Any Christian who lets prayer play an important part in their lives will eventually ponder the question, “What part does faith play in prayer?” Some see a specific kind of faith being the key to having our prayers answered. The kind that banishes all trace of doubt from one’s mind, like a powerlifter concentrating all their strength to lift a weight, the key to a successful prayer life is absolute, confident, trust and belief that God is going to answer. The downside to this view of faith is that when prayers appear to go unanswered we can develop a sense of shame and guilt for not believing hard enough. The other error is to let the pendulum swing to the other side of the spectrum. Where we add so many caveats to faith, that it seems as if faith has no place in answered prayers. Let’s seek to avoid both of these errors.
What follows are two verses which make clear that faith plays an important role in answered prayers (certainly more could be added).
Prayer for the Sick: James 5:15 “…the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick…”
Prayer Generally: Mark 11:24 “I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”
In both of these texts we see a direct connection between prayer, faith, and results. The prayer “offered in faith” will heal the sick. When praying, “believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” These are incredible promises, but what do they mean? Specifically, what is this faith and belief the word says we should have?
1. The gift of faith: Paul mentions this faith in 1 Cor. 12:9 as a gift of the Spirit. It is the spontaneous God given assurance that He is about to move and act in a very specific way.
Example: In Acts 3, we see the story of Peter and John coming upon a lame beggar outside the temple. Upon asking them for money Peter responds, ““I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:6). Peter then lifts him to his feet and the man is healed. Understand, it would be absolutely presumptuous to think that God would respond to Peter’s declaration and action, unless God had first given Peter the absolute assurance, faith, that He did in fact intend on healing the man. Which is exactly what Peter said happened, “the faith which comes through Him (Jesus) has given him (the lame man) this perfect health in the presence of you all.” (Acts 3:16) Peter gives credit to Jesus for giving him the faith in that moment to make the man well.
I don’t think I’ve ever personally experienced this kind of dramatic bestowal of faith, but it is something I do seek God for because it is an awesome gift to receive in a moment that produces incredible results.
2. Faith in God’s Revealed Will: 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
His Will: Now, apart from the Spirit bestowing upon us a gift of faith, we can’t know what God’s immediate intended purpose in that moment is. BUT through the scriptures, we can know what God’s will is definitely and generally. It is our duty to study the scriptures, and understand what these things are.
Definite Example- Healing of believers: We know it is God’s will to heal all believers. Now don’t misunderstand me. This may not be manifest in this life, but it is part of God’s greater plan of redemption. When speaking about Christ’s future atoning death on the cross, Isaiah said, “Surely our griefs (sickness) He Himself bore, and our sorrows (pains) He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken; smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Is. 53:4) Matthew, in his gospel, shows that this was a prophetic promise of Christ and His healing ministry (Mt. 8:17). As well, we know that in the future resurrection, though our bodies die and decay- which is true for everyone, no man can escape death, no matter how great their faith- we will be given perfect bodies. Free of any physical corruption. Christ’s death and resurrection has assured this for all believers. Paul says, “42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44). Since we know it is God’s will and desire to heal, we should pray that God would grant a taste of that future healing even here and now. If he chooses to not immediately heal, that’s ok, because we know he will in the future resurrection.
General Example- Salvation of the lost: Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (1 Pet. 3:9) This verse gives us a general example of God’s desire. God wants and, in one sense wills, for all to be saved. Now, this doesn’t mean all will be, but when we enter into the kind of prayer that cries out for the salvation of lost loved ones, we should recognize that we are in step with God and his heart. Thus, we should have faith, knowing that such a request is pleasing to God. Now, not all will be saved. The salvation process is primarily God working out his plans and secondly, man’s choice as to whether they will respond favorably or rebel when God enlightens their hearts to be able to respond. Generally, like with many other things scripture shows us, these are the kinds of prayers where our hearts are lined up with God’s.
3. Faith in God’s desire to reward Us: “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6)
belief that He is: This makes sense. For any person who comes to God in prayer should first believe He exists. If not, why even pray?
that God rewards those who seek Him: If you come to God with a suspicious attitude, not trusting that he is concerned over the issues that burden your heart. You won’t believe he loves you enough to reward your requests. His love that is concerned about every hair on your head, meal you’ll eat, clothes you’ll wear, places you’ll live, person you may marry, and much more. Knowing that God cares, we should see that it is His delight when we quit trying to figure out everything on our own, and show that we trust Him by bringing our requests and needs to God in prayer. He delights to reward us when we cast our needs before Him, and seek His face. (Note: 1 Pt. 5:6-7 & Mt. 6:25-33).
4. Faith that is Faithful to Ask: Nothing kills prayer more than believing the things previously mentioned, but comes short in being faithful to bring our requests to God-with good motives. James says, “You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (Jam. 4:2-3)
You Do Not Ask: There are many good things God intends to do that we miss out on because we fail to ask God specifically for them. Sometimes this faithlessness can demonstrate itself in overly generalized prayers. Prayers like, “Lord, please bless this person” or “Lord, please save everyone who hears the gospel.” Not that prayers for blessings or salvation are wrong, but be specific. Ask the Lord to bless a person in a specific way. A way in which God’s blessings would be felt or experienced. If you want to see a family struggling with infertility blessed, pray for them to have a baby. If you want to pray blessings on a church, pray for specific needs in that church- forgiveness between specific members, a petty argument would cease, salvation for a member’s husband- be specific.
Ask with Wrong Motives: When our requests are motivated by a desire to fulfill sinful desires we fail to be faithful in prayer. I’m sure God has refused to answer many requests for girlfriends made by young men because God knew it was driven by lust and the fulfilment of that prayer would have been disastrous (myself being one of those young men!). Faith cares about God’s plan, purpose, and what would be best in His eyes. When our desires trump God’s desires (which are far better and greater for us than we could possibly imagine) He, like a good father, won’t answer those requests.
Even when we apply all of these examples of faith, recognize God may still answer in a way different than how we prayed. You might ask, “Why?” I’ll let Paul answer that question. While writing to the church in Ephesus, he takes a break in his letter to praise God and says, ““20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21). Notice what he said, “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…” Because our requests and thoughts are limited in their ability to comprehend God and his incredible plans and power, we have limited comprehension of how or in what ways God may want to bless us in answering our prayers. God, in His character, will always give us, His children, what is best in the long run. For the scriptures say, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) God may or may not answer our prayers in the way we expect because He has got greater purposes.
For Paul, it was to Keep Him Humble: “8 Concerning this (his thorn in the flesh) I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:8-9)
For the Author of Psalm 119: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver." (Psalm 119:71, 72)
So recognize, however your prayers are answered by God, it is always what is best. We, as Christians, must always have faith in that. Faith that is based on God’s good character.