible defines it this way. What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. The fact of the matter is the very existence of faith despite our circumstances is a proof of God. This faith the fact that it is there even when things are hard shows that God is there because he has given us this faith.
What I am amazed at is I have seen Christians have the strongest faith in the hardest circumstances imaginable. Listen. I have faith right now that my sin is forgiven and that I will go to heaven one day. You might say, "Greg can you prove it"? In a sense I could. I could prove it from scripture. But I can't prove it to you scientifically in a measurable way. But I have this confidence, this assurance deep inside of me that I am going to heaven. How many of you have that assurance? Isn't that great to have? It is wonderful isn't it?
Have you ever called out to someone for help and they didn't answer you. Let me restate the question. Have you ever gone into a restaurant and tried to find a server. "Hello. Excuse me. Sorry. Hello". My wife told me the other day she went out to a restaurant with a bunch of friends for food. She said, "I waited an hour and 45 minutes for my meal". I said, "I would have left". There is no way I could have hung in there for that. You are looking for someone to help you. Here is this woman pleading. "O son of David. Have mercy on me".
He doesn't even answer her. He doesn't even respond to her. Why? Because Jesus knew what this girl was made of. He knew that she had strong faith. He was going to allow this to unfold so he could show his boys what real faith looks like. How real persistent faith can overcome obstacles. He knew she would rise to the challenge. The disciples thought that he didn't want to talk to her. In verse 23 they urge him saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us". Lord this girl is driving us nuts. She is creating a scene. She is making too much noise. No. He wasn't going to send her away. He was going to draw her out. Maybe you can relate to this woman. You have prayed and you have asked God for something and he hasn't given it to you. You have prayed for months, for years, and it hasn't happened and you are wondering why. The hardest response is no response at all.
Jesus didn't answer her. Why is it seems like Jesus doesn't answer us sometimes? If you are taking notes, you might want to write this down. Sometimes the reason you don't get the answer as quickly as you would like is because a spiritual battle is raging that you know nothing about. A spiritual battle is raging. In Daniel 10 is the story of the prophet praying. An angel was dispatched with an answer for his prayer. As the angel was on his way to Daniel, he was overcome by a powerful fallen angel demonic power identified as the prince of Persia, which I find interesting. The prince of Persia. A demon that had control of Persia. That is modern Iran. I wonder if that demon is still in control over there. I don't know.
This less powerful angel cannot overcome this super powerful demon. God dispatches a mega angel Michael the Archangel to free up the other angel who then brings the answer to the prayer of Daniel. That is an amazing story. We are praying. We don't know what is going on behind the scenes. There is a supernatural world co-existing with our natural world. An invisible world right here with us as we are living in a visible world. This invisible supernatural world is the world of God and satan. It is the world of angels and demons.
Sometimes your prayers may not be answered as quickly as you would like because a battle is going on behind the scenes so don't give up. Besides God answers all prayers. Sometimes God says no. Sometimes God says slow. Sometimes God says go. Sometimes God says grow. Sometimes God will say no. Just no. I am not going to do that for you. Period. Sometimes God says well slow. The time is not quite right. Later. Sometimes God says go you are on. I am in it. Go for it. Sometimes God says grow. He will let you go through certain circumstances that will stretch your faith. Your prayer may not be answered because there is unconfessed sin in your life. Nothing will bring your prayer life to a stop faster than that. Psalm 66:18 says, "If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened". In Isaiah 59 we read, "The Lord is not too weak to to save you. He is not becoming deaf. He can hear you when you call.
Here is the problem. Your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin he has turned away and will not listen anymore". Listen. It may be a sin in your past that has never been confessed. When you and I sin we need to confess our sin. The Bible says, "If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness". If I don't confess that sin to God and call it what it is that stands now as a barrier separating me from the Lord. It is a good thing to pray periodically, "Lord is there anything in my life that is not pleasing to you". The Psalmist said, "Search me o God and try my thoughts and know my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me". Any offensive way in me. He is saying, "Lord is there something in my life that displeases you show me what it is".
Right now as I am saying this is something popping into your mind. Why don't you share what it is? I am kidding. But seriously is something poof there it is. You are kind of thinking, "I hope nobody sees this. This is something I did. I never repented of it. I never asked God to forgive me for this". You need to deal with that. Say, "Lord that was a sin. I am sorry for that. Forgive me of that". You done that yet? Another reason that our prayers are hindered or our prayers are not answered in the affirmative is there may be an idol in our heart. You say, "I have no idea what you are talking about". Ezekiel 14:3 says, "Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced things that lead them into sin. Why should I let them ask me anything"?
You don't think we have idols today. An idol is anyone or anything that takes the place of God in your life. That is why the Bible says, "Little children keep yourselves from idols". You will say, "I don't have idols. "I don't worship false Gods". "That is so stupid". "Honey when is American idol on again"? I am just kidding. But you know we do let things take the place of God. Whatever you are excited about. Whatever you are passionate about. Whatever gets you fired up that could potentially be your god with a small g. Any object, idea, philosophy, habit, occupation, or sport or whatever that has your primary concern and loyalty so it decreases your trust and loyalty to God that can be an idol. An idol is not just bowing down before an image, though it includes that.
By the way that includes so-called Christian images too. Bowing down before an image of Jesus or an image of Mary. You say, "I am not worshipping that. I know I am kissing the foot of it and holding onto it. I am worshipping the God it represents". Any person who has a true relationship with God doesn't need to bow before some image. You have God himself living inside of you. That could be idolatry. Don't let anything take his place. Your prayer may not be answered quite yet because God wants you to keep praying. Your prayer isn't answered yet because God wants you to keep praying. Clearly that is the situation with this woman. Jesus was drawing her out. I love this exchange. He says to her in verse 26 "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs".
