Evangelicals love the Reformation. While most Evangelicals are not Lutherans, you’ll get a lot of head nods if the importance of Martin Luther’s actions comes up in casual conversation. And it’s next to impossible to talk about Luther without talking sola fide.
But as much as Evangelicals want to talk about faith, I’ve found that the more educated an Evangelical is and the higher up on the socio-economic ladder, the more the issue of faith becomes one of talk and conjecture rather than actual practice.
In fact, when some hoped-for and prayed-over outcome fails to come to pass, anymore it seems that the most intelligent and wealthier Evangelicals are most likely to come up with a tortuous explanation for the failure based on issues of God’s sovereignty or His will. What they don’t ever want to say to one who failed to receive is “The failure was due to your lack of faith.”
In Evangelical circles, at least in the educated and wealthier ones, claiming that one failed to have enough faith is tantamount to shouting a racial slur or vulgarity in someone’s face. We just don’t do that. We’re too afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.
Problem is, I’ve read the New Testament and the writers are constantly telling us that God honors faith and that doubters shouldn’t expect to receive anything from Him. In short, we didn’t get what we asked for because we lacked faith. It’s our fault, not God’s, no matter how hurt our feelings may be to hear that.
I looked up the phrase your faith in the ESV version of the Bible, and Jesus uses that term nine times in a positive sense, typically along the lines of “your faith has made you well.” Those faith possessors got what they wanted because they didn’t doubt but instead trusted Jesus wholeheartedly.
Lack of faith is almost never (and I’ll show you the one semi-exception that I know) rewarded. Instead we get passages like this:
[Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.
Jesus could not do many miracles in His hometown because his old neighbors rationalized away whatever faith they may have had in Him. They came up with naturalistic, “educated” explanations of why they could expect so little from Jesus. And they received the results of their unbelief.
Then there is this:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 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.
How often do we ever apply that passage to our own lack of faith? Instead, we treat those words as if they apply to some nebulous, theoretical other.
In the truly “impossible” situations, Jesus deals with the unbelieving by choosing who stays and who goes. Witness His actions here:
While [Jesus] was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus took only the three disciples most likely to trust Him, and He had all the scoffers removed from the house. Why? Because He has no room for those who lack faith.
On the positive side, there’s this:
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 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. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
I once wrote a post about that Mark passage, claiming it was the least-believed passage in the Bible. I stand by that statement. That so many of us Evangelicals will try to explain away the very upfront nature of Jesus’ statement here, making excuses for ourselves and for others, is a sign that maybe we’re just as lousy at the faith thing as Jesus’ doubting neighbors.
As for Jesus even remotely rewarding doubt, the only passage that comes to mind is this one, and I believe the Lord puts this in the Scriptures as a cautionary tale (and with a big qualifier):
And they brought the boy to [Jesus]. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
Jesus here is somewhat shocked that the father of the boy questions His ability to work through faith. Despite this, He restores the boy to wholeness, though one could argue that He does so only after the father confesses the error of his unbelief.
Yet don’t we routinely add “if you can” to our prayers to the Lord? Aren’t we constantly hedging our bets when it comes to asking for big things in prayer?
And who are we that we should be let off lightly? Maybe someone needs to simply say to us, “You didn’t get what you wanted because you didn’t have enough faith.”
My mother died from brain cancer. She died just months after our first child was born, right when we needed her most to help us. That my father had died just months before her only compounded how much we needed her help, if for no other reason than the major relief of having an on-call babysitter now and then.
During my mother’s illness, I had to come to grips with the fact that I didn’t have much faith to believe that she would be healed. Her kind of cancer was almost always 100 percent fatal within a couple years of diagnosis.
Now my perspective on supernatural healing and the ability of the Lord to work miracles was no different then than it is now. But the fact remained that a part of me doubted that God would indeed raise up my mother to wholeness. I remember the months of her slow decline and my lying in bed at night realizing that I just didn’t have enough faith to believe she would be restored. And she died.
Now it may be a horrifying thing to some of you to hear me say this, but honestly, I need to own up to my lack of faith for her healing. Her death may in fact be partly due to the lack of faith in me and those around her. It may not, but I can’t excuse myself. The whole incident made me realize that I needed to grow up.
