This is a Bible study on Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28.

6 pages.

Mark 7:24-30 - Three Guidelines for Prayer

Read Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28.


How many times have you had this happen to you? You call the department store to make a mail order purchase or to check up on your credit card status. After a few rings a cheery voice answers on the other end of the line, “All our representatives are busy right now, please hold and the first available representative will help you.”

Before you can even open your mouth to respond, you find yourself listening to soothing music, sometimes interspersed with commercials. Every few minutes that cheery voice interrupts the music to assure you that your call is important to them and that the first available representative will be happy to help you as soon as they are available.

Sometimes, when that first available representative actually does become available, he inadvertently pushes the wrong button and disconnects you. Then, after fifteen minutes of music and repeated pleas to “please hold the line,” there comes the hum of a disconnected phone line.

Can you identify with this? You’re not the only one. The Syro-Phoenician woman could identify with this, too: The Lord Jesus kept her “on hold,” and the disciples kept trying to “disconnect” her. What can we learn from her experience with prayer? As we study this account, let us consider Three Guidelines for Prayer.

The First Guideline: Appeal to the LORD’s Covenant Mercy (Matt. 15:22,27)🔗

Following His confrontation with the Pharisees over the subject of tradition, the Lord Jesus leaves the nation of Israel, crossing the border into the Gentile regions of Tyre and Sidon. Here in this Gentile region He is approached by a Gentile woman, pleading on behalf of her little daughter who is demon-possessed.

Note carefully the description of this woman. She is “a Canaanite woman” (Matt. 15:22); she is a part of the heathen peoples, a member of the unclean Gentiles whom the Jews were careful to avoid for fear of spiritual contamination. As was noted in Mark 7:3-4a, the Jews even went so far as to wash their hands after they had been in contact with the Gentiles in the marketplace:

Now the Pharisees, and all the Jews, observing the tradition of the elders, do not eat unless they have first performed a ceremonial hand washing. 4And [when they come] from the market­place, they do not eat until they have first bathed themselves. Mk. 7:3-4a

Take note of the way this woman approaches the Lord Jesus. She pleads for mercy: “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously tormented by a demon’” (Matt. 15:22). Note, too, that she appeals to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the long-expected Son of David. She requests that even she, a Gentile, might receive the Savior’s blessing and the benefit of His saving work:

But she came and bowed down before him, saying, 'Lord, help me.' 26Then he replied, 'It is not fitting to take the children’s [a reference to Israel] bread and throw it to the [little] dogs [a reference to the Gentiles].' 27But she said, 'But, Lord, even the [little] dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.' Matt. 15:25-27

When we approach the Lord in prayer, we must appeal to His covenant mercy. We dare not approach the Lord on the basis of personal merit, as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable futilely sought to do:

The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men: robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. Lk. 18:11-12

The Greek may even be translated, “the Pharisee prayed to himself.” In other words, the LORD did not respond to his self-righteous prayer. In prayer we must come in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in His merit: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, so that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

We must not approach the Lord on the basis of our supposed merit; nor must we fear to approach the Lord due to our own lack of personal merit. We must come before the LORD in the name of Jesus, trusting in His atoning sacrifice and righteousness:

...since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. 16Let us, therefore, approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Heb. 4:14-16

The Second Guideline: Persist in Prayer, even though the LORD Does Not Provide an Immediate Answer (Matt. 15:23-27)🔗

This Canaanite woman makes a heartfelt plea on behalf of her daughter who was “grievously tormented by a demon.” She is coming to the Lord with a very worthy request: her daughter’s deliverance from demonic possession. But Jesus initially ignored her: “He did not say a word to her” (Matt. 15:23a). Nevertheless, rather than turn away in despair, she persisted; so much so that the disciples requested Jesus to send her away, because she was continuing to cry out after Him (Matt. 15:23b).

