OUR PRAYERS ARE LIMITED BECAUSE WE BELIEVE GOD’S POWER IS LIMITED
It’s one thing to believe that God is the all-powerful Creator of the universe who is above all things, but it’s another thing to pray for anything and everything believing that nothing is impossible for God.
The truth is, we have a tendency to restrict our praying for those things which we believe are within the realm of possibility.
Does it seem likely that God could help someone get the job they are going for? Or help them get through a difficult week? Of course. We see people get jobs all the time. Many of us have experienced God’s peace during difficult times. It’s easy to pray for these things because we believe that God might actually come through.
But what about when the thing we’re praying for seems much less likely? Do we really believe that God would grant sight to a person who was born blind? Are we confident that God could restore a marriage many years after the divorce has gone through?
These things seem much more improbable. And we tend not to pray for them because we’ve never really seen them happen.
So given all of this, are we missing out? Are there things that God would be willing to say yes to but we’ve been too afraid to ask? Is there reason to believe that God will do the things that we would never expect Him to do? Consider the following…
#1 GOD COMMENDS THOSE WHO ASK FOR THE THINGS THAT WE WOULD NEVER THINK TO ASK FOR
The Gospel of Matthew records a story of a Roman Centurion coming to Jesus asking for help: “‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I will go and heal him.'” (Matthew 8:6-7).
Whilst for us today it may not seem out of the ordinary to hear of people going to Jesus for help, this encounter would have been very unusual at the time. Israel was under Roman rule. The thought of a Centurion, a man who had a hundred roman soldiers under his command, coming to a poor, homeless, Jewish, religious leader for help was unheard of. What did he see that others didn’t? We read on…
“The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” (Matthew 8:8).
Now again this is strange. Why would such a powerful officer in the Roman army feel unworthy to have this Jewish religious leader in his home? There’s something that this Centurion believed that no one else believed…
“‘But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.'” (Matthew 8:8-9).
It’s as if he’s saying: ‘I’ve seen what you’ve been doing and it’s incredible. I’ve watched how you heal the sick. I’ve heard how you teach. And I’ve come to understand that you are no ordinary man. You’re not even just another prophet. You are special. You have a power like no one else. You can simply just speak a command and it will be done. And Jesus, rather than come to my house, all I’m asking you to do is say the word. Just speak the word, and I know that will be enough.’
“When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith… Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that very hour.” (Matthew 8:10, 13).
Now why did Jesus consider the Centurion’s faith to be so great? What set him apart from everyone else in Israel? What did the Centurion believe about Jesus that no one else believed?
When we consider the way that other people got healed by Jesus, something very interesting stands out. It was typical for the person being healed to be in the presence of Jesus:
> Jesus healed the leper by touching him.
> Jesus healed the blind beggar by rubbing mud in his eyes.
> A woman who had a long-term condition simply reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak, and she was healed.
> When a crippled man wanted to be healed by Jesus, he had his friends take him to the house where Jesus was hanging out. When he got there, there was such a crowd he couldn’t get to Jesus. So his friends climbed the roof and lowered him down into the middle of the room, just so that he could be in Jesus’ presence.
But the Centurion knew that none of that was necessary. Why? Because he knew that Jesus wasn’t just some kind of superhero figure with limitations. He wasn’t just a regular person blessed with special gifts and abilities. The Centurion knew that he was the supernatural God of the universe, whose power knows no end.
Everyone else believed that Jesus’ power was limited. They would never have thought to ask Him to heal someone that wasn’t in His presence. But the Centurion believed that nothing was impossible for Jesus. And because of this he asked Him to do what no one else thought to ask.
#2 GOD CONTINUALLY DOES THE THINGS THAT WE WOULD NEVER THINK TO ASK FOR
Consider the following…
> Mary and Martha believed that Jesus had enough power to heal their brother Lazarus when he was sick, but once he had died, they naturally gave up hope. They never expected that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead. Yet Jesus came along three days later and did that very thing (c.f. John 11:1-44).
> Abraham and Sarah initially believed that God was able to give them a child, despite the fact that Sarah was well past the age where this was biologically possible. But after several years of waiting, they stopped believing and took matters into their own hands. Yet twenty-five years after the initial promise was given, God came through and Isaac was born (c.f. Genesis 12-21).
> Whilst Jarius’ sick daughter was still alive, those around him believed that there was still hope, but once she died they told Jarius that there was no use bothering Jesus anymore. Yet Jesus told Jarius not to listen to them. He then went to Jarius’ house and brought his daughter back to life (c.f. Mark 5:21-43).
> Moses never expected that God could convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but ten plagues later and after much devastation, he finally relented (c.f. Exodus 3-14).
> It didn’t even occur to the disciples to ask Jesus to feed the thousands who had gathered to hear him speak. They just assumed that it was outside of the realm of possibility. Yet by the time they had finished handing out the five loaves of bread and the two fish, 5000 men were fed, along with the women and children accompanying them (c.f. Matthew 14:13-21).
> Very few would have expected Saul, a man who had persecuted and hunted down Christians, to become a Christian. And they certainly wouldn’t have believed that he would one day preach the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. But God exceeded everyone’s expectations and did far beyond what they thought was possible (c.f. Acts 7-9).
