THE LINK BETWEEN FAITH AND ANSWERED PRAYER
The Bible seems to teach that there’s a direct correlation between the amount of faith a person has and whether or not they’re likely to see God answer their prayer. E.M. Bounds said:
Jesus Christ clearly taught that faith was the condition on which prayer was answered…
When the saddening news of his daughter’s death was brought to Jairus our Lord interposed: “Be not afraid,” he said calmly, “only believe.”
To the woman with the issue of blood, who stood trembling before him, he said: Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole…
As the two blind men followed him, pressing their way into the house, he said: According to your faith he it unto you. And their eyes were opened.
When Jesus dismissed the centurion whose servant was seriously ill, and who had come to Jesus with the prayer that he speak the healing word, without out even going to his house, he did it in the manner following: And Jesus said unto the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee”…
When the poor leper fell at the feet of Jesus and cried out for relief, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean,” Jesus immediately granted his request, and the man glorified him with a loud voice. Then Jesus said unto him, “Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.”
The Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus with the case of her afflicted daughter, making the case her own, with the prayer, “Lord, help me,” making a fearful and heroic struggle. Jesus honors her faith and prayer, saying: “0 woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt”…
After the disciples had utterly failed to cast the devil out of the epileptic boy, the father of the stricken lad came to Jesus with the plaintive and almost despairing cry, “If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” But Jesus replied, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
Blind Bartimaus sitting by the wayside, hears our Lord as he passes by, and cries out pitifully and almost despairingly, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.” The keen ears of our Lord immediately catch the sound of prayer, and he says to the beggar: “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole”.
The correlation between faith and answered prayer couldn’t be more obvious. It’s almost impossible to refute it. However many of us struggle to believe it because it just seems too confusing. Consider the following questions…
> Does the Bible really teach that God will give us whatever we ask for if we simply believe?
> Are unanswered prayers really the result of our lack of faith?
> Should we be thanking God for what we’re asking Him to do before He’s even had a chance to do it?
> Is anything really possible for those who believe?
> Does God ever say no to the prayer offered in faith?
C.S. Lewis not only found this confusing, he considered it to be embarrassing:
The New Testament contains embarrassing promises that what we pray for with faith we shall receive. Mark XI: 24 is the most staggering. Whatever we ask for, believing that we’ll get it, we’ll get… No question of a merely general faith in God, but a belief that you will get the particular thing you ask. No question of getting either it or else something that is really far better for you; you’ll get precisely it. And to heap paradox on paradox, the Greek doesn’t even say “believing that you will get it.” It uses the aorist, which one is tempted to translate ‘believing that you got it.’ …How is this astonishing promise to be reconciled (a) With the observed facts? and (b) With the prayer in Gethsemane, and (as a result of that prayer) the universally accepted view that we should ask everything with a reservation (‘if it be Thy will’)?
So what are we to do with this? Do we just ignore the fact that these Bible passages exist? Do we minimize what they seem to be saying to make them sound more realistic? Or is there some other way to make sense of them?
Let’s look at what we know for sure…
#1 NO FAITH = GOD IS UNLIKELY TO SAY YES
The Bible seems to indicate that there is a link between ‘no faith’ and a person with no faith should have no expectation that God will say yes to their prayers…
“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
“When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
Now just because a person without faith should have no expectation that God will say yes, doesn’t mean that God won’t say yes. God is kind and often works on behalf of those who don’t pray or have no faith.
#2 SOME FAITH = GOD MIGHT SAY YES
There are various examples in the Bible where people could be described as having only ‘some level of faith’. They believe, but their belief is mixed with doubt. Here’s two examples…
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
“Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God… When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh… “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
Now in both these situations, God said yes despite the fact that those praying were not 100% confident that God would come through for them. This should be enormously encouraging, because this is how most of us pray most of the time.
#3 COMPLETE FAITH (WITH NO DOUBT) = GOD WILL DEFINITELY SAY YES
Lastly, Jesus speaks of a third kind of faith, the kind of faith that completely believes that God will say yes to the request.
Andrew Murray explains: “There is one kind of prayer in which we make known our request in everything, and the reward is the sweet peace of God in our hearts and minds. This is the prayer of trust… We leave it to Him to decide whether or not to give, as He knows best. But the prayer of faith of which Jesus speaks is something higher and different. Nothing honors the Father like the faith that is assured that He will do what He has said in giving us whatever we ask.“
C.S. Lewis agrees. He describes this as “a perfect faith— an untroubled or unhesitating faith… that you will get what you ask”. He goes onto explain that this is the kind of faith that cannot even imagine God saying no: “If you envisage a refusal as possible, how can you have simultaneously a perfect confidence that what you ask will not be refused? If you have that confidence, how can you take refusal into account at all?“
Where this kind of faith is exercised, Jesus promises us that we can have complete expectation that God will say yes.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
As has already been noted by C.S. Lewis, this kind of faith isn’t just 100% confident that God will come through for us in a general sense. It is far more specific than that. It fully expects God to give us exactly what we ask for.