Jesus finally addresses her, but only with these discouraging words: “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). But rather than accept that as a final answer, she pleads, “Lord, help me!” Jesus replies that it is not fitting to take the children’s food and feed it to the pet dogs (Matt. 15:25-26). But she continues to persist: she protests that the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the table (Matt. 15:27). She is referring to the household pets that would snatch up the scraps of food that fell from the table as the family eat their meal. Appealing to that domestic scene, she is arguing that even the Gentiles, (compared to the little dogs), should be able to experience at least some of the benefits that are derived from the Messiah who has been sent to the covenant nation of Israel. At this point, the Lord Jesus compliments her faith and finally grants her request.

When we approach the Lord in prayer, we need to persist when He does not provide an immediate answer. For one thing, we need to recognize the reality of spiritual warfare and the fact that the devil is permitted at times to hinder the immediate answer to prayer, as was the case with Daniel’s prayer, as the mysterious “angel” informs him:

Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me for twenty-one days. Dan. 10:12-13a

In this mysterious passage from the Book of Daniel, the Lord Jesus, whose full identity is shrouded in mystery, assures Daniel that his prayers have been heard, and He further informs Daniel of the opposition of the adversary, the devil. “The prince of the Persian kingdom” is a reference to the devil as he exerts his evil dominion over the empires and emperors of this world. Daniel has been pleading with the LORD for understanding as to why the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem has been brought to a halt: the Persian court that originally gave the command for the temple to be re-built had now issued the order for the work to be suspended. The Lord Jesus explains to Daniel that what has caused this unexpected suspension of work on the temple is the sinister influence of the devil being exerted upon the Persian rulers. But the Lord also assures Daniel that the devil’s efforts shall not prevail: the fact that the Lord has now come to Daniel after the “twenty-one day” period of the devil’s hinderance is the testimony that the Lord has prevailed and will cause His will to be accomplished. Thus, LORD assures Daniel that his prayer has been heard and will be answered, although the devil, operating in the Persian court, has been permitted to temporarily restrain the answer to prayer for a period of time symbolically designated as “twenty-one days.” (See the Bible Study Course on the Book of Daniel, the study on Daniel 9, for a more detailed consideration of this mysterious passage.)

Furthermore, we need to recognize the preventive dimension of prayer. Even though we may not at times witness positive results, our prayers may be preventing evil from occurring and may be restraining its influence. An example of this spiritual phenomenon is the prayer of Moses on behalf of Joshua and the armies of Israel: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Ex. 17:11). Moses’ raised hands is indicating his intercessory prayer, which prayer restrained the enemies of God’s people and enabled Israel to gain the victory.

Then, too, we may need to re-examine our requests to be sure that they are in line with the will of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures. That our prayers be in harmony with God’s revealed will is a necessary prerequisite if we desire for our prayers to be answered. The Apostle James admonishes, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (Jas. 4:2b-3).

Finally, we must be assured that the Lord’s promise that the coming of His kingdom, which should be our number one priority in prayer (Matt. 6:9-10), shall surely be fulfilled (Rev. 11:15),

This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matt. 6:9-10

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever'. Rev. 11:15

This is the vision the Lord Jesus granted to John with regard to the final and ultimate coming of the kingdom of God at the end of this present age.

The Third Guideline: Accept the LORD’s Sovereign Will (Matt. 15:23-26)🔗

Having witnessed the compassion of the Lord Jesus in previous incidents of healing, His response to this woman appears to be very much out of character. At first, He simply ignores her. When He does address her, He does so with a very discouraging response: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He even addresses this woman in harsh and demeaning terms; declaring to her, “It is not fitting for the children’s bread to be given to the [little] dogs.”

Why does the Lord deal with this poor, desperate, Gentile woman in this manner?

The answer has to do with God’s sovereign timetable: the way He has chosen to carry out His plan of salvation. There were already clear indications that the gospel was intended for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. At one point in His ministry, the Lord Jesus declared, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). Again, He informs His disciples, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock [and] one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16). At the time of His presentation at the temple shortly after His birth, Simeon declares in prayer that the Savior will be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk. 2:32).

