††††††††††† Once upon a time there was a man who decided to test the power of prayer.

††††††††††† He had read Matthew 17:20 where Jesus said, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move".

††††††††††† Now a mountain just happened to be visible from the man's back yard and he decided to make it move by prayer.

††††††††††† He picked a night for the feat and prayed all night long. He bore down and strained till his face turned red as he prayed. He shouted and screamed and agonized. He wrestled. He visualized the mountain as already moved. He reminded God of the verse in Matthew. He thanked God beforehand for the feat. He exerted himself. He urged God. He wheedled God. He commanded the mountain to move.

††††††††††† Morning dawned.

††††††††††† The exhausted man stumbled into his back yard to see if the mountain reallyhad moved. A wonder lay before his eyes!

††††††††††† The mountain still stood where it always had -- but miraculously, there in the back yard had appeared a brand new wheelbarrow and a shovel!

††††††††††† Much as we'd like to believe otherwise, while God does sometimes perform miracles, he does not do tricks.

††††††††††† I used to think that if only I had faith, if only I could bear down and believe hard enough, then God had to do what I wanted.

††††††††††† Nonsense.

††††††††††† I can't control God.

††††††††††† Faith is something different from that childish attempt at magic; even faith does not allow people to control and manipulate God. He is not our sheep; we are his.

What is faith?

††††††††††† The Bible defines faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

††††††††††† Faith is the substance of hope: it is what hope is made of, hope's material, hope's reality.

††††††††††† Boy, do we ever need hope. A sign in the copier room at the University of North Florida announces:




††††††††††† Faith gives hope.

††††††††††† Faith is also evidence.

††††††††††† In a trial, evidence is any thing that furnishes proof about something which the jury has not seen in person. We know Joe handled the gun because even though nobody saw him, he left the evidence of his fingerprints.

††††††††††† We have solid hope when we see God's fingerprints on a matter.

††††††††††† As the NIV translates Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see".

††††††††††† This is a far cry from trying to make ourselves believe something which we doubt -- that's not faith but wishful thinking.

††††††††††† You may not have moved a single mountain this week (has anyone ever), but you do have more real faith than you think you do.

What did Jesus say about faith and prayer?

††††††††††† Keep in mind that faith is evidence for hope's substance as we look at some Scriptures which relate faith and prayer:

††††††††††† The morning after Jesus withered the barren fig tree, he told his disciples, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer".

-- Matthew 21:21-22 NIV

††††††††††† Mark elaborates on this teaching in his Gospel:

††††††††††† "Have faith in God... I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins".-- Mark 11:22ff NIV

How did James know about me?

††††††††††† And sometimes I wonder if the Apostle James did not have my prayer life in mind when he said, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

-- James 1:5-8 NIV

A frustrated Dad

††††††††††† The link between faith and prayer runs all through the New Testament but, as the father of six children, the one that I can identify with most personallyoccurs in Edward Vernon's translation, Gospel of St. Mark. At the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration a man who's just worried sick comes to Jesus and says:

††††††††††† "Sir, it is my boy here. I was bringing him to you. Some evil spirit is making him dumb. When it attacks him, it seizes him and throws him to the ground; and his teeth grind together and his lips become covered with foam. His whole body becomes stiff and lifeless. I asked your men to drive out the evil spirit, but they could do nothing."

††††††††††† "What a people you are!" said Jesus. "Always more ready to believe evil things than in the Loving God. How long shall I have to be with you before you believe in God? How long shall I need to be patient with you? Bring the boy here."

††††††††††† They brought the boy to Him, but as soon as the boy set eyes on Jesus the evil spirit rose in a frenzy within him and threw him on the ground, rolling over and over and foaming at the mouth. Jesus turned to the father. "How long has this been going on?"

††††††††††† "Ever since he was quite small," the father replied. "It even throws him into the fire, or into deep water, as if trying to burn him or drown him. Oh, Sir! If you can do anything for him, take pity on his mother and myself, and help us!"

††††††††††† "If I can do anything for him -- do you say? Anything can be done for one who believes in God."

††††††††††† "But I do believe in God, honestly I do," the father cried. "Do something to help me believe still more."

††††††††††† Jesus glanced around him. The crowd was growing larger every minute, so without more delay He spoke sharply to the evil spirit:

††††††††††† "You deaf and dumb spirit, it is I who am commanding you. Come out of him at once, and stay out!"

††††††††††† The thing shrieked within the boy; it twisted him and threw him about in one last torture, and then -- out it came!... The boy lay still and pale as a corpse. Everyone thought that he was dead. "He has died," they whispered. But Jesus, bending down, took his hand and lifted him to his feet and the boy stood up.

