It is one of the great conversations I enjoy with people when I travel. What is faith, and how does it influence our prayers? Since I haven’t been traveling during this coronavirus, I thought I would respond to this email online. First, here is the email:
I have been pondering some of the things you have shared about prayer, and at times, it seems that your position does not make a very big space for believing in God’s doing the miraculous. You have shared that you have seen the supernatural and that those things are up to Him. I get that. But, there are so many places in Scripture that seem to intimate that we can expect answers to our prayers.
For example, James wrote, “the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Jesus Himself said, “greater works shall you do.” He seemed to be speaking of the miraculous. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14: 12-14.
How can a believer read the very words of Jesus and not expect to see at least a modicum of supernatural power in their lives? Maybe not rising to the level of feeding multitudes or raising a four-day dead “Lazarus” from the dead. But, I cannot help but believe that Jesus was encouraging those that believe to expect answers to their prayers, even if it means something supernatural occurring to provide that answer. Obviously, we are not God, and we are to trust Him with the outcomes, as we have discussed. Certainly, there are volumes of prayers that do not get answered in the way that we hope, with no visible evidence of the supernatural or miraculous. If trusting Him with outcomes is all we have, the question remains, “What did Jesus mean when He said that we would do greater works, and ask Him anything in His name and He would do it?”
The nuances in this discussion could fill a book or three. That’s why this is better in a conversation, where it can be specifically applied to a given prayer or circumstance. But let me try to answer with a series of bullet points that summarize how I understand these things at this stage of my journey, and let them become fodder for further dialogue.
- God does outrageous miracles, and everything in this creation can be bent to his will, by his power, and for his glory.
- Prayer is the delightful partnership between God and his people that can execute his purpose and glory in the earth through supernatural power. Thus, it is not us getting God to do what we think is best, but us cooperating with God as he does his work. His wisdom is way beyond ours, and he takes all things into account as he works his glory into the world. Our comfort or ease is never his priority.
- That’s why prayer is mostly communion with him as he shapes our hearts, rather than a list of requests we want him to give us.
- Every Scripture that talks about answered prayer, including the ones you quote, are in the context of the conditional clauses of if “we remain in him…,” or “If his words remain in us…,” or “praying in his name.” Answered prayer is not a fulfillment of our will, but the fruit of abiding deeply in him and sharing a passion for his unfolding purpose.
- I don’t think I can do anything to make God give me what I think is best. Faith is neither convincing myself that what I want God wants, nor is it a tool to force God’s hand. Faith is the relational trust that allows me to walk through anything, knowing he will hold my heart, and give me the strength and wisdom I need. Eighty-four percent of the time, when someone did something by faith in Hebrews 11, their lives got more challenging or more uncomfortable. Their trust didn’t always help them get out of trouble but gave them the confidence to go through it.
- I don’t think it is fair nor fruitful for us to read through Scriptures and cherry-pick the outcomes we want in a specific situation, and try to employ our “faith” to get them. What’s most important in a situation is not what makes me happy, but what Father is doing here. How is his glory unfolding?
- Praying in faith means I engage God trusting that he is good and loving and that he knows the best of all possible outcomes for everyone involved. Faith is not something we generate internally but is the fruit of a growing relationship with him.
- A prayer of faith will never seek to enlist God’s power to violate someone else’s will. He doesn’t do it, even for himself.
- Praying in faith doesn’t rise out of desperation or fear, because it begins knowing that God can be trusted with everything. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk to God out of our desperation or fear, but that we wouldn’t want to assume the thing I think I need is really the thing I need.
- So, I will always pray for healing when asked, or when it is on my heart. I make requests of him and see what he does. He often surprises me. At other times, I have a sense of the outcome God desires and can pray with great persistence and perseverance until the answer unfolds. But I can also be wrong, and I can see that in the outcome itself. Unless God shows me, that we were thwarted in some way by darkness, and thus learn a lesson from it, I’ll see the outcome as either what Father had in mind, or what he is willing to use now for his glory. I don’t retreat into a guilt-induced introspection of what I might have done wrong, or if there was some block in my “faith” that failed God.
- I believe about 30% of the miracle stories I read in books or see on TV. I’ve been behind the scenes enough to know that TV is an illusion, and many so-called miracles are contrived or made up to “inspire” the audience. If the average person embellishes something God does to make it seem more spectacular than it was in the moment, how much more for those who are trying to grow their ministry. The danger is that it causes people to set their expectations at ridiculous levels and have to fight the frustration that God doesn’t do similar things for them.
- I have always held a hunger in my heart to see God’s power in more prolific ways than we see today. I think part of that has to do with how focused we are on our comfort and convenience and how little we hold God’s priorities in our hearts. I also realize miracles are miracles because they are not typical; they are the exceptional moments of God unveiling himself. I enjoy them when I’m around them, though I never demand them as if they are my choice.
- Living that way, I have seen some of those outrageous things happen and been thrilled when they do. I have also fought through the darkest tragedies and found amazing transformation in my heart as I did, without the supernatural intervention I had prayed for.
The prayer of faith is not what we’ve learned in performance-based religion. It isn’t a matter of earning God’s favor by our performance or trying to ingratiate ourselves to God to get his favor. It is the fruit of the growing awareness of God with me, working his glory into my corner of the world. He can work his triumph through apparent failures and has a plan that far exceeds mine. I love engaging him in the conversation that lets me see into that as far as my relationship today will allow me.
When I see him do something amazing in response to my prayer, I’m blown away with joy. When my greatest hopes go unfulfilled, I rest in the fact that his perspective far outweighs mine, and what might be glorious for his purpose will most often not be the thing I would first prefer. But looking back years later on so many “disappointed prayers” in my life, I can see that his purpose and plan for me exceeded anything I could see. Paul alerted us to that. When he moves differently than I want, I can trust that he is doing something exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything I could ask or even imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)
Anyway, that’s how I’m rolling with him these days.