And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 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….”
I have a friend who believes that, because of verses like this in the Bible:
if you get sick, you don’t have enough faith
if you get frail as you get older, you don’t have enough faith
And I haven’t talked to him about this, but I’m pretty sure he’d say…
if you are financially in trouble, you don’t have enough faith either.
Basically, if anything goes wrong in your life, it can be fixed with a word of prayer and FAITH.
And while I don’t agree with everything he says, he’s right at least in this respect: This passage we are looking at begins with “Have faith in God” and we don’t.
We don't have enough faith.
WE LACK FAITH IN WHO WE PRAY TO.
First of all, we need faith in God’s Son.
If you're a supervisor at the place where you work, you're probably looking after a number of people. And whenever one of those people has a request or question for the company, they'll come to you, because you are in contact with the boss, you know the boss fairly well and you're in the sort of position in the company where you can track down answers.
Now, these people don’t have to come to you. They can go directly to the boss themselves and get an answer, but because you know the boss and the boss has a degree of trust in you, you can ring and the boss will answer. You will likely be able to get a quicker and more positive response than other people.
If that's you, how did you get to that point? Well, maybe you’ve been with the company a while. You’ve shown you're able to handle responsibility, you’ve been faithful and worked well, and you’ve also shown you're willing to do what you can to help the company succeed. In other words, you’ve earned it.
Now, there will be other employees who’ve been there a while as well, and they have not been asked to be supervisors. They may be okay workers, but they don’t show initiative, or they don’t handle responsibility well, or maybe they don’t turn up on time or have too many absentee days. One guy might have been caught stealing TV’s from your clients and ended up out of a job and in jail. Needless to say, he wouldn't be asked to be a supervisor.
When it comes to God, however, he wants all of us to be “supervisors”. He wants us to be in a position where we can ask and receive from him because we know him and we are in contact with him. But our problem is that we are like a guy who stole the TV’s. We haven’t earned it. Instead, we’ve earned rejection. So, God sent Jesus to live the life we should have lived, and die the death we should have died. In other words, Jesus earned the right to a “supervisor’s position” and yet he’s taken the sacking and jail sentence, and left us secure in our job and promoted to supervisor because of his work and reputation!
But some of you don’t realize that. You don’t realize that when Jesus says, “You are forgiven because I have taken your punishment for you”, he means you! And that when Jesus says, “You are a son or daughter of God because of the life I’ve lived and the good I’ve done”, he means you! No wonder you have doubts when you pray!
Now, yes, God does at times answer prayers of people who do not believe Jesus died for their sins, but for many of you, he is not answering prayers you make to him because he wants you realize that you need to come through Jesus. Do that now. Recognise and admit to God that - by your life - you have sabotaged any chance of having a positive relationship through him and ask for forgiveness because of what Jesus has done. And if you can recognize that Jesus’ death and resurrection applies to you, thank God for that.
WE LACK FAITH IN GOD'S POWER.
The second area we lack faith is in God’s power.
The passage in the Bible we are looking at is Jesus’ answer to his disciples (friends) who had seen Jesus make a fig tree wither overnight merely by cursing it.
That doesn’t happen.
Jesus’ disciples and you and I are so used to living in a world where we see things happen naturally, with natural explanations and never the unexpected will happen, that we allow this to limit our view of God. We like to say, “God, whether you heal him through miraculous means or through the doctors, please heal him,” which is a good prayer and true, but it often also hides a lack of faith in God’s power. I’m not saying don’t go to the doctor – God has provided doctors. It’s just that we are so used to doctors that we don’t really believe that God can heal anymore.
A past principal of the Bible College I attended in NZ, Paul Windsor, says this:
My mind goes back to the conversation a friend of mine recently had with a Christian leader visiting NZ. It was this person's first trip outside their country. They are from a country known all around the world for its oppression and cruelty. It is often in the headlines. A place where it is very tough to be a Christian.
My friend asked, "What are your impressions of Christians in NZ?" Being a guest in our country this person would not comment. It would be improper. My friend kept pressing and pressing... I think he knew that first impressions are usually the biggest blindspot-exposers of all. If only he could draw an honest comment, it had the possibility of being a prophetic one.
Finally this guest in our country relented.
"Here in NZ Christians depend on their cheque books and their property. In my country we depend on God."