Certainly, time for the worldwide ministry of the gospel would eventually come. Just prior to His ascension, the Lord Jesus issued the great commission: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). But it would come at the Lord’s appointed time, after the Lord’s work of atonement was accomplished upon the cross of Calvary. Until that time there existed a spiritual wall of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles that could only be torn down by the cross of Christ:

[Christ] is our peace, [he is] the one who made the two [i.e. Jew and Gentile] [become] one and who destroyed the dividing wall [that served as] a barrier. With his flesh [he destroyed] the [source of] enmity 15by abolishing the law [that consisted] of commandments in [the form of] regulations. [He did so] in order that in himself he might create the two into one new man, [thereby] making peace, 16and that he might reconcile the two—in one body—unto God by the cross, having put the enmity to death by it.Eph. 2:14-16

Note: Here “the law” is especially referring to the O.T. ceremonial laws that served to separate the Jew from the Gentile, the purpose of which was to maintain the spiritual integrity of the covenant nation and prevent it from becoming assimilated into the surrounding pagan culture.

In the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Lord Jesus granted an “exemption” to the divinely-ordained program of redemption. Perhaps better stated, in answering her prayer He granted a preview and foretaste of the worldwide dispensation of grace that would come following the completion of His work of redemption.

When we approach the Lord in prayer, we must be willing to accept His sovereign will. For one thing, we must be willing to allow the Lord to bring us through sanctifying trials, rather than futilely pleading to avoid them. Consider the testimony of the Apostle Paul with regard to prayer for deliverance from trial:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn [or, a stake] in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

In the garden of Gethsemane, as He faced the cross, our Lord Jesus requested deliverance, if it were possible, but willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s will: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).

We must be willing to wait for God’s appointed time of fulfillment, rather than always expecting to receive the immediate fulfillment of our every request. Consider here the case of the martyrs of Revelation as they pleaded for justice, only to be told that they must wait until the divinely appointed time:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10They called out in a loud voice, How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? 11Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. Rev. 6:9-11

We must be willing to accept God’s decision to administer judgment, rather than granting prolonged long-suffering or further extensions of mercy, if He sees fit so to do. When Samuel mourned for Saul, the LORD informed him that the time of long-suffering had expired with regard to King Saul and the time of judgment had come: “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?’” (1 Sam. 16:1a)

A striking example of this truth is found in the testimony of the 19th century evangelist, Charles Finney. Following his conversion, with his newfound peace with God and joy in the LORD, Finney witnessed to everyone he met. But in particular, he witnessed to and prayed for one close acquaintance.

This acquaintance was a local magistrate and had been elected to the New York State legislature. This man was deeply convicted of sin. Charles Finney was praying for his friend daily and urging him to give his heart to Christ. The man’s conviction became very deep; but still, from day to day, he put off the necessary submission to Christ and did not obtain the hope of salvation. “My concern for him increased,” reported Finney.

One afternoon, several of his political colleagues held a lengthy interview with this man concerning a political deal they desired him to secure for them at the state capital in Albany.

Charles Finney, who was so concerned about the spiritual welfare of his friend, proceeds to tell the rest of the story:

On the evening of that day [when Finney’s friend pledged himself to secure a political deal for his colleagues], I attempted again to bring his case to God, as the urgency in my mind for his conversion had become very great. In my prayer, I had drawn very near to God. I do not remember ever having been in more intimate communion with the Lord Jesus Christ than I was at that time. Indeed, his presence was so real that I was bathed in tears of joy and gratitude and love, and in this state of mind I attempted to pray for this friend.

But the moment I did so, my mouth was shut. I found it impossible to pray a word for him. The Lord seemed to say to me, 'No, I will not hear.' As anguish seized upon me, I thought at first it was a temptation. But the door was shut in my face. It seemed as if the Lord said to me, 'Speak no more to me of that matter.' It pained me beyond expression. I did not know what to make of it.

The next morning, Finney continues, I saw him, and as soon as I brought up the question of submission to God he said to me, “Mr. Finney, I shall have nothing more to do with it until I return from the legislature. I stand committed to my political friends to carry out certain measures in the legislature that are incompatible with my first becoming a Christian and I have promised that I will not attend to the subject [of becoming a Christian] until after I have returned from Albany.”

