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Robert Smith: Even in God’s silence, ‘pray on’



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LAKELAND (FBW)—Robert Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., cited Jesus’ encounter with a Gentile woman in Palestine as a miracle that produces “Dynamics for praying for the harvest.”

Smith told messengers to the Florida Baptist State Convention Nov. 11 that Christians can learn from the woman—a “soiled, marred” biblical character—who came to Jesus as a parent and a perseverer.

Modern believers, he said, are coming dangerously close to committing “Christological idolatry,” praising and praying to a God who always immediately speaks and acts on our behalf.

“We have transformed God into a Christological vending machine, and ecclesiastical bellhop and a theological redcap,” Smith said.

Modern believers want a God who serves them, and Christians love the scriptures that support a “name it and claim it” theology based on a “caricature of God” instead of His character. In truth, the God of the Bible, he said, “sits on the throne and the earth is His footstool.”

“We like a God we can manage, but then we get to a text like this,” Smith said.

The story in Matthew 15:21-28 tells of a Caananite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus at first ignored her request.

“What do you do with a Jesus who doesn’t respond?” Smith asked the crowd gathered at the Church at the Mall in Lakeland. Jesus also rejected the woman and embarrassed her, Smith said.

“I didn’t come for folks like you,” Smith paraphrased Jesus’ words. As foretold in Genesis 12, God blessed the world through the Jews, and God’s grace came to the Gentiles through them. Therefore, the Gospel is available to all “who will accept its terms of belief,” Smith said. Even the woman who asked for her daughter’s healing understood that she was only “grafted in.” The answer is not in “sending folks away,” or moving away, he said. “Jesus didn’t move away from us, He came our way,” he said.

“I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody who can save anybody,” Smith said.

Jesus also embarrassed the woman by comparing her to a dog that was unworthy to take the children’s bread.

“It takes fortitude to take those words,” Smith said, as the woman continued to plead for mercy in only three words, “Lord, help me.”

“When God wants to know how serious we are about our prayers, He doesn’t put a tape measure around our mouths, but around our hearts,” Smith said. The women knew, he said, that “if you get enough crumbs, you can make a slice and even a loaf of bread.”

In contrast with Jesus admonishing Peter and the other disciples for their “little faith,” the Master declared the woman’s faith “great,” and healed her daughter. The woman came to Jesus as a “pagan acting like a believer,” and she was heard because of her faith, Smith said.

Believers can learn about praying from the woman who came to Jesus interceding for her daughter who was “grievously vexed with a devil,” he said. Labeling our children as “our first harvest,” Smith said we must accomplish “inreach before outreach,” and, like the father of the Prodigal Son, we must “wait on the porch” for our wayward children. The waiting father did not ask his son where he had been, but asked what he was willing to be, and kissed him before he had a bath, he said.

To parents “waiting on the porch,” Smith said to “keep on praying.”

“The ‘prayer’ may die, but the prayer doesn’t. The God who answers never dies,” he said.

“Prayers” should emulate the woman who approached Jesus “without an R.S.V.P.,” who would not take no for an answer. As modern Christians “long for a great awakening,” we should persevere in praying not for survival, but for revival, he said. Smith wondered aloud if the woman was instrumental in bring revival to her neighbors.

“If she had enough guts to go to Jesus uninvited, she had enough guts to tell everybody what Jesus had done,” he said.

Believers may be encouraged by God’s silence while Jesus was on the cross. In a crescendoing cadence which brought many to their feet, Smith shouted, “He may not speak on your Friday. He may not speak on your Saturday, but on Sunday morning the Lord will speak! Pray on!”