I think it’s time we stop being babies about faith. Maybe we need to man up and accept that perhaps the bad outcome was because we simply did not take God at His word and failed to have faith. That may be galling to people. It may be hurtful to those who have suffered loss. But I can’t find any excuses in the New Testament for doubt. They just aren’t there. If we say we believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, then we have to come to grips with this reality right from the myriad examples in Scripture: People who have faith get what they ask for and people who don’t have faith don’t.
One last thing: Paul’s thorn.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
—2 Corinthians 12:7-10
That passage is the one most people will cite when it comes to unanswered prayers said in faith. I will fully concede that God did not give Paul what he prayed for.
But I will add what few people ever do: God audibly spoke to Paul to specifically explain why the apostle would not receive what he prayed for in faith.
When God audibly speaks to you and me to give us a reason why we should stop praying for something in faith, then we’ve got a great reason to stop praying and start accepting the hard answer. Otherwise, this is how we are to pray—always:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
That final question of Jesus should haunt us. That we try instead to make excuses for our own lack of faith should haunt us even more.
22 thoughts on “Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #3: Faith”
I think the difficulty you run into when making claims about a lack of faith being the reason for a healing not coming is that it often sends people spiraling into a whirlpool of guilt and self-condemnation over something that often is not really up to them, no matter how much faith they have. Death is part of living in a fallen world. And everyone has “their time to go.” If God has appointed a certain time for someone to leave this earth and experience physical death, your faith that they will be healed while in a certain manner is commendable, it ultimately does not change the outcome. So without a lot of obvious caveats, I think the natural default for most people (especially those raised in a tradition that emphasizes faith, healing, prosperity, etc) is to blame themselves.
“I didn’t pray hard enough.”
“I couldn’t control my doubt.”
“I confessed/spoke negative things too much.”
“I had too much sin in my life.”
And I see these tendencies even in people who prayed their face off, refused to speak anything but healing and restoration, wouldn’t listen to any doubt or negativity and so on.
So all I’m saying is to be careful. Because sometimes no matter how much faith we have and how much we believe God for a certain answer to something, His answer is “I’ve heard you and I commend your faith, but My ways are higher than your ways. I have a purpose in all that I do or don’t do. And this time, my answer is ‘No, not this time.'”
Here’s the problem, Ragamuffin: The Bible doesn’t add those qualifiers; we do. And we do it selectively.
When the Bible says that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us, we add no qualifiers to that, do we? Why then do we add qualifiers to “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up”?
Is there anyone here who questions “I will never leave you nor forsake you” by adding “…except in those situations when…”? Why then do we qualify other Biblical statements with man-made excuses like “…except when it’s his time to go…”?
Do we believe the Bible when it makes those statements without qualifiers or don’t we?
That’s the struggle I have with Evangelicalism’s readiness to qualify the Scriptures. Either we believe what they say or we don’t. For most of us it seems we don’t just by the way we want to qualify so much of it according to our shortsightedness of what is truly possible.
And what is wrong with someone seriously saying, “I couldn’t control my doubt” or “I didn’t pray hard enough”? Maybe he or she couldn’t and didn’t. Maybe we need to fess up and stop having grandiose thoughts about how great we thought our faith was when in actuality we were like the father in the narrative of Jesus and demoniac boy, the father who says, “If you can.”
If you had asked me in the situation with my mom if I was believing hard enough and praying hard enough, I would have said I was. I think many people would have thought I was. But I didn’t throw myself into it nearly has hard as the examples of others that I see in the Bible. If I did fail in that, and I did, I need to be honest with myself about my own dismal pursuit of healing for my mom rather than to hide behind my lacks. There’s feeling sorry for oneself and then there’s manhood and maturity.
This is never to say that an old man can keep living forever because we keep praying him back to health by faith, but I’m claiming that our presumption is too often based on our qualifiers. Again, the Bible does not leave people in doubt in response to faith. Answers are clear. We know why such and such did or didn’t happen.
Again, do we really take the Bible at face value or do we add our own rationalistic explanations when our lives don’t align with Scripture? If we were serious, perhaps we have to acknowledge that the problem is with us and not with the word of God. I can’t see any other way of looking at it.
