The Prayer of Faith
Beginning at the wedding of Cana, the disciples of Christ had seen Him perform one miraculous work after another. He had turned the water into wine. He had healed the sick. He had cast out devils. He spoke with a wisdom that was divine in origin, and the disciples rightly connected all of these things with the prayer life of Yahshua. It was the Father working through Christ that performed all of these things (John 14:10).
It is understandable then, that the disciples should come to Christ and ask Him to teach them how to pray. The saints today also need to know how to pray if they want to see God working through them in power. We have mentioned that there are many wrong ideas about faith today, such as is evidenced in the prosperity doctrine which I would define as ‘conceive it and believe it’, but others have called ‘name it and claim it’, or a host of other unflattering titles. Where do such false doctrines arise from? Often they arise from taking a single Scripture in isolation, without comparing Scripture to Scripture to get the full understanding of the mind of God. One such Scripture is as follows.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Let us suppose that these two verses are the only verses in the Bible that give instructions about prayer. If we were to take them by themselves we could well support the conceive it and believe it doctrine, and we could proclaim to all the saints that they can have anything their heart desires if they will simply ask, seek and knock. No other stipulations are listed here, so we could teach that the saint will receive a positive answer to their prayer every time that such a prayer is uttered.
Some in the prosperity camp do teach such a thing, and this passage above is often cited, yet some go a bit further by adding one more verse as a requirement, for they realize that not every prayer is answered. If every prayer is not answered, then it would be quickly obvious to all who have the least discernment that something is wrong with this teaching. Therefore, the following Scripture is cited.
“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Ah, this adds one more requirement to prayer! One must not only ask, seek and knock, but they must believe that they will receive what they ask for. Now we have the two main tenets of the conceive it and believe it camp. There are a host of people who are proclaiming that Scriptural prayer that pleases God can be taught from these two passages I have cited. No other conditions apply, and any prayer that meets these two conditions will receive an answer. Many poor saints have been harangued by ministers and Christian brothers and sisters when their prayers were not answered. They have been told that they must be doubters, and that they have not prayed the prayer of faith.
Many years ago I read the book “Joni” that told the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. As a teenager she was involved in a diving accident and was paralyzed from the neck down. She has a worldwide ministry today and has impacted the lives of millions of people with a positive witness of the love of God in the midst of suffering. In the book she told of some saints who told her that she would be healed of her paralysis if she only prayed believing. Condemnation was put upon her, and she was told that her unbelief and sin were what prevented her from receiving healing.
There is an expression that speaks of ‘kicking someone while they are down’, and this speaks of a very low and diabolical action. It is something that the saints should not do, and certainly not to another child of God. Yet as Joni struggled to come to grips with the devastating physical suffering that had come upon her, she had saints add to her trial by heaping condemnation upon her. Joni testified that she did pray fervently for healing, yet God did not grant her request. Instead a great work of grace was wrought in her life where she learned to live joyfully before Christ without being delivered from her physical condition. The apostle Paul demonstrated this same thing many hundreds of years earlier.
II Corinthians 12:7-10
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me — to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? I believe it was a physical condition that affected his eyesight and rendered him practically blind. I would not be contentious about this identification of his thorn in the flesh, but there is much evidence which I base this conclusion upon.
We can get an idea of what type of thorn in the flesh Paul had by reading the context of this passage. After stating that he was given a thorn in the flesh, he then states that he has learned to be content with it, and then he mentions specific things he is content with: weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties. We can then understand that Paul’s thorn was one of these things, and he actually experienced all of them from time to time, and they are all types of messengers of Satan that keep us from exalting ourselves.
I think we can actually pinpoint Paul’s specific thorn in the flesh by examining his writings to other churches. We know that when Paul first encountered Christ that he was blinded, and later something like scales fell from his eyes. He also refers to the awesome visions he was given in this same passage where he speaks of his thorn in the flesh. As mentioned, I believe his thorn was that his physical eyesight was impaired. It was so bad that he could not even write most of his own letters, but had to dictate them to others. We see evidence of his visual impairment in the following verses:
I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Yahshua Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
Paul spoke of a bodily illness to the Galatians, and he says that he knows the Galatian believers would have given him their own eyes if they could have, so the illness was one that affected his sight. He further gives evidence that it is he that is writing to them because he is writing in such large letters, again being evidence of his poor eyesight. In his epistle to the church in Rome we also read:
I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Speaking of taking verses by themselves, this one is a good example of the trouble we could get in by coming to false conclusions. How many saints today have been taught that Tertius was the author of the book of Romans? If we took this verse by itself, we could certainly conclude this was true. However, Tertius was not the author, he was merely the scribe. Paul dictated and Tertius wrote. This again is owing to Paul’s poor eyesight. Paul did not even pen the book to the church in Corinth. He dictated it, and the only part he actually wrote was the greeting.