Just across the Tasman, we are just the same. We don’t need God to move in power. We have hospitals. We have welfare. We have a police force and laws that are enforced. We have TV and movies and alcohol and fishing trips and entertainment to help fill the void inside of us and push back any discomfort or dissatisfaction we might feel. We don’t need God to move in power.
And so when we pray, actually seeing God move and do things is so foreign to us that it’s just easier to not believe. In fact, sometimes prayer just seems silly.
But if we believe God raised Jesus from the dead and is going to recreate heaven and earth because of him, then you can’t afford to doubt his power.
We need to put ourselves in situations where we need God. There are situations in your life right now where you are being prompted by the Holy Spirit to do something, but you are reluctant to do it because you are afraid. Do it.
WE LACK FAITH IN GOD'S LOVE.
[Spurgeon in pain. Asked people to leave room. Prayed to God, “If I knew one of my sons was in this much pain, I would do whatever I could to relieve him of it. Please, take away this pain.” And God did.]
The third reason we don’t have enough faith is that we don’t believe that God is LOVING. And we might have some very good reasons to say that.
“I’ve prayed for years for my illness to be healed, and nothing’s happened”.
“I’ve believed God would answer my prayers in the past, but he didn’t.”
“If God really loved me, he wouldn’t have let all those terrible things happen to me”.
“God’s not loving. He’s had me in a dead end job all my life. Where are my riches?”
A lack of faith in God’s love for us is behind that phrase: “God can do it if he wants to; but he probably won’t do it.”
Listen, instead, to what the Jesus says elsewhere in the Bible:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? (Matt 7:7-10)
It sounds so good, but we are so slow to accept that God is like a loving father who wants to bless us. We are afraid of being let down. And that is because we’ve been taught in our culture that God is loving only if we’ve got him in our pocket. God is loving only if he does what we want him to do. But, as any counselor will tell you, love that never says “no” is an unhealthy love.
I won’t pretend to know why you might be struggling to believe the love of God, but if you are looking to non-stop answered prayer to tell you if God loves you or not, you are looking in the wrong place. Instead, look at the cross of Jesus.
There are reasons why God does not answer some prayers, and I can’t tell you what they are most of the time. But the God who has given so much already to buy you for himself, certainly loves you enough to want to bless you when you ask him for things.
WE NEED FAITH IN WHAT WE PRAY FOR.
So, I agree with my friend that we don’t have enough faith in God, but I disagree with him when he says if we had enough faith, all our prayers would be answered. Whatever else Jesus meant when he said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” he was not saying that prayer is like a coke machine – as long as you put in the right amount of faith, answered prayer comes out the bottom. It can’t mean that, because the people he was talking to when he said the things in these verses didn’t live like that!
This is what I mean. A few years after this, both Peter and James, two of the original people who heard this teaching of Jesus about prayer, were jailed for telling people that Jesus had died and risen again to forgive people their wrongdoings. James was killed; God miraculously sprung Peter from jail.
Did James not have the right change to put in the faith slot of the prayer machine whereas Peter did? No!
Or take another example. Every single one of the group of disciples who were with Jesus when he taught this were eventually killed by the authorities – all, according to tradition, except John. What was their problem? Didn’t they have enough faith to escape? And what about John? Didn’t he have enough faith to avoid death by old age?
And then there’s Paul, one of the greatest followers of Jesus that ever lived. Paul had what he called a “thorn in his flesh” and he wrote explicitly in the Bible that he prayed three times that God would take this thorn away, but God told him, “No”. What was the matter? Didn’t he have enough faith? That's not why God said “No”.
So, what was Jesus trying to say?
We need faith in line with God’s will.
1 John 5:14-15 says: 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward 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 that we have asked of him.
Let’s look at what led up to Jesus’ teaching on prayer.
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
And then (and this is important) Jesus went into the Temple where the Jewish people worshipped God and cleaned the temple court area of the market stalls the Jewish people had set up there, turning over tables and chairs and driving out people who bought and sold, saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them,…
The teaching of Jesus on prayer that we are looking at came from the cursing of the fig tree. Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? So he could teach his disciples about faith? No. If he wanted to teach about faith, he could have just prayed that the fig tree immediately bore fruit. No, the cursing of the fig tree was a God-ordained action. God the Father planned it to be a teaching point for the Jewish people. The Jewish nation had been given everything from God they needed to “bear fruit” – in other words, be the people God intended them to be – but they had cheapened God’s house of prayer and angered him by their injustices and evil and were in danger of being cursed like the fig tree.