I don’t think the Bible has to add qualifiers that are simple common sense. Physical death is inevitable for every except the people alive when Jesus returns. The Bible makes this clear throughout and even you agree with this as you stated above. And Scripture does leave it unclear sometimes as to why God does what He does (or doesn’t do what He doesn’t do). So I think the qualifiers are implied. Sometimes you can pray as hard as you know how, have faith, believe in healing and “claim” it for yourself or someone else and check all the boxes and God still says “no.”
Can we stand to stretch ourselves further than we think we can go? Pray longer and harder than we thought we were capable of? Sure. But even so, we have to realize that faith and prayer do not deliver results like a vending machine. And beating ourselves up for our lack of faith when it doesn’t seems counterproductive at best.
As to Paul’s thorn, I think you are putting too high a bar on God speaking to us. Paul did not have a completed New Testament to consult on matters. We do. God could just as easily speak to us through Paul’s writings minus any audible voices and say “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I don’t think God included that in the Scriptures just as a nice anecdote about Paul that only has application to me if I also hear an audible voice from the sky.
I guess what I’m saying is that I pray for situations and I ask God to heal. I believe God can heal. I know that He wants to give us good things and whenever it is for our best, He wants to give us what we ask. But I also pray that His will be done because sometimes his will is not to heal and like Jesus in the garden, even though getting a “no” on this would be painful, “not my will, but Yours be done” seems to me to be a valid, faithFULL response.
What a bold and powerful statement, Dan. You can pray for me anytime! Please do.
That notwithstanding, everyone Jesus ever commended for and attributed healing to their faith died. Their faith provided a Free Parking stop on the road to bankruptcy. There is mystery in walking in the partial, the mere earnest of our inheritance (though, what a piece it is!).
I agree with you that the unscriptural qualifiers and modifiers should be dropped and we should stretch for the brass ring, but what if… ? The abandonment of faith is difficult to master even when one sees the master walking on water before him. When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?
I suppose as much as I find statements such as you’ve made in this post inspiring, necessary and true, I am also heartened by Jesus response to the honest admission of a dad with a son in trouble: “I believe, help me with my unbelief.”
I don’t add the phrase “if You can” to my prayers because I believe that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).
But not everything is within His will; and I believe that’s why Jesus prayed as He did in Mark 14:36. He recognizes that everything is possible, yet adds “… Yet not what I will, but what You will.”
I believe God’s desire is what is best for us, but that’s not always what we ask for. Who would pray for debilitating migraines in order to better empathize with those who are in invisible pain? I wouldn’t have, but I think that was the answer to my prayers for a more generous and sympathetic heart. Should I ask Him to take them away now; they’ve served their purpose? I know better. If they never came back, I would forget what invisible pain looks like. And I would regard those who suffer from it as dispassionately as I did before. God didn’t have to tell me that audibly. He let me see it in Paul’s thorn. His grace is sufficient. His will is for me to be more Christlike, and He’s not above using some suffering as a tool to shape my soul into the likeness of Christ.
Dan, You are 100% correct we should pray earnestly in faith, trusting that God can do all things we ask of Him for His glory. But are we seeking His answer, or our own answer to our prayer? If we are telling God how to answer our prayer who is on the throne in that scenario?
Christ heard directly from His father as to how to pray, the Father and Son are one, Jesus never did anything without confirmation from His Father. He always deferred to the will of the Father.
Some other comments have brought up the aspect of praying the Father’s will, and not ours, and there in lies the truth. We should always pray the Father’s will to done on earth as it is in heaven, and trust that He has the best answer for our prayers. Just like Paul came to understand.
Dan, This post hits the nail on the head. I also came to this same realization about a year ago. We will never grow up in our faith until we start owning our failures in faith. Faith is like a muscle and grows stronger with the use. Problem is that for the majority of the body of Christ (including myself), that muscle is so week it can hardly lift itself. Until we confess and repent from this we will remain in this atrophied condition. If we do fail, we need not condemn ourselves as long as we committ to learn and progress from our mistakes. We are all on different levels in our faith journey. Christ has given us the victory over ALL the power of the enemy, but He left it to us to enforce that victory.
