Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Mark 7:24-30
Have you ever had an “Invasion of the Flies” day? One morning last week I woke up and heard this buzzing in the laundry room. I pulled up the blind on the window there and saw thirty or forty flies congregating on the pane! Bleck! And this was in addition to other flies that had gotten in and were zipping all over the house.
I became like a madwoman with the flyswatter. At first, I executed calculated swats to take out invading buzzers. But then I just started flailing the swatter in every direction.
I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish that day. But no matter how many flies I killed, when I’d sit down to do something, I’d see another one and go on the warpath again.
After awhile, I sort of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone or something. Outside it was overcast and dreary. Inside I was wandering around for hours with a flyswatter. I kind of got lost in this sense of defeat.
The “Invasion of the Flies” can be like life sometimes. We want to accomplish things, but the obstacles make it seem impossible. We get discouraged.
Okay, maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, but how do we act when we feel like we CAN’T do something? That’s what is compelling to me about the story of the woman from Tyre. Everything pointed to her not being able to get help from Jesus. She was a Gentile, an outsider. She knew Jesus wasn’t ministering to her kind. (Of course, God’s plan was to include the Gentiles later.) She could have felt like it was hopeless.
But instead of feeling hopeless, this woman had incredible faith! What can we learn from her?
The power of being poor in spirit. This woman reached for a solution that was far outside of what any of her friends would consider. She must have been strongly driven. She must have realized that she needed and wanted this more than anything else. The aching of her heart would have eclipsed all other concerns.
So here’s the thing — it is only poverty of spirit that motivates us to reach out to Jesus in a radical way.
Are we able to see and admit how desperately we need Jesus? I confess that I like to keep life civilized. I keep my prayers civilized. Sure, I pray for what I want, but I don’t visit that place in my heart where I am hurting and scared, where the need is screaming. If I pray about that concern, I’ll have to revisit the scary emotions. I’ll have to feel vulnerable. More than that, I’ll have to open myself up to disappointment. What if God doesn’t fix my need right away? I’ll feel hopeless and discouraged.
But the civilized life goes further than that. Most of the time I think, “I’ve got this.” I do pray and ask God for help with it. I do realize I need his help. But I don’t think I desperately need his help. It’s like, “I’m going to do this and that today. Here are things I can do that should be effective. Let me pray and ask God to be involved. Okay. I’ve done what I can. I’m ready to go.”
The more I’ve been meditating on this the past several days, the more I’ve realized how deceived and self reliant I’ve been, how desperately I need God in so many circumstances. I’ve been praying more frequently, and in a more needy way.
There IS power in being poor in spirit. It compels us to plead for the power of Jesus.
The power of believing in God’s goodness. If I were this woman, I wouldn’t have tried to talk to Jesus because I would have doubted that he would be interested in helping me. I certainly wouldn’t have pursued it further if he told me no. But this woman must have believed that Jesus had enough goodness in him to respond to her request.
I can use cynicism as a protection mechanism. If I expect that people will let me down, then I can’t get hurt. I’ve seen people who don’t care. I’ve blown this up to expecting it from everyone.
I’m exaggerating this a bit, because I can believe the best in people. But I see how my insecurities and protection cynicism can extend towards God. It’s hard to believe that he will care enough about my small time concerns to exert effort to help me.
I forget that God is good. Jesus is good. The more we believe that, the more we will take our concerns to him with the faith that he will exert effort to help us.
The power of focusing on CAN, not CAN’T. The woman didn’t dwell on the fact that she was a Gentile. She thought, “Well, Jesus is in town. I have the ability go to see him. I actually can ask for his help.” When he turned her down, she still focused on the CAN. She could continue to make her case.
As I get older, I still have the expectation that I can accomplish the things I did when I was younger. But then I come face to face with a diminished energy level, mild health challenges, and bouts of moodiness. It’s easy for me to get down on myself.
But last week, as I was hearing the voice that said, “You’re a failure,” I talked to God about it and heard the Spirit say, “God loves you for what you CAN do, not for what you can’t.” And I realized that God created me with a certain temperament and abilities. I may not be able to do as much as I used to, but there are things I can do, and I need to take joy in those things.
So I did what I could do, and it felt beautiful. I went to the retirement home and played monopoly with the golden years guys. I found a the components for a craft and put it together for kid’s Sunday School. I called friends and family members and had encouraging conversations.
Satan wants us to focus on the CAN’Ts. He wants us to feel defeated.
God wants us to focus on the CANs. And just like the woman, it’s exciting to focus on the CANs, because we have faith that God can and will work with our CANs.
You know, everyone loves quoting Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
But let’s remember the context of that verse. Paul said right before that, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
This verse isn’t talking about having the strength through Christ to run a race or do amazing things, although Christ certainly can give us strength to do that. This verse is about having the strength to be content. THAT is the goal.
There is power in contentment. It keeps us from feeling discouraged and defeated. It keeps us firmly in the province of faith.
A few weeks ago, while she was here for a stay, my longtime young friend Jacquelyn bought me a gift.
I love this sign! I put it on my shelf and look at it often. It encourages me to focus on what I do have, what I can do, and to remember that life with God is beautiful.
We all have times where we face the “Invasion of the Flies” (and much worse), times when the obstacles make it seem impossible. Let’s take inspiration from the woman in Tyre. Let’s admit our desperation, believe in God’s goodness and willingness to help, and then do what we CAN do (with contentment).
You know, it’s only when we are in impossible circumstances that we have the chance to develop the faith that God is looking for. Instead of feeling hopeless, let’s see our times of CAN’T as opportunities to learn to practice incredible faith!