I Corinthians 16:21
The greeting is in my own hand — Paul.
So we see from these words that Paul was troubled by poor eyesight that today would have been as bad as many who are considered legally blind. One can imagine how such a malady could be used to keep Paul humble. He could have the same reproach hurled at him that the Jews used to insult the Messiah, “He healed others, let him heal himself.” Perhaps he even had to be led around by the hand when he met with the saints, in the same way that he had to be led to Damascus when he first encountered Christ.
Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.
This would certainly be a humbling thing. Consider then, whether I have correctly identified Paul’s thorn or not, that Paul prayed three times for this thorn in his flesh to be removed, yet God did not remove it. This messes up the conceive it and believe it doctrine that is very popular today. Are we to accuse Paul of lacking faith to believe he would be healed? We know a lack of faith was not the reason, for Paul has declared that God spoke to him regarding this matter. God told him that it was His will for Paul to bear this infirmity to keep him from being exalted.
There must be more to godly prayer then than just asking and believing. Some have gone a bit further and have added one more verse to their understanding.
I John 5:14
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
Now we are making some real progress in coming to discern what constitutes the true prayer of faith. It must be according to the will of God. In the previous chapter called “Faith Comes by Hearing” we saw that all faith arises out of a word from God. We must have a word to stand upon. We must know God’s will in a matter. When we align ourselves with the will of God in any matter, and we pray according to the will of God while believing, we will have an answer. When the disciples asked Yahshua to teach them how to pray he began:
Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
With these words, Yahshua revealed to His disciples that right prayer is that which seeks the will of the Father. When Paul discerned that it was not the will of the Father for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, he quit praying for God to remove it. He accepted the will of God, knowing that God is not obligated to answer any prayer that is not in accord with His will. How foolish we would be to continue seeking something that we know is not God’s will for us.
I have been led to read some books about the life of George Muller recently, and towards the end of his remarkable life he preached a message on prayer. What he shared is exactly what the Spirit has been expressing to my own heart. He did not hold to a conceive it and believe it attitude regarding prayer. He knew that other matters were involved. In 1880 he preached a sermon where he shared the following:
Had it been left to us to make promises concerning prayer, I do not know that you or I could have done any more than say, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” Yet, while the promise is so full, so deep, so broad, so precious in every way, we have here, as becomes us with other parts of the word of God, to compare Scripture with Scripture, because in other parts additions are made, or conditions are given, which, if we neglect, will hinder our getting the full benefit of prayer.
George Muller then went on to detail a number of conditions that were attached to the simple “Ask, and ye shall receive.” First, our petitions must be according to the will of God as is revealed in I John 5:14. Second, we must not ask on behalf of our goodness or merit, but in the name of the Lord Yahshua the Messiah.
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
This is a very critical point. We are not to present our petitions, asking for an answer based upon our obedience or faithfulness to God, for this is to come to God in pride. We have nothing that He did not give to us. If we are faithful and obedient, it is because He has caused us to stand. We are to present our petitions in the name of His Son alone. We are accepted because of the work of Christ, and we need to humbly acknowledge this fact. We must all conclude that we are unworthy in ourselves to merit any favor from God, but in Yahshua we are considered worthy, and in His name the Father is pleased to bestow great favor upon us.
Mr. Muller also mentioned Psalm 66.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, Yahweh will not hear…
Mr. Muller expounded on this verse, “That is, if I live in sin, and go on a course hateful to God, I may not expect my prayers to be answered.” He went on to share that we must also exercise faith in the power and willingness of God to answer our prayers. This has been the central theme of this book. We must believe not only in God’s power, but in His willingness to act on our behalf. We must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Mr. Muller pointed to the love of God in not withholding His own Son, but in sending Him to the cross on our behalf as the evidence of His love for us. He then gave one more point that is equally important, and failing in this point has led to many aborted answers to prayer.
