Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Relationship of Prayer and Faith

I'm still grumpy about what I witnessed last night, and so I intend to devote a couple of posts to the subject of prayer, and why we don't always receive what we ask for. My aim here is to debunk the Word-Faith movement's doctrine of faith and prayer, in favour of the Biblical model.

In the world we live in, we are often faced with daunting circumstances. Our friends and family get sick. Problems arise at home and at work. Stress, injury, and fatigue take their toll on us. And in the face of these problems, the Bible calls us to prayer:

...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

So why do so many prayers seemingly go unanswered? We pray for sick people, and they still die – many good Christians among them. We pray for success in our endeavours, and they fail miserably. We pray for the salvation of our friends and family, and yet they continue in sin. Doesn’t God hear?

Many say that the reason prayers "fail" is because of a lack of faith on the part of either the person praying, or the person prayed for. Proponents of this view call on Biblical teachings about prayer for support:

"Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:23-24)

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. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." (Matthew 21:21-22)

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:13-16)

So, the first question we must ask is: Do prayers fail for lack of faith?

Yes – they can, and they do. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus, James and others talked of the importance of faith in prayer. James had this to say:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

Jesus did not perform many miracles in his hometown because of a lack of faith:

...and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?... And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54, 57-58)

Mark 6:5, in fact, says Jesus could not do miracles there because of the lack of faith.

(Now, it’s important to point out here that Jesus was not unable to perform miracles, as if the faith of others somehow grants Him power. That is a blasphemous notion - one of the many reasons why the Word-Faith philosophy is heretical. God is NOT dependent on us in any way, unlike what the Word-Faith preachers claim - look at Acts 17:25 for proof. No, Jesus could not reward a lack of faith with a miracle in this case, because it did not suit His purpose.)

The Old Testament also speaks of the importance of faith and trust in God to answer prayer. In 1 Chronicles 5:20, God answers the prayers of the Israelites because of their trust in him.

So does this mean that, like the Word-Faith teachers believe, we can have anything we want, if we have enough faith? Is it true that faith is all that’s required?

Word of Faith adherents, as well as metaphysical cults such as Christian Science, the Unity School of Christianity, and the Mind Sciences would all say yes. But is this a biblical view?

What about Paul? He grappled with a "thorn in the side" for years, begging God in prayer no less than three times to take this affliction away (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God refused to heal him – because His strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. That is to say, not only did it force Paul to rely more heavily on God, but it glorified God by showing His strength in supporting Paul through his trials.

Paul’s companions were by no means exempt from sickness. Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment that, presumably, had been prayed for but not yet healed; Paul prescribed wine for this condition! (1 Timothy 5:23) If faith were all that is required for healing (or any other answer of prayer) then why had the prayers of Paul, perhaps the greatest evangelist of the early church, or Timothy, clearly a man of great faith, been denied? Paul also mentions that he left Trophimus behind sick (2 Timothy 4:20) and mentions the sickness of Epaphroditus, who almost died! (Philippians 2:25-30) Surely a prayer with sufficient faith would have prevented the disease from reaching that point, would it not?

Or consider the following examples from Matthew 26:

And going a little farther [Jesus] fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will..." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done..." So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (39, 42, 44)

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:35-36)

Here our Lord is praying to the Father to spare Him the suffering He was to undergo, if it were possible. Of all examples, our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God and God incarnate, Jesus Christ, surely would have been granted His wish – IF faith was all that was required. Who could have perfect faith, if not God Himself? Jesus could have had no less than complete faith in His Father. But God clearly said "no"; Jesus went to the Cross in accordance with His Father’s will.

So, it has been clearly demonstrated that Biblically speaking, "having enough faith" is by no means a guarantee for receiving what we ask for in prayer. God can and will say "no." He is sovereign - meaning, He owns all of Creation and may do what He pleases with it. And this is the very heart of the matter.

The Word-Faith movement would deny God His sovereign right to say no. Just read some of their literature - it's full of "claims" and "demands," declarations that they are entitled to things. But the only thing God owes to any human being, save His own Incarnated Son, is wrath and punishment.

Remember that. When you pray, ask God for things in all humility and thankfulness for the blessings you have already received. NEVER claim or demand, in the blasphemous manner of the Word-Faith movement. Yes, we can approach His throne with confidence - but that is no warrant for such impertinence. Biblical faith, in prayer, is a trust in God to answer according to His will, belief that Jesus' sacrifice has entitled us believers to approach God directly in prayer, and confidence in His power to grant our request - should He so choose.


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