Bible Study Tools / Prayer

Are Your Prayers Lacking Faith?

by UNC Contributor
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

We are frequently asked to pray for individuals who are suffering through various sicknesses or trials. However, quite often our prayers do not seem to produce any change or any apparent positive result. This may raise all kinds of questions in our minds regarding our faith or another person’s faith. We may also wonder if some unknown sin was a barrier or whether we were not praying fervently enough.

Even though we realize God is in control of the situation, we can totally miss the point of a trial or suffering. The outcome we want is not necessarily the same as the outcome God wants. The trial or suffering can actually be a blessing in disguise, even though we may be unwilling to see it or admit it.

Differing Perspectives

Recently my father was going through a serious illness that lasted several months before he died. While he was going through the sickness that also had him hospitalized, some of my friends from widely differing Christian backgrounds and beliefs (certainly different from those of the United Church of God) had other points of view on this trial than I had.

Even though I did not want to see my father die, I never did pray for my father’s healing but asked that God’s will be done (Matthew 26:42). I did not submit a prayer request to the Church (my father was not part of the Church). I have prayed in the past for other health and personal situations and have prayed for other people before, and I did on occasion witness miraculous results. However, in this situation with my father I felt differently. I realized that everyone must die even though there is pain associated with death for everyone affected. I was quite broken up when he did die, even though I anticipated that it was going to be the likely outcome.

Some of my friends had a totally different perspective on this situation based on their Christian understanding. They would talk to me or send me information on faith including how to build it and on how miracles are possible. They would send me inspiring stories and tried to emphasize how we can change circumstances if we only believe. They offered to get other people to pray for my father or even solicit prayers through their own various church circles. They offered to light candles or establish vigils within their church organizations. At times they may have felt that I was insensitive or sceptical about the power of God or did not care about my father.

Their efforts at times did make me feel guilty and embarrassed, because I was doing much less. It did cause me to question my own faith, yet I could not really see a reason to do more. I wondered whether I was perhaps being too detached from the situation. I sometimes felt guilty because I was perhaps not pushing the matter in a godly sense to a positive resolution, a resolution that was defined by everyone around me as the healing of my father.

However, as I thought about the matter more closely, it eventually did bring home a problem that many people have regarding prayer.

Setting Oneself Up for Failure

Success in prayer has often been defined as getting the petition one asks for. It could involve a healing, deliverance from a trial, or receiving a blessing. However, we have to be very careful when we define success in those terms. God is all-powerful and can easily solve a problem or provide deliverance. But is that really what our Christian lives are all about? The prayer of Christians is for God’s will to be done. God’s answer is often “wait” and sometimes “no.”

In the ancient world, pagan civilizations had gods established for all sorts of purposes, even though they were not truly gods (Jeremiah 16:20). Human beings were sometimes portrayed as playthings subject to the whims of the gods—as we see, for example, in the stories of Greek mythology. The people would solicit the gods to do what they wanted, or the people would do things for the gods in order to avoid some form of punishment. The relationship was at times even adversarial, as the goals and aims of the people were considered contrary to that of the gods.

One of the consequences of viewing the gods the way they did is that it simplified the relationship between the godly realm and man. People hoped or expected a certain outcome if they did their part to successfully serve, appease or solicit the god. In the world of these gods, it also enabled the people to anticipate a predictable and reliable result that aligned well with human logic, desire and reasoning.

Unfortunately many of these ideas may still be with some us today in various forms and often within various religions, including mainstream Christianity. These views of the gods have often been transferred to the great God of the universe. Sometimes we may feel we need to push God or otherwise He will not care or notice or even punish us. But God is totally different from any pagan god (Isaiah 45:6, 9-10