We have to continue patiently waiting on God till the blessing we seek is granted. For observe, nothing is said in the text as to the time in which, or the circumstances under which, the prayer is to answered. “Ask, and it shall be given you.” There is a positive promise, but nothing as to time…
Moreover, we are never to lose sight of the fact that there may be particular reasons why prayer may not at once be answered. One reason may be the need for the exercise of our faith, for by exercise faith is strengthened. We all know that if our faith were not exercised it would remain as it were at the first. By the trial it is strengthened. Another reason may be that we may glorify God by the manifestation of patience. This is a grace by which God is greatly magnified. Our manifestation of patience glorifies God. There may be another reason. Our heart may not yet be prepared for the answer to our prayer.
I have often found that God will delay in answering my prayers, and at times He will be uncomfortably late and I will be tried severely. Yet as I have waited, and have not abandoned the course, but have continued looking intently at God to meet my need, my faith has been strengthened when the answer arrived. Back in November of 2002 I was working at the job God had provided for me, and He would allow me to seek no other employment even though my hours had been cut to only ten hours a week. Our bills were getting behind, and we were daily praying for the Father’s provision.
At this time I was particularly concerned about our power bill, as the power company was known to not show much grace to their customers who had fallen behind, and with the bill only a few days late they would send out a notice that service would be discontinued if payment was not received in the next week. When the bill was due the Father had not yet provided the means to pay it. The notice came, and I was still unable to pay. The day that the notice said our power could be cut off on came and went, and still there was no money to pay the bill. I was expecting to see an employee of the power company show up any day to cut our power off, yet I continued to pray for God’s provision to be manifested.
I only received a paycheck from my job once a month, this being on the last working day of each month. This date was several weeks past the cut-off date on the notice we received. Yet one week went by, and then two, and no one showed up to cut off our power. As the last week before I was to get paid arrived I thought we would perhaps make it, and no one would show up before I received my paycheck and was able to pay my bill.
On the day before I was to get paid my son came running into my room and said a man was in our yard, and he was from the power company. I looked out the window and I saw that he was at our meter and he was about to cut off our power, leaving us unable to cook, and all of our groceries in the refrigerator would spoil, and since it was November, we would also be left in a cold house. I walked out in the yard and spoke with the man. I told him I was to get paid the very next day and would be able to pay my bill then. He said that since he had never been to our house before on a similar call, that he would give us grace and not cut the power off. In the end, we never knew a loss of power, and God did meet our need, though He tested us severely. A couple days later we celebrated Thanksgiving, and we truly had much for which to be thankful.
God has tried us in similar ways many times, yet not once has He failed in providing what we needed. He has testified to us that He is our shepherd, and we will not want for any necessary thing.
The prayer of faith that pleases God is not one that is based upon a formula, but that which is founded upon our relationship with Him as our loving heavenly Father. All of the things spoken of prayer in this chapter will lead the saint to press into relationship with God. Prayer begins with discerning His will, and this requires an understanding of God, and His will for us. We must often press in to Him to discern a specific word for our circumstance, and this also necessitates communion with Him. Having discerned His will, we must then believe that He is able and willing to meet our request. Finally, we must wait patiently, trusting in His character, as we look for the answer to come. All of this leads the saint to an ever deepening fellowship with their heavenly Father.
The conceive it and believe it pattern of prayer does not bring forth this same intimacy with the Father. Instead, it causes men and women to focus upon themselves as they determine for themselves what they want to pray for, and they then look inside themselves to find the faith necessary to obtain their desire. God is merely a distant and impersonal being who, not unlike a vending machine, provides the thing that the seeker requests. They put in their coin of faith, and out pops the answer.
I would think that anyone who truly desires to know God, Who called them to be His child, would find this latter form of prayer to be totally unsatisfying. It is also often ineffective, and leads people to many doubts about God’s presence and care for them. Some have even abandoned the faith when they met with great disappointment and God did not meet them according to their expectation.
Father, we thank You for Your many tremendous assurances of Your love toward us. We thank You for so designing prayer that we are forced to seek Your face when we are seeking something from Your hand. As we come to You with our needs we are blessed by receiving much more than our petition, for we also gain a greater intimacy with You, learning of Your will, Your love, and Your faithfulness. May you receive glory as we wait patiently for Your provision and blessing.