I really liked what you had to say here, with one caveat. I think you went a bit too far with: “And who are we that we should be let off lightly?” I don’t think we are let off lightly and Christ does pursue his people in spite of their unbelief. The disciples were routinely chided for their lack of faith, even after they watched Jesus feed thousands, walk on water, heal, cast out demons, were given the power to do the same, ect. Jesus’ best friends were shallow in their faith, at best…Peter sinking in water, silly at the Transfiguration and denying Jesus three times. I think we need “man up” in faith and not be babies. But I don’t think the path to maturity can be through girding up our will power. I think we first need own everything you’ve identified, accept who we are as we are, broken before God, and then look beyond ourselves for the answer.
Maybe this was where you were headed with your post all along….
I think it’s time we stop being babies about faith. Maybe we need to man up and accept that perhaps the bad outcome was because we simply did not take God at His word and failed to have faith.
This is the most hurtful and uncaring thing I have ever read on this blog.
You are like Job’s friends telling him that his suffering is due to his sin.
You are like the people at the church of a dear friend of mine who told her that her baby died because she didn’t pray hard enough.
Jesus told us to mourn with those who mourn; not to crush them by telling them that their sorrows are all their own fault.
Faith does not make hardships and loss go away. Faith empowers us to do what is right even in the midst of hardships and loss, because we have hope that all things will one day there will be restoration.
And faith without love, as Paul reminds us, is nothing. Learn love and compassion before you start berating others for their lack of faith.
Did you ever think that you were not able to pray those Big Prayers of faith for healing for your Mom, because you were not given prayers of faith from the Spirit?
For it is God who will “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.” (Hebrews 13:21)
If it is God working in us to make us perfect in every good work, and those good works include faith for healing, what part of this faith are you doing that you can so usurp or rob God of the glory that belongs to Him alone? All power of faith ‘in us,’ is the power of God.
I recommend this helpful study by Tony Warren, http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/bible/faithof.html on these questions of translation, ‘faith of Christ’ versus ‘faith in Christ.’ I found it very clear on this and the whole issue of faith.
I am so glad you ended by writing of your mother’s death, because as I was reading the post, my blood was boiling. When my brother died of a massive stroke at the age of 53, my sister, who had been heroic at his bedside,
(http://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/lessons-from-head-lice-part-2-grief-and-the-provisions-of-presence-and-compassionate-family/) had a crisis of faith after the crisis of the Code Blue. She wept and wept because she thought my brother had died because we did not have enough faith for his healing. She watches too much 700 Club. With much prayer and counsel, we rescued my sister from her despair. We were in such distress at that time.
We were breaking away from a church that had just aligned with Bethel Redding, and our pastor was teaching this WOF heresy that people die because there is not enough faith mustered for their healing. He taught this heresy even though his best friend had just died of brain cancer, though Christians around the world were praying for his friend’s healing, as well as our Church. Our pastor manfully took the same guilt on himself that you did for your mom’s death–just how big is a mustard seed, anyway? It must be ginourmous, because no-one seems to be able to muster it.
Such distress we were in! We were exiting this False Prophetic Church at the time my brother died, as well. I simply could not face the pastor or my church at that time, because I was afraid I would slap my beloved former pastor across the face if I heard this kind of hooey, again. So much damage it does, to people at their most vulnerable times of pain, and suffering. But our pastor was too busy managing his fake Bentley-Imparted, “Outpouring” to see us, anyway. It was better that way. I have had time to cool down.
I have cooled down with you now, too. I now understand a lot better your issues of faith for the “Big Prayers” that we have tangled with before. I’ve read “The Praying Life”, and disagree with you even more strongly, about Big Prayers, and about Thorns in the Flesh.
And I am going to pray for your false guilt the way I prayed for my sister in her own sad, completely demonic, crisis of faith. Our enemy sought to rob her of the joy she should have rested in, faithful as she was, a good servant to my brother and to God. Because our loving Father is the author and finisher of my brother’s faith, of her faith, of yours and of mine.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36) Amen!
And I am so thankful for this post, because I have been wrestling with the last “Lessons from Head Lice”, since November. I had started it; it is a warning against false teaching, but was somehow lost for an ending. I have it now. Thank you for help in crystalizing these issues for me, why it is so important to flee these false teachings. It is so crippling. I think they are evil.
I honestly struggle with our tendency to want to place the source of faith within us or within God. We tend to go to one pole or another.