So, when Jesus looked at the fig tree he was given the faith that this tree would never bear fruit again, and spoke that out. He wasn’t given the faith to believe it would suddenly bear the fruit he was hungry for. There was a specific line of action he knew was in line with God’s will, and he took it.
And when Peter drew attention to what Jesus had done to the fig tree, Jesus used that situation to teach about prayer and faith:
“Have faith in God. 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….”
[Teaching job at a Primary School. Vision. Had inexplicable faith that I'd get the job. Gave in CV half an hour before deadline. Principal showed me a box full of applications and basically told me not to expect to get the job. Next morning rang me up for an interview and gave me the job on the spot.]
This is not just what I say about this verse. Paul, who wrote a good part of the New Testament, said this in 1 Cor 13:1-2 some years later:
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
Paul’s using hyperbole. He’s trying to say, “I might be amazingly gifted, more gifted than anyone else, speaking in the languages of angels, understanding everything and having all faithso as to remove mountains, but if I don’t have love, I am nothing.”
In other words, faith that moves mountains is faith that is up there. That sort of faith truly is a gift from God, given in certain situations in accordance with what God wants you to do.
HOW WE PRAY IN FAITH.
Insofar as we know the will of God, we can have faith in prayer and receive what we ask for. But instead of using that as a cop out and refusing to pray in faith, we are able to figure out what God’s will is to a point where we can pray in faith.
How do we do that? Three main ways.
Read the Bible.
Romans 12:2 says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are to try and figure out what God’s will is, and a major way we do that is to read the Bible.
We know from the Bible that God has a plan to redeem this world. He wants people to come to accept his Son as Lord and God and restore all brokenness and sinfulness to better than it’s original form. So, we can pray for that to happen.
We know from the Bible that God wants to relieve suffering. We don’t always understand his will in a particular situation, but we can pray, knowing that he is sympathetic to relieving suffering.
We know from the Bible that God wants to save many people, including people in Cairns. We can pray that he will bring people to a true knowledge of their sin and that they will find salvation in Jesus because we know it’s his will.
We know from the Bible that God is like a Father desiring to give good gifts to his children. So, even though there are no guarantees, we can ask him for anything.
But note that in Romans 12:2, finding out God’s will is a process. As we continue to read the Bible and live the Christian life, we come to know God better and understand what his will is. So, for those of you thinking you might have stumbled on a divine get-rich-quick scheme, let me share something I’ve learned. God is very much like a loving parent who is more interested in your character development than your comfort. That means he’ll often give you vegetables when you want ice cream. But because he’s a loving parent who wants you to be comfortable, it also means that if there’s no reason not to, he will give you ice cream.
Put yourself in situations where you need God.
[John Wimber – James passage about elders praying over sick people. Prayed for 1 year – no results. Finally, a man with cancer asked for prayer. Wimber didn’t have any faith. Prayed, and began to explain why God doesn’t always answer prayer when man and his wife stopped him. The man was healed.]
Most of us wait until we’re in trouble to put ourselves in a situation where we need him. But our lives are meant to be lives of risk. John Wimber and elders put themselves in that sort of situation by letting people know they would pray for them.
Take a risk and start talking to someone you don’t know about Jesus. (Or maybe someone you do know).
Most of us who know Jesus also know the prompting of his Holy Spirit. Follow it up, even if it looks like you might fall flat on your face. What’s the worst that can happen?
Prayer is not like a coke machine. It’s talking to someone – God. So, if you have believed that Jesus’ death and resurrection applies to you, you can talk to him and experience him through his Spirit. You can ask him for something and get it wrong. You can learn to hear him talking to you, not just through the Bible, but through his Spirit.
All of this takes time and practice, and you might get things terribly wrong. But if you believe God is real, that he is loving and powerful and that Jesus’ has died and forgiven your sins and given you access to the almighty Father, then he’ll guide you and pick you up and grow you into a real man or woman of risk-taking faith in prayer.
So let’s do it!
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.