††††††††††† When they came to their lodging later in the day, the Twelve asked Jesus privately why they had been so helpless in driving out the evil spirit. Jesus replied, "There is only one way of mastering things like that -- and that is the way of prayer."

-- Mark 9: 14-29 Vernon

Reading that passage always gives me the shivers.

††††††††††† One of the biggest fears I have as a father is that someone in my family might get sick and I don't have hospitalization or any resources to help them. And one of the biggest fears I have as a Christian is that, while I do believe, I don't really believe enough when the chips are really down. I worry that I don't see the answers to prayer that I want to see because I don't have enough faith. So for me, this passage from Mark addresses these fears.

††††††††††† The boy at the foot of the hill was in bad shape; his father had already taken him to the top healers in the country and even in the presence of Jesus the kid was still throwing a fit.

††††††††††† Helpless. That's how this father felt. I can sure identify with him. Poor slob had already done everything he knew of to do. He had no resources left.

††††††††††† He wasn't even too sure that Jesus could help.

††††††††††† Faith is the substance of hope -- even in the stark reality of our own helplessness. By coming to Jesus with a helpless situation, you are already exercising faith! You would not be praying in the first place if you did not already have faith -- But faith does not eliminate all questions.

††††††††††† This father questioned. The guy really wondered what was going on? Why is this happening to me? Why my little boy?

††††††††††† The distraught man questioned, "If you can do anything, take pity on his mother and myself and help us.'

††††††††††† "'If I can?' said Jesus. 'Everything is possible for him who believes.'

††††††††††† Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!' Boy, I sure can identify with this guy!

Questions in prayer focus faith; they do not deny it.

††††††††††† Questions and responses show that a conversation between two people is taking place. The prayer of faith is not an incantation to control God.

††††††††††† You don't ask the wall questions -- you address questions toa person.

††††††††††† Herein is a key fact concerning prayer: We do not pray about stuff, we pray to a person!

††††††††††† If you were not exercising faith, you would not be asking questions.

††††††††††† To me it's interesting to note that this dad did not offered God any suggestions about how to handle the situation. That's a temptation I often face; I have a tendency to tell him not only what I think is wrong but also how to fix it. The Lord ignores my advise in a surprising number of instances.

††††††††††† Archbishop Fenelon said, "Can we better glorify God than by renouncing ourselves and our own will and letting Him do according to his good pleasure... To wish to serve Him in one place rather than another, by such and such a way, and not by the opposite one, is to wish to serve Him in our own way, and not in His."

††††††††††† The prayer of tenuous faith in this biblical example show us that the dad prayed telling God about what he lacked. He did not demand that God act according to his own personal preconceived solution. This father knew what he wanted and heknew who to ask. And he trusted God to work out the how.

Faith relates not to a thing, feeling or event but to a Person.

††††††††††† You see, faith in prayer is faith in a Person, not in a series of events. The father and mother in this story did not have any idea how to solve their problem.

††††††††††† Helpless, they sought him who is the Help of the Helpless.

††††††††††† Not knowing the answers, they questioned the right Person.

††††††††††† Confused and unsure of themselves, they turned to the One who is trustworthy.

††††††††††† Faith in prayer is not a feeling you work up about a situation or event; faith in prayer is an expression of that you have seen some evidence that there is Someone who gives you hope.

††††††††††† Faith is not gritting your teeth to believe something good about a bad situation; faith can well be our tearful smile welcoming Jesus into the midst of our losing battles against overwhelming odds, our blindness, our convulsions.

††††††††††† Faith in prayer is not a tool to pry favors out of a reluctant God who is trying to hold off doing good for you as long as possible. Faith does not rest in our request, in our wrestling, or even in the result we envision: Faith is always in the Person, not the thing.

††††††††††† Let me say it again: Efficacious faith in prayer always relates to the person we pray to, not to the things we pray for.

††††††††††† Sounds like I've gone to preaching at you again. For a tape of today's message send $19.95 to....

Faith enough to move a minivan

††††††††††† Here's a recent example of how faith "worked" -- or didn't work -- in prayer for me and my wife:

††††††††††† Like most parents we spend a lot of time driving kids around to this and that, scout meetings, piano lessons, concerts, youth meetings, museum classes, bus trips, etc. In fact we think a father can be defined as a guy who hangs around dark parking lots at night; I think that like most fathers I have spent half my life in some parking lot waiting for some kid to get out of a class. Anyhow, to help with all this driving, for years my wife and I have prayed almost daily for a minivan.