That sounds a little denigrating doesn't it? I don't want to take the children's food and give it to a dog. There were two kinds of words that they would use for dogs. One was describing a kind of a mangy dog that would roam the streets or roaming packs of dogs. Almost like wolves or coyotes. He is referring to a family pet. A better translation of this would be, "Is it right to take the children's food and give it to the little puppies"? The point is the best thing is to ask for what God already wants to give to you. Why was this woman's prayer answered? Because of her persistence, tenacity, and commitment. When the door is shut in her face, she just knocks at it harder. Or when the stick is thrown and she is called dog she runs after the stick and brings it back and drops it at the master's feet.
Sometimes in the church we start taking things for granted. In other words, when you hear something over and over you can say, "I have heard that. I know that". Then someone comes along and they weren't raised in the church. They haven't been going to church for years like you have. They don't know the word like you know it. Yet they hear it and they get it and they run with it. They blow you out of the stinking water. You know why? Because they get it. And to whom much is forgiven that one loves the much more. Why is it that those who often know the most do the least and those that know the least often do the most? It is true.
Sometimes we will invite people to Christ and we will see a whole row of people come forward. I will ask afterwards, "What is the deal with all of those people in that row"? "In that row is a person that came to Christ three weeks ago. They have been bringing all of their family members and friends". The next week there is more people in the row. They keep doing this. This is a new believer with zeal. Then there is us who have known the Lord for years. When is the last time you brought someone to church who didn't yet know Jesus Christ? This woman didn't have all of the privileges but she got it. Then also we need to remember this. That no matter what you should bring your problems to Jesus. This woman was not worthy to approach Christ. But she came anyway.
Sometimes we will say, "I am not worthy to pray". I hate to break this to you. Even on your best day you weren't worthy. You never will be worthy so get over worthy. You are never going to be worthy. Your access to God is not based on your merit. It is based on his sacrifice. God's love for you is not dependent on your progress but on his perfection. That means you can go to God anytime no matter what you have done just like this woman did. She said, "Lord have mercy on me". And when you pray, seek to find the will of God and pray with persistence. Here is the key to prayer. You ready for it. The key to prayer, let me restate that. Here is the key to answered prayer.
Here is the key to having your prayers answered in the affirmative. You need to get your will aligned with God's will. The objective of prayer is not to get God to do what I want him to do. The objective of prayer is to get my will in alignment with God's will. Sort of like you are in a little boat and you want to go to the dock. You throw your rope out and you pull your little boat to the dock. Are you pulling the dock to your boat or are you pulling your boat to the dock? Clearly you are pulling your boat to the dock. In prayer it is not like I am trying to lasso God. I am taking hold of him and I am pulling myself closer to him. I am aligning my will with his will. Then I start praying for things and I start seeing answers because now I am praying the way he wants me to pray.
Don't give up. Even if it seems like there is a barrier. Don't back off. This woman had a barrier. That didn't deter her. She pressed on. Jesus said, "Men ought always to pray and not give up". Do some of you need to come to Jesus right now? I talked about demons earlier. Demons are clever. They are a bit like chameleons. A chameleon is a lizard that can adapt to its surroundings. Sometimes demons will manifest themselves in overt ways like taking control of people where they lose control of their own faculties like in the story here. But sometimes demons will mislead and deceive people. C. S. Lewis a great author wrote a lot of books. Most people know him for the Chronicles of Narnia. He taught at oxford university. He was a great intellect.
Yet C. S. Lewis loved to write books for children. He had this amazing combination of intellect combined with accessibility. That is why I think his writings have stood the test of time. One book people don't know as much as all of his others is called The Screwtape Letters. Lewis takes his incredible imagination and applies it to conversations that the devil might have had with his demons. Cleary it is a work of fiction but one that makes a point.
In The Screwtape Letters lewis writes this, "There is a legend about satan and his imps planning their strategy for attacking the world that is hearing the message of salvation. One of the demons says, 'I have got the plan master. When I get on earth and take charge of people's thinking I will tell them there is no heaven.' The devil responds, 'oh no. They will never believe that. The book of truth is full of messages about the hope of heaven through sins forgiven. They won't believe that. Know there is a future glory.' On the other side of the room another demon says, 'I have the plan. I will tell them there is no hell.' Satan says, 'That is not good. Jesus when he was on earth talked more of hell than of heaven. They know in their hearts that the wrong they have done has to be taken care of in some way.' Then one brilliant little imp in the back stood up and 'Then I know the answer. I will just tell them there is no hurry.' Satan said, 'That is the one.'"
The devil comes to us and says, "There is no hurry. You don't need to act on this". Listen. He is a liar. If you don't know God right now you need to come to him. Maybe you are bound by some sin. There is some vice. There is some addiction. There is some habit or something else that has a stranglehold on you. You have tried to shake it off and it hasn't gotten better. In fact it has gotten worse. You tried to do religious things to deal with it. You don't need religious things. You need Jesus. "Lord I have made some bad decisions. I am reaping the consequences of them. I need help". That is what this woman was saying. "Lord I don't come on my merit. I don't deserve this. Son of David have mercy on me". That is all you have to do. Say, "Jesus have mercy on me. Help me. I have messed up my life. Will you intervene and change me and change my family and change my life and future".
You need to come to him and admit you are a sinner. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross for your sin. He took the wrath of God that you and I should have faced. He took it on himself. He rose again from the dead. He will forgive you of any sin you have ever committed if you will call out to him. The Bible says, "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved". This woman called on Jesus. What if she had not called on him? What if she had stayed home that day? Would her child have been delivered? Doubtful. Probably would not have. But she sought out Jesus. She called out to him. He heard her and answered her. If you will call out to the Lord he will answer you as well.