Andrew Murray explains: “‘Believe that ye receive them.’ Clearly we are to believe that we receive the very things we ask. The Savior does not say that the Father may give us something else because He knows what is best. The very mountain that faith wants to remove is cast into the sea… Believe that you have received what you’re asking for now, while praying! …Without seeing it, you are to believe that it has already been given to you by the Father in heaven.”
It’s worth noting therefore, that not even Jesus, the Perfect One, had ‘COMPLETE FAITH’ in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt 26:39). Jesus was neither 100% sure that His Heavenly Father would say yes, nor did He end up receiving a ‘yes’. Jesus had ‘SOME FAITH’ but not ‘COMPLETE FAITH’, and as a result, He had some expectation that God would say yes, but not complete expectation that God would say yes.
HOW CAN ANYONE EVER ATTAIN THIS “COMPLETE FAITH”?
All this leads us the question: If not even Jesus was able to express this ‘COMPLETE FAITH’ in the Garden, how is it possible for us to express this ‘COMPLETE FAITH’ in our time of need?
C.S. Lewis makes the following suggestion…
How or why does such faith occur sometimes, but not always, even in the perfect petitioner? …My own idea is that it occurs only when the one who prays does so as God’s fellow-worker, demanding what is needed for the joint work. It is the prophet’s, the apostle’s, the missionary’s, the healer’s prayer that is made with this confidence and finds the confidence justified by the event.
The difference, we are told, between a servant and a friend is that a servant is not in his master’s secrets. For him, “orders are orders.” He has only his own surmises as to the plans he helps to execute. But the fellow-worker, the companion or (dare we say?) the colleague of God is so united with Him at certain moments that something of the divine foreknowledge enters his mind. Hence his faith is the “evidence”— that is, the evidentness, the obviousness – of things not seen.
Andrew Murray agrees…
Such faith takes its stand on the promise delivered by the Spirit. It knows most certainly that it receives exactly what it asks, whether in the greater interest of the Master’s work or in the lesser concerns of daily life. Notice how clearly the Lord states this in Mark 11:23, “Whosoever…shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” This is the blessing of the prayer of faith of which Jesus speaks…
The “whatsoever” is unconditional except for what is implied in the believing. Before we can believe, we must find out and know what God’s will is. Believing is the exercise of a soul surrendered to the influence of the Word and the Spirit. Once we do believe, nothing is impossible.
So both Lewis and Murray are arguing that this ‘COMPLETE FAITH’ is only possible when the person praying has been told by God exactly what He wants to say yes to. Certainly this seems to be confirmed by the Scriptures. It would appear that there is a link between praying ‘according to God’s will’ and having ‘complete expectation that God will say yes’.
1 John 5:14-15
“This is the confidence that we have in Him, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us and if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desire of Him”.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
“Whatever you ask in My name [i.e. according to My will], 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.”
Andy Stanley explains this even further. He points out that this ‘COMPLETE FAITH’ is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). He then goes onto to give the following illustration…
If I was to call you up and ask you out for lunch and you didn’t answer and I left you a voicemail and I hang up the phone and I hope you’ll have lunch with me… What would have to happen for my ‘I hope they have lunch with me’ to become ‘I believe with confidence they’re going to have lunch with me’? What would have to happen for my ‘hope’ to become ‘faith’? How can I be certain that the lunch we haven’t had, is in fact going to happen? By simply calling you and asking you I have ‘hope’, but what would turn my ‘hope’ into ‘faith’ where I can say ‘I believe with absolute confidence that we’re going to end up having lunch’? …The reason I can show up at the restaurant with confidence waiting for you, is because you call me back and say ‘I will be there’. And then I believe that you will do what you said you’re going to do so I show up by faith… Faith is confidence that God is who He says He is and that He’ll do everything He said He’s going to do.
If all this is true, then we should expect it to be played out like this:
The more reason there is for us to have faith, then the more likely it is that we will have faith. And the more faith we have, the more we can expect that God will say yes.
SO WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
IMPLICATION #1 – FAITH REALLY MATTERS
There really is a link between ‘faith’ and ‘answered prayer’. Our confidence in our Heavenly Father…
> moves us to ASK AND KEEP ON ASKING.
> moves Him to GIVE AND KEEP ON GIVING.
Like all loving Fathers, He longs for us to come to Him. He can’t wait to give and is overjoyed that we would place our faith and confidence in Him.
IMPLICATION #2 – IF GOD HAS SPECIFICALLY TOLD US TO PRAY FOR SOMETHING, THEN WE CAN BE CERTAIN THAT HE WILL SAY YES
Charles Spurgeon said: “If a man were to give me a cheque, I do not think I should be so foolish as not to cash it; and if God gives me a promise, which is better than any man’s cheque, the most natural thing is for me to go on my knees to heaven’s bank to seek to have it changed, to get the blessing God really promised He would give me. So, keep hard by the promises, and closer still to the faithful Promiser.”
IMPLICATION #3 – JUST BECAUSE GOD HAS SAID NO, OR REMAINED SILENT, DOESN’T MEAN WE SHOULDN’T HAVE AT LEAST SOME LEVEL OF FAITH
There are numerous examples in the Bible where people had every reason to give up praying, and yet they kept praying because they believed that God is good and God is powerful. Many of these examples can be found here.