But if we honestly read Scripture, it portrays a paradox that places the source of faith as coming both from a person AND from God.
I mean, if we put the source of all faith within God Himself only, what does that say about those situations when we lack faith? Is God unable to provide? And what does Jesus mean when He says something like “Your faith has made you well”? Why would He not say instead, “God’s faith has made you well”?
If we put the source of faith within ourselves only, then we have the problem of having to “gin up” enough faith to make miracles happen. “Without Him you can do nothing” becomes something of a hollow truth.
So I’m not sure how best to look at this. I know that God asks something of me, plus He gives to me out of His riches. Can both be true?
Thank you for your gracious reply. I definitely felt the boomerang effect–I was struggling for days,knowing how harsh I sounded, sensing the displeasure of the Lord. I have yet to learn to balance my love of the truth with my deep desire to express love in all I say. I hope you know how much I respect you and your walk, and your earnest striving towards the high calling we have in Christ. You long for great faith that can move mountains, and I share that desire.
I just cannot see in Scripture that it is always God’s will to heal the dying. A greeting in I John is not enough–it is eisigis. I see just the opposite in the Word–the emphasis is that we are pilgrims passing through, this is not our home. Our suffering in sickness sometimes may be healed, but if not, it is because His love, as James McDonald says is a perfecting love, not a pampering love. If we suffer in sickness, if he keeps my brother-in-law in his wheelchair for the rest of his life, (despite the prayers of Bill Johnson), it is for my BIL’s good, and to the Father’s glory.
We will all die. His will is that we should all be home with Him. In the high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed that we all “may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me”, and Spurgeon writes about this passage:
“Every time a believer mounts from this earth to paradise, it is an answer to Christ’s prayer. A good old divine remarks, “Many times Jesus and his people pull against one another in prayer. You bend your knee in prayer and say ‘Father, I will that thy saints be with me where I am;’ Christ says, ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.’” Thus the disciple is at cross-purposes with his Lord. The soul cannot be in both places: the beloved one cannot be with Christ and with you too. Now, which pleader shall win the day? If you had your choice; if the King should step from his throne, and say, “Here are two supplicants praying in opposition to one another, which shall be answered?” Oh! I am sure, though it were agony, you would start from your feet, and say, “Jesus, not my will, but thine be done.” You would give up your prayer for your loved one’s life, if you could realize the thoughts that Christ is praying in the opposite direction—“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” Lord, thou shalt have them. By faith we let them go.”
This is where the gift of faith for healing is necessary:”…to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit… (1Cori 12:9)I think it takes a supernatural gift of faith for healing in these dire circumstances. God works in mysterious ways…
I agree with the paradox of our part/His part. I didn’t want to make my post longer than it aready was. The parables and stories of the mother of a demoniac in Tyre, and the Roman Centurion are among those that make clear the connection between faith and perseverance, and submission of the believer to the authority of Scripture. We must obey the Word of God despite our feelings,despite the outward circumstances, and believe His revealed willl–this is faith. And persist in prayer until the mountain of spiritual oppression is moved. This is its demonstration. Above all, stand.
The answer to little faith is “Forgive me Lord, help my unbelief.” He is so gracious to answer, and indeed I experienced it this week as I dealt again with my fear of living on the other side of the Pacific Plate that is getting ready to really roll. My greatest dread is that I might someday hear their terrified cries, and have to dig my own children out of some rubble–it hits me squarely at my abandonment issues. My Father is so gracious, and heard my cry for greater faith in His protection and presence. I was nearly crippled by this fear, until I fasted, and then was freed again to joyous confidence.
Again, I hold this WOF ‘God Heals All’ doctrine in great disdain, as I see it is a guilting teaching that harms deeply those who in the crisis of a loved one’s death need only comfort and reassurance from a loving Father, not condemmnation for little faith. But I hold you as a brother and regret any pain my words may have caused you.
Grace and peace,
Dan, I hope you don’t interpret my remarks (or others here) as discouragements to you in your position to urge/pray courageous prayers; prayers full of faith and hope and confidence in God’s providence. You go right on urging us to do that! We need it. I need it.
When we pray “Your will be done” and pray for what we want, we are praying that He will include what we want in what He wills. There’s room for prayer in that!