††††††††††† And we believed that God was going to help us get a minivan. We were sure of it. We expected it. We were so confident of this that we drove to a dealer and priced minivans and decided which one we were going to buy.

††††††††††† To describe in detail what happened next would be like giving a bubble by bubble account of the Titanic's sinking, but in brief...

††††††††††† I lost my job. A job prospect Ginny had evaporated. The IRS applied our anticipated tax refund to a previous year's bill. An in-the-pocket book contract failed. An expected check stayed expected. And within weeks our bank account dropped to $1.77 total balance!

††††††††††† We ended up with no minivan, no money, and no prospects of getting either one to this very day.

So what happened to our faith?

††††††††††† Oddly enough, nothing.

††††††††††† Yes, we did feel hurt and confused and scared. And we questioned. Why had God lead us to believe that we were getting out of our financial hole? Why had he let us feel such solid confidence that we could get that minivan we'd prayed for so long? Why did he let us waste so much time visiting dealers and pricing minivans if he were not going to let us buy one? Those were our questions and doubts on one level.

††††††††††† But on another level, from the very first time we'd prayed for a minivan years ago, our faith was not in a minivan. Our faith was not even that God would give us a minivan. Our faith was in God -- raw God. And our faith on that level was not disappointed.

Does what, I just said make any sense?

††††††††††† Maybe a biblical example will show faith better:

††††††††††† In the Book of Romans, St. Paul emphasizes that Abraham's faith, not Abraham's keeping rules, saved him. "Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness." Now the specific occasion was that God told Abraham that even though he was about 100 years old, he would father a baby with Sarah, who was no spring chicken herself.

††††††††††† But St. Paul does not say, Abraham believed he'd get Sarah pregnant (the specific occasion). He does say, "Abraham believed God" -- Romans 4:3

††††††††††† The person of God was the object of Abraham's faith; the specific occasion was important, but almost incidental.

††††††††††† Later, Paul says that Abraham "is our father in the sight of God, in that he believed the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were."-- Romans 4:17 NIV

††††††††††† Over and over, the New Testament emphasizes that faith is a gift of God; it is not something we work up of ourselves.

††††††††††† St. Paul says, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."-- Romans 10:17 NIV

What message? What word?

††††††††††† Paul explained it at -- confusing --length, so let's try to follow his reasoning carefully. Here goes:

††††††††††† "Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: 'The man who does these things will live by them.' But the righteousness that is by faith says: 'Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is to bring Christ down) or 'Who will descend into the deep' (that is to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."-- Romans 10:5-10 NIV

††††††††††† Say what?

††††††††††† I think all that means that Jesus Christ is Lord. He returned from the dead. He lives now and makes intercession for us at the right hand of God.

††††††††††† This is the message.

††††††††††† This is the word of Christ.

††††††††††† Faith comes from hearing that Christ died and rose from death. These facts generate faith.

††††††††††† If, when we pray, we are talking with the Resurrected Christ, the Lord of Life, the Victor over our biggest dilemma -- death, the Person of our prayers, then the immediate specific material thing or problem we are talking with him about while still very important to us -- a minivan, overwhelming enemies, our own physical condition, even foaming convulsions in someone we love -- these things become manageable because Life Himself listens to our prayer.

††††††††††† That is the substance of our hope, the evidence for our expectations in prayer.

††††††††††† Our faith is based on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness; he arose.

††††††††††† Why else would we pray to him?

OK, I have faith. So what?

††††††††††† I believe in the person of Jesus. I believe he is the Creator come to earth, the Son of God who died for our sins and rose from the dead.

††††††††††† I believe the Person -- Lord, help my unbelief -- but I still have a problems with the specifics.

††††††††††† The things I pray about are vital to me. I don't want warm fuzzy faith feelings. I want a minivan. I want concrete answers. I want solutions to my problems. I want answers.These things are necessary to my life...

††††††††††† Or are they?

††††††††††† St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Other than God himself, there is no such thing as a necessity of life."

††††††††††† What did he know! He was a saint for goodness sake! Saints don't need money, do they?

††††††††††† He didn't have kids.

††††††††††† He didn't need a minivan.

††††††††††† I do.

††††††††††† From the Scriptures, it sure looks to me as though Jesus promised specific answers to specific prayers; so maybe the cause for unanswered prayers lies in some other direction that we haven't thought about yet.

††††††††††† Let's keep looking. Say, here's an idea! I'll bet I know what the problem is -- maybe the reason my prayer is not answered is because somebody else is praying that it won't be

You have been reading Chapter Ten of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart (IVP, 1993)

Click here for Chapter Eleven


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