A particularly powerful problem
I have to believe that prayer is not meant to be problematic. No passage in the Bible that I can think of suggests that it is. And I am not suggesting that everyone struggles as I do, but surely many do. So I hope my honest admissions that I don’t commune with my Creator in perfect confidence and ease help some recognize their own hindrances to effective prayer. And in struggling with the struggles maybe we will have victory over some of them.
This next problem, however, is pretty powerful.
Believe and receive
There are a few passages in the Bible that seem clearly to teach that we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer if we just have faith. Matthew 21:22 says exactly that. But most of us who do have genuine faith and trust in Christ have loads of experience with failing to receive. What’s up with that?
The factor of faith in productive prayer has long confused, stymied, and divided Christians. And I can tell you right off the bat I will not be putting an end to any of that with this post. I don’t have it figured out, but I do have some ideas.
First off, we need to distinguish between “faith” that is meant in these verses and faith that saves. In Mark 11:24 Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” So faith/belief in a particular outcome is in view here, not faith/belief in Christ. How does one come to have confidence that God will give what they ask?
Well, if he promised something, we can count on that. Like wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” But look what follows this verse: “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. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Ouch.
Could this passage from James mean that unless we are certain that God will give us what we ask he will reject us completely? That conflicts with God’s revelation of himself and his plan for humanity, so no. My Bible dictionary says that the verb translated “doubts” here “suggests, not so much weakness of faith, as lack of it.” So “that person” likely refers to one who doubts in God himself.
Perhaps key to solving/understanding this prayer problem is to notice that the verses guaranteeing receipt of the request if the pray-er has faith that it will be given, are quoting Jesus speaking to his disciples shortly before being arrested. Could it be that he wasn’t teaching doctrine but preparing his closest followers for his departure? He knew that when he returned to heaven and they had to build his church without his physical presence, they would feel a little rudderless. Maybe his exhortation to believe and receive was meant for them specifically to say, “Don’t worry. You can know that whatever you ask for in continuing with me my mission to save the world will be given you. Believe it. If after all your time with me and when you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit you doubt that I will continue to build my church through you by doing what you ask towards that end, then you will not be effective evangelists because I will not honor your doubt.”
If this is true then we needn’t fret over any uncertainty about whether we’ll receive what we ask affecting the outcome of our prayers.
I’ve got (I think) just one more post in this prayer series. I pray my perusals will prove to be profitable. 🙂
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