There’s a time for prayers that express hurt and lamentation too; that pour out our hearts to God. I see this post as one of those prayers. (I’m pretty sure God reads your blog!) You confessed what you feel was a lack of faith in your prayers, and I don’t believe you’re alone in that. So this is also a prayer that encourages the rest of us who read.
Every kind of prayer that finds God’s heart is a recognition of who He is and the power, grace, wisdom, justice and mercy that are uniquely His.
As I’ve long noted, I write posts as much for me as for anyone else. I need to remind myself of these things because of my own failures.
Abiding in Christ makes our mind one with His will. Prayer becomes much easier. At least it should. And we should see more miraculous results than we do.
I can’t NOT challenge people in this. I’m sorry if this post seems hurtful to some. I know it is. But as I read the Bible and reconcile what I read there with the way the world is, only three options become available when reality doesn’t align:
The Bible is wrong.
God is wrong.
You and I are wrong.
For me, entertaining the first two options is not an option at all. Therefore, only the third option exists. If people don’t want to confront that truth, I don’t know what to say. It means they must believe at least one of the other two options is true, or they’ve set up an elaborate system of convoluted excuses to makes it possible to hold all alternatives as correct, while not appearing to be faithless.
The Bible makes a lot of amazing, in-your-face statements. Either they are true or they are not. I’ve got to believe they are true. The implications should change everything. That they don’t in too many cases says a lot about the state of American Evangelicalism.
I thought this post was one of your best. Thank you brother.
I agree with some of your post to a point. But, remember, all those prayers in the new testament, and all those references regarding faith in conjunction with prayer, are all governed by the passage in 1 John 5:14:
1Jn 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
Therefore, we can have as much faith as a mustard seed, conjure up enough confidence in God and positively confess until the cows come home. But, if it is NOT according to who’s will?… God’s will, it simply will not come to pass.
Another reference could be made about faith and prayer regarding the Lord’s Supper in I Cor 11:
1Co 11:27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
1Co 11:28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
1Co 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
1Co 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
You may have enough faith again to move mountains, but if you partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner without repentance and self examination, according to this text, you could get ill or even die. And, no amount of faith, prayer for healing etc will avail you much because this is not God’s will. One can positively confess and believe all they want, but we must remember, God is sovereign, and we are not, period.
Our faith is to be toward and in God alone. Not faith in faith. That is the herrendous error of the Word of Faith movement that has already been commented on above.
We do however have confidence with God, because he does hear us. We must exercise faith, absolute faith. Not just a simple wish or hope deferred or expressed, but a genuine and surrending faith and trust as if our life depended on it type of faith in all matters dealing with our life in Christ: This is pleasing and acceptable to God.
Thanks for your insight on a well needed topic for today!
God can and does change his mind on His will concerning “set in stone” outcomes. Abraham’s discourse with God concerning staying His hand for any righteous that might be found in Sodom and Gomorrah is one example. God changing His mind about Hezekiah’s illness is another. In both cases, God had made up His mind about the outcome, yet faith and boldness swayed Him.
Great post, very challenging – as evidenced by the comments, but I agree that scripture is a lot more explicit on the place for faith than we’re often comfortable with.
The best example is Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” This is such an in-your-face and challenging verse, one which we tend to modify with “as long as it’s God’s will”. However, what are the circumstances of this lesson? It’s a fig tree which Jesus cursed because it didn’t provide him with some fruit when he was hungry! What’s more, it wasn’t even the season for figs! What would this figtree withering have to do with God’s will?
As for “God’s will” in these circumstances, I believe it’s a moot point. If we’re working on these levels of faith, then our intimacy with the Father will be such that our will and his will be the same. Unfortunately, we often use the “God’s will” modifier to blunten this otherwise too challenging for comfort passage.
I have yet to see such an honest approach to the topic of faith. I have wrestled with this subject now for a few years it seems. There is a definite mystery in all of this. We know God is Sovereign and the giver of all gifts including faith. We know He rewards those who seek Him. He rewards great faith yet marvels at unbelief. He has mercy on those who doubt or who have “little faith”.
James 5:15-“And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Let us be humbled and ask for more faith.
This stuff is not academic to me right now. My boss has what is probably the same kind of brain cancer your mom had. (The same as Kennedy had and the same as my husband’s stepdad had.)
