Prayers God Answers: Prayers Prayed in Faith

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mk. 11: 24 ESV)

An essential ingredient is an ingredient that you can’t do without.  If you want to bake a cake, there are some ingredients you just have to use (I’m told – what do I know about cake-making?).  Flour, say.  Without flour you aren’t going to make a cake.  There are lots of different kinds of cake, but you need flour to make the kind of thing a cake is.  We could come up with loads of examples: you can’t have lemonade without lemons, cars without wheels, trees without roots, and so on.  And you can’t have effective prayer without faith.

We’ve been considering the kinds of prayers God answers.  There are at least three essential ingredients that the Bible indicates should be present if we hope to see our prayers answered.  We shouldn’t expect God to answer our prayers unless we’ve been granted access through adoption as his children through faith in Jesus Christ.  We shouldn’t expect God to answer our prayers unless we are seeking his will.  And we shouldn’t expect God to answer our prayers unless we pray in faith.

So says James:

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (Jas. 1:5-8 ESV)

James says, “If you don’t believe, why ask at all?  God isn’t honored by a prayer that lacks faith.  And he won’t answer it.”  In other words: Faith is an essential ingredient to prayer.

Why bother to pray without faith anyway?  If you don’t believe in Native American spirituality, it is silly to do a rain dance.  If you don’t believe in voodoo, it is silly to poke dolls with needles and expect harm to befall the represented.  If you reject the efficacy of oral medication, it would be odd to take your antibiotic pills.  If you don’t believe that God can, does, and will answer, it would be silly to ask him to do anything in prayer.

But you should believe and you should ask.  The Bible teaches that we should pray, and that prayers prayed in faith work.  On this, James again:

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (Jas. 5:16-18 ESV)

Prayer works!  Elijah is like you and me.  He put on his pants one leg at a time.   But when he prayed God altered the weather forecast for three years and six months.  Jesus agrees:

6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Lk. 17:6 ESV)

21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mk. 11:21-24 ESV)

Now I’m not sure why you would want to uproot a mulberry tree, or hurl a mountain, but Jesus says a prayer offered in faith is capable of mountain-moving.  I remember reading this scripture as a kid and putting it to the test.  I walked out the front door of my house, looked at the mountain seated there, and commanded it with all the faith I could muster to be hurled into the sea.  It is still sitting there today.

Why didn’t it move?  My assumption at the time was that I didn’t have enough faith.  I no longer think that is right (indeed, it is a misunderstanding of the nature of faith – more on this in a moment).  The real problem was twofold: it was not a prayer prayed according to God’s will (another essential ingredient!  Cakes need more than just flour) – throwing one of the Appalachian mountains into the Atlantic would probably have resulted in a deadly tsunami!  I also didn’t understand that Jesus was utilizing hyperbole – overstatement for rhetorical effect (I have since come to recognize this and use it way more than anyone else in the entire world!).

This illustrates a problem many people run into with this issue: I prayed; I think I had faith, but God didn’t answer.  Did Jesus lie?  (No!) Or is there something lacking in my faith…?  Sadly, many sincere seekers after, say, healing, have been crushed in spirit and discouraged by this.  I’ve already indicated, though, one possible reason why a faith-filled prayer may still go unanswered – faith is just one of the essential ingredients.  Lemons are essential to lemonade, but so too is water (or else you just have lemon juice) and sugar (or you just have lemon water).  Flour is essential for cake, but so too are some other things – I’m guessing sugar is important.

A second reason for not seeing the expected answer comes back to misunderstanding the nature of the faith we’re talking about.  We tend to think of faith as something we have.  We can lack faith, or we can have lots of faith.  Faith sounds like some sort of commodity – like money, or oil, or grain.  You can have a quantity of this stuff, and you need a large quantity to get your prayer answered.

This is wrong.  The word “faith” (pistis in Greek) could just as well be translated “trust.”  And the verb “to believe” or “have faith” (pisteuō) could just as well be translated “to trust in.”  In short, faith isn’t something that we have in some quantifiable sense, it is instead the degree to which we trust in God.  It isn’t so much about us having more of something, rather it is a recognition that God has all we need and relying utterly upon him.  We should spend less time trying to muster up this faith from within ourselves, and should instead fix the eyes of faith on God, our benevolent father, trusting in his provision according to his perfect and holy will.

Belief is an essential ingredient in prayer.  Faith is a sine qua non to a prayer that is answered by God.  If we don’t pray in faith, we shouldn’t expect God to show up and do anything.