From the moment of my experience the evening before, I had no spirit of prayer for him at all. As soon as he told me what he had done [upon his return from Albany], I understood it. I could see that his convictions were all gone, and that the Spirit of God had left him. From that time, he grew more careless and hardened than ever.

He remained in his sins, finally fell into decay, and died at last, as I have been told, a dilapidated man.1


There are times when our prayer life seems to resemble our telephone calls that get put on hold, or even disconnected. At such times we are well able to sympathize with the Syro-Phoenician woman.

But rather than become discouraged or even wrongfully become disillusioned with prayer, let us remember these three guidelines with regard to prayer: 1) When you approach the LORD in prayer, appeal to His covenant mercy; 2) Persist in prayer, even when the LORD does not provide an immediate answer; and, 3) Accept the LORD’s sovereign will, rather than futilely praying in opposition to that will.

Discussion Questions🔗

  1. What is characteristic about this woman who pleads with Christ on behalf of her daughter? See Matt. 15:22-23 Are you persistent in your prayers; what instruction and encouragement are we given in Matthew 7:7? For what petition must we especially be persistent in prayer? Note Matt. 6:9-10; Isa. 62:6-7,

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously tormented by a demon! 23But he did not say a word to her. His disciples came and begged him, Send her away, for she keeps crying out and following us. Matt. 15:22-23

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Matt. 7:7

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. 10Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matt. 6:9-10

I have posted watchmen upon your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who are the LORD’s [palace] recorders, give yourselves no rest, 7and give him no rest, until he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of [all] the earth. Isa. 62:6-7

  1. What assurance does Matthew 7:8 give with regard to persistence in prayer? Does this promise apply to every and any request we might bring before the Lord? Note Jas. 4:3 For us to have confidence that they are worthy of being granted, what is required of our petitions and requests? Note Psl. 37:4; Jn. 15:7,

...everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Matt. 7:8

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.Jas. 3:4

Delight yourself also in the LORD, and he shall give you the desires of your heart. Psl. 37:4

If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you want, and it shall be done for you. Jn. 15:7

  1. How does Jesus initially respond to this woman? See Matt. 15:23a Are there times when, for His good purposes, the Lord refuses to grant a request we might bring to Him in prayer? Note 2 Cor. 12:7-9 How can we tell when the Lord’s answer to our request is “No”? How did Paul know? See 2 Cor. 12:9a As Christians, can we be confident that the Lord is able to clearly make His will known to us by the Scriptures, by providence, by Christian counsel, by giving us a change of heart concerning our request?

But he did not say a word to her. His disciples came and begged him, Send her away, for she keeps crying out and following us. Matt. 15:23

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.'2 Cor. 12:7-9a

  1. Who is this woman who approaches the Lord Jesus, what are we told about her ethnic background? See Mk. 7:26; Matt. 15:22 How does the Lord Jesus eventually respond to her pleas? See Mk. 7:29; Matt. 15:28 If the Lord granted the request of this Canaanite woman, how much more can we, as His disciples, be assured that we can approach Him with confidence and good expectations? Note Heb. 4:14, 16,

Now the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by race. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Mk. 7:26

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously tormented by a demon! Matt. 15:22

Then he said to her, For [giving] this answer, you may go your way [in peace]; the demon has gone out of your daughter. Mk. 7:29

Then Jesus responded and said to her, O woman, great is your faith. Your desire is granted. And her daughter was healed at that [very] hour. Matt. 15:28

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession; 15for we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb. 4:14-16

  1. With what attitude does this woman approach Jesus, and how does she identify Him? See Mk. 7:25-26; Matt. 15:22, 25 Do you approach the Lord Jesus as did this woman, recognizing that He is the Lord of glory and as such must be approached with holy reverence and humility? Or, do you at times mistake Him to be a wonder-working servant, whose mission it is to do your bidding?

Immediately, a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, and who had heard about [Jesus], came and fell down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Greek, a Syro­Phoenician by race. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Mk. 7:25-26

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is grievously tormented by a demon! ... 25...she came and bowed down before him, saying, Lord, help me. Matt. 15:22, 25


  1. ^ Charles Finney, The Autobiography of Charles G. Finney, (Minneapolis MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1977), 42-44.

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