Dan, I think you are right. Now, my boss just might die even if those of us praying for her have enough faith. But I believe in that case God will let us know what His will is.
I can say that because a friend of mine passed away over a decade ago-a man that literally hundreds of people across the nation and around the world were praying for. God basically let me know we were going to lose him. I have seen enough answers to prayer to know that God is very able to heal and yet I know in the cases where His answer is no, He will let us know and give us faith to face it.
Where we have to be careful is this-I think it is wrong in many cases to tell a person that someone died because of his or her lack of faith. We are not given to know that. Perhaps others around that person lacked faith, or the sick person himself lacked it. It is humility to leave those things in the Lord’s hands while yet picking ourselves up and choosing to have faith for the next thing. It along with many other things is a divine paradox.
two comments from someone who is unsaved, but trying.
First, I can’t help the contradiction in the bible passages from Luke 18:1.8 who is basically saying to keep praying and God might eventually answer just because of your multitude of prayers, and Jesus’s teachings, which I will attempt to remember “do not be like the Pharisees, or keep babbling like peagans, who think they will be heard because of thier many words, but understand that the Lord God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. Instad, when you pray, simply say: (Lords Prayer).
Secondly, on faith. First, I don’t have faith, or I would be saved. But the passage of having faith and ‘the mountain being thrown into the sea,’ as well as your own admonishment of people for not being able to save loved ones becuase ‘they lacked enough faith’ seems … well, misleading at best and harmful at worst. My pastor had a daughter who died of cancer at 17 and someone did tell him about ‘his lack of faith.’ What a terrible thing. What about love and mercy … wasn’t that what Jesus was about? Seconly, doesn’t God do all things on his own timetable, and aren’t we incapable of understanding the reasons and questioning God. Therefore, despite an enormous faith, a person might pray for something that isn’t “God’s will be done” and it wouldn’t happen. Like having your mother live forever.
I enjoy your writings immensely as I try to find my way to faith, but I have a few problems with this entire post.
Thank you for writing and for coming to Cerulean Sanctum. I’ll try to answer your questions.
1. I think there are times for short prayers said with great faith. I think there are times for long prayers too. We know that Jesus went away to pray for hours alone. We also see the same thing in the Garden of Gethsemane. What distinguishes long, godly prayers from the pagan’s babbling words is just that, babbling. I can heap up all sorts of empty words in a long prayer or I can say a long prayer that is filled with meaningful words. When the Holy Spirit inspires prayer, that prayer is not filled with meaningless words. The difference is the meaningfulness. If you’ve ever sat through a lecture that just droned on compared against one that kept you at the edge of your seat, you understand the difference.
2. I’ve read the Bible through many times. I can’t excuse what I read there when it comes to faith. Everything the Bible says about faith is bold and it can’t be anything but. I can’t do a forensic study on every case when something someone hopes for fails to come to pass. No one can but God. All I know is that I can insist I did everything in faith but when the lights are out and it’s just me and God, I know better. The Bible says that people who have faith receive. People who don’t have faith don’t receive. That’s either the case or it is not. I believe it is the case. Nothing is wrong with God and nothing is wrong with the Bible; when there’s a failure, it’s most probably because of us. We may not like to hear that, but that’s the example shown over and over in the Bible.
Honestly, I hope that people are unsettled by this post. But then what I’ve written here is right in the Bible. And the Bible should unsettle us. It should turn us upside down. The Kingdom of God comes and it doesn’t look anything like what we expected it would. It isn’t for the strong but the weak. It isn’t for the rich but for the poor. The meek inherit the earth, not the spotlight-grabber. If we aren’t completely jostled by what the Bible claims, then maybe we’re not really practicing the real faith the Bible declares within its pages.
One last thing: At some point, finding faith means moving past unanswered questions. You will never stop having questions. That said, faith is bigger than questions. No one comes to the Lord by reasoning. We come to Jesus because we have an encounter with Him. That’s my prayer for you, Rory, that Jesus would reveal Himself to you in a way that is indisputable. He might come to you with a still, small voice. He might come to you in the guise of one of His followers. He might come to you in an earthshaking event. Just ask Him to make Himself known to you and He will.
Blessings. Anything you want to ask me, always feel free.