“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24, ESV).
These verses cause modern pray-ers all kinds of problems. We pray for something and it doesn’t happen, perhaps the healing of an illness, the finding of a job, the salvation of a friend. Then either we start to beat ourselves up for lack of faith, we think prayer is broken, or we think God doesn’t care. In any event, we often simply quit praying. The real problem is we don’t actually understand the point of these verses.
We think they simply mean if we believe something strongly enough, God will do it for us. Some have erroneously taken this to the extreme of teaching the “name it and claim it,” saying we can name that we will have one million dollars and claim it to be so if we have faith.
What do these passages mean within the biblical context? Do not forget Romans 10:17. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ESV). Faith is not simply belief within a vacuum. The biblical faith is one based on the testimony of scripture. We are not told if we simply think something is going to happen, God will do it. Rather, when we can pray with the full faith and credit of God’s promise in His word, then we can know we will have it.
Consider one of the great examples. James 5:17-18 tells of Elijah praying that the rain would stop and then praying again that it would start. This is not an example of a man simply asking for something. Rather, he prayed this in faith based on God’s word. Read God’s promise in Deuteronomy 11:16-17: “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you.”
Elijah did not pray this because it was something he thought up willy-nilly. Elijah prayed this based on God’s promise. Elijah could pray this in faith because he knew and believed God’s word.
When we pray with the backing of God’s Word, we can pray in faith. Of course, this brings up one of the greatest mistakes we have with prayer. Some who are reading this are upset and saying, “What’s the point of praying if it is to be about God’s will?” Sadly, too many Christians mistakenly believe prayer is the means to bend God to our will. That is not so. Prayer is the means we are broken to God’s will. Only when our will is broken in favor of His will can our prayers be effective and prayed in faith. Let’s work on that this week.