And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. Matthew 21:21 (ESV)
There are a few places in the Bible where God promises great things will happen if we will only have “mountain moving faith,” or if we “believe that we have received it” (Mark 11:24). It’s important that we get our understanding of this right, because a wrong interpretation will cause us problems.
For instance, I read one writer who said that, “Faith takes the handcuffs off God.” Nice idea – it just doesn’t strike me as an accurate picture of the power and character of God. The true God wears no handcuffs, though He may carry them around to place on the wrists of lawbreakers.
So, is answered prayer dependent on you and me working up faith to such a degree that God answers our prayers? Is it ultimately up to us?
James seems to echo this thinking…
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. James 5:14-15 (ESV)
Again, here we read about a particular kind of prayer – a prayer of faith. What is this prayer, and how do we get it?
Martyn Lloyd Jones speaks to it…
People have often taken those texts and have tried to work themselves up into a kind of certainty – “When you pray, believe you have received it” – and have tried to persuade themselves that this is true. But then the prayer is not answered or at any rate not answered in the way that they asked or expected, and they are cast down and begin to doubt God and his promises. But all that is due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of this “prayer of faith.” It seems to me that the only adequate explanation of these passages is that they are a typical example and illustration of praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is a prayer that is given to us by the Holy Spirit himself, created within us by Him, and as he does this he gives us an absolute certainly with respect to it.
Martyn Lloyd Jones, Living Water, Studies in John 4
That rings true, doesn’t it? When we read these texts, “Believe that you have received it…” we falsely tend to think that we need to scrunch up our faces and get on our knees and convince ourselves that we believe by saying over and over again, “I believe, I believe, I believe…” But that can’t be right.
Instead this kind of faith is a gift, and we are right to ask for the gift, and not feel like we have to manufacture it ourselves. But there is a balance to this, as Lloyd Jones also points out – we should not “just sit down until we are moved…That is to misunderstand the work of the Spirit because we are commanded to pray.” Amen. And in our praying itself, we show whether or not we have faith to begin with.
So there is a special gift of God for certain prayers, and there is just simple obedience, exercising the faith we do have, and asking God to do what only He can do.
For Tuesday, November 10th: 1 Peter 1