> Despite seeing Jesus heal the sick and even raise the dead, it’s unlikely that the disciples were expecting Jesus to make a soldier’s ear grow back. Yet Jesus yet again exceeded their expectations and did the impossible (c.f. Luke 22:47-53).
#3 GOD INVITES US TO ASK FOR THE THINGS THAT WE WOULD NEVER THINK TO ASK FOR
Jesus said: “Therefore I say unto to you, all things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them… whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (Mark 11:24 ASV, John 14:13 KJV).
Andrew Murray explains:
“All things whatsoever.” From the first word, our human wisdom begins to doubt and say, “This can’t possibly be literally true.” But if it isn’t, why did the Master say it? He used the very strongest expression He could find, “All things whatsoever” …The tendency of human reason is to intervene here with certain qualifiers, such as “if expedient,” “if according to God’s will,” to break the force of a statement that appears dangerous. Beware of dealing this way with the Master’s words. His promise is most literally true. He wants His frequently repeated “all things” to enter our hearts and reveal how mighty the power of faith is. The Head truly calls the members of His Body to share His power with Him. Our Father places His power at the disposal of the child who completely trusts Him. Faith gets its food and strength from the “all things” of Christ’s promise. As we weaken it, we weaken faith …Let us pray that we do not limit Christ’s “all things” with what we think is possible. Rather, His “whatsoever” should determine the boundaries of our hope and faith.
The possibilities of prayer reach to all things. Whatever concerns man’s highest welfare, and whatever has to do with God’s plans and purposes concerning men on earth, is a subject for prayer. In “whatsoever ye shall ask,” is embraced all that concerns us or the children of men and God. And whatever is left out of “whatsoever” is left out of prayer …The utmost possibilities of prayer have rarely been realized. The promises of God are so great to those who truly pray, when he puts himself so fully into the hands of the praying ones, that it almost staggers our faith and causes us to hesitate with astonishment. His promise to answer, and to do and to give “all things,” “anything,” “whatsoever,” and “all things whatsoever,” is so large, so great, so exceeding broad, that we stand hack in amazement and give ourselves to questioning and doubt. We “stagger at the promises through unbelief” …He is not limited in action nor restrained by the conditions which limit men. The conditions of time, place, nearness, ability, and all others which could possibly be named, upon which the actions of men hinge, have no bearing on God.
#4 JESUS PRAYED FOR THE VERY THING THAT WE WOULD NEVER THINK HE’D ASK FOR
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried: “Abba, Father…everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
Jesus knew that His mission was to lay down His life as a ransom (c.f. Matt 20:28). He knew that there was no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (c.f. Hebrews 9:22). He knew that all the prophesies pointed to Him and His death and resurrection (c.f. John 5:39). He even accused Peter of being influenced by Satan at the suggestion that He shouldn’t go to the cross (c.f. Matthew 16:23).
There was no way out. Jesus’ death on the cross was inevitable. There was absolutely no reason to believe that God would come through for Him in this moment. But He chose to remind Himself and His Heavenly Father that ‘everything is possible’ for God. No matter how many reasons He had to believe that the eternal plan couldn’t be changed, He also knew that God is not held back by anything. So He prayed.
WE HAVE EVERY REASON TO PRAY FOR THE THINGS THAT WE WOULD NEVER THINK TO ASK FOR
So despite being given every reason to pray for the things that we would never think to ask for, we continue to struggle. We often find ourselves saying ‘no’ on God’s behalf, before He’s even had a chance to hear our requests.
Martin Luther believes that “We always ask for less than we should and don’t even think God is willing to give us what we ask for. We don’t understand that what we pray about is more important than we can comprehend. We think small, but the Lord is great and powerful. He expects us to ask for great things. He wants to give them to us to demonstrate his almighty power.” On another occasion he said: “We… are in the habit of praying for trivial and insignificant things… When we pray, we don’t take into account the great majesty of God… God has plenty of resources, and he’s not a tightwad. He generously offers us the best gifts available in heaven and on earth. He expects that we will ask him for many things and that we will sincerely believe we will get what we request.”
E.M.Bounds agrees: “How the unbelief of men has limited the power of God to work through prayer! What limitations have disciples of Jesus Christ put upon prayer by their prayerlessness!”
Oswald Chambers said: “If we would only get into the way of bringing our limitations before God and telling Him He cannot do these things, we should begin to see the awful wickedness of unbelief, and why our Lord was so vigorously against it. . . . Unbelief is the most active thing on earth. . . . Unbelief is a fretful, worrying, questioning . . . self-centered spirit. To believe is to stop all this and let God work.”
Andrew Murray goes so far as to say that this is the most significant mistake we make in prayer: “Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things, ‘above all that we ask or think’.”
Therefore the invitation is to be released from all of this…
TURNING OUR ‘DOUBT LIST’ INTO A ‘PRAYER LIST’
One simple solution is to turn our ‘doubt list’ into a ‘prayer list’. Consider these two questions:
1. What are the things that we ‘doubt’ God is able to do?
2. What are the things that we ‘doubt’ God is willing to do?
There’s no reason why these things shouldn’t be added to our ‘prayer list’. And then, according to Andrew Murray, we should “be quiet first, and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His redeemed people. Think of [our] place and privilege in Christ, and expect great things!”