(Photo: Dan Delzell)
I had a fresh reminder about prayer as I worked on my message for this weekend. The message is based on Matthew 8:5-13 where the centurion believed Jesus would grant his request even before he saw any evidence of the answered prayer.
You might think pastors have mastered the art of prayer and are always filled with faith. The reality is that all Christians, including pastors, often find themselves praying with less than total confidence rather than believing that God WILL answer each prayer according to His plan. We are all guilty of it. It's tough stuff to always pray in faith. Our flesh fights against it. Our circumstances scream loudly at us and invite pessimism. Meanwhile, our loving God continually speaks to His children in a still small voice. If only we would get to a quiet place with Him and find some rest. Then a faith-filled prayer life would burst forth in our soul in boldness and strength.
D.L. Moody said that we as believers are "leaky vessels." Rather than living everyday filled with faith in God's promises, we sometimes offer mechanical prayers that have little heart and even less faith. Who will rescue us from such halfhearted prayers? We desperately need God to fill us daily with the Holy Spirit and power. He alone can give us a faith-filled prayer life. Jesus said, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13) Just as we need the cross of Christ for our salvation, we need the power of the Holy Spirit for an effective prayer life.
I realized something this week about my own prayer life. The faith which is expressed in my prayers is often not nearly as strong as my faith for heaven. I know for sure that heaven is my eternal home because of God’s promises in His Word. There is no doubt in my mind. It is a done deal. Christ finished it on the cross and rose again. I live daily with the tremendous confidence that it is well with my soul for eternity. I have not yet seen heaven, but I believe it before I see it because God said it! Just imagine if you and I had that kind of certainty every time we prayed about the issues of today.
When it comes to believing God for things in this world, I sometimes find myself settling for prayers that are not brimming over with complete confidence. I have often been content to merely bring a petition to God without first asking myself if I am sure that God will grant it. One way to gain that assurance is by adding the biblical qualifier “if it be Thy will.” Jesus prayed that way to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemene, and it honors the Lord for His people to pray that way today.
A man who was "covered with leprosy" came to Jesus one day. "When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.' Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' And immediately the leprosy left him." (Luke 5:12,13) That was a situation where the man believed with absolute certainty that Jesus would heal him if He was willing. That man's prayer was one of pure faith, and yet he humbly affirmed that Jesus only does things that are in accord with His will. What a beautiful way to approach God in prayer!
When praying for the salvation of an unsaved friend or loved one, we don't need to add "if it be Thy will" to our request. We already know His will on that matter. "God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) There are other things we pray about where we are not sure what God may want to do in a given situation. Either way, it is very important that we pray in faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6)
When you and I make a request of the Lord, we can be 100% sure that He WILL answer it according to His plan. It is very important to God that we pray with strong faith rather than to make weak requests with a heart of uncertainty. This requires spiritual and mental focus and fortitude that goes far beyond merely saying words to God. Faith has to do with what I truly believe concerning the matter for which I am praying. In order to have strong faith, I need to stand on God's Word and His promises. John Hull said, "If all the answers to prayer came overnight, we would not be called a people of faith."
Do I believe God WILL answer my prayer, or do I only HOPE He will answer it. If I truly believe He will, then I need to spend time thanking Him that He HAS answered it according to His will. I need to believe that God's answer will appear in His perfect time. These prayers of thanks during those weeks and months after my prayers of petition are a bold and powerful way to "stand in faith" and not shrink back in doubt. This confident spirit of thanksgiving should go on as I wait to see God's answer according to His plan. The only way to have such confidence is to take God at His Word in every situation, temporal and eternal. Oswald Sanders said, "Faith does not require external confirmation, but believes God in spite of appearances."
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14,15) God's Word doesn't say we "hope" that we have it. It says we "know" that we have it and the answer will be seen in God's perfect time. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
One of the manifestations of faith in the life of a believer is that he doesn’t keep asking to be saved. He already knows he has been saved. He has placed all of His trust in what Christ did on the cross and in the blood that was shed for his sins. This confidence is due to the objective nature of the cross and the objective nature of the promises of God. This blessed assurance is not based on feelings. Far from it. It comes directly from something concrete and established. A similar kind of confidence can fill our hearts when we pray.
Are you thanking God for having already answered your request even though you don’t yet see the visible results? Or do you continue to ask God to grant it as you worry about when the answer might be seen? I have been guilty of that type of worry when I should have been standing in faith and thanksgiving and certainty. It doesn't make any sense to worry about it. Isn't God faithful to answer it according to His will? Of course so. It's much easier walk by sight rather than by faith, but that is not the way to please or honor our Lord. Doubting God is one way of "dissing" Him. He deserves much better from us.
How can someone be strong in faith? There is only one way. Stand on God's promises. Stand on Christ’s finished work at Calvary. Stand on what you know as you trust God to work in the future. It has been said, “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and receives the impossible.” Always remember that “nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) As we stand in faith, we must not trust our feelings. They will deceive us every time. As Jennifer Rothschild said, "Don't bow to your feelings. Make them bow to your God."
Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24) In other words, believe it before you see it and before you receive it. If I don’t have faith today to move a mountain, perhaps I do have faith to at least “move a pebble.” If I won't believe it without seeing it, then I shouldn't be praying it. I should wait to pray it when I truly have faith in God to grant my request according to His will. Everything else is just empty words and babbling.
God’s answers to prayer are not based on the QUANTITY of the words, but on the QUALITY of the faith. Weak faith is surrounded by doubt. Strong faith stands on God’s Word and is bold enough to believe that God will do what He said He will do. I cannot produce strong faith in myself, but God will provide it if I place absolute confidence in His Word. Then, and only then, will I experience the faith to move mountains. In the end, God is the only mountain-mover. He can be trusted every time.
You and I as human beings have been given a free will to walk by faith or to live by sight. God inspires all of His children to believe it before we see it. His answers to our faith-filled prayers bring Him much glory, honor, and pleasure. He loves to grant the requests of His children according to His will. What a mighty God we serve! And what a privilege it is to carry everything to Him in prayer! Charles Spurgeon summed it up well: "I believe the happiest and truest of Christians are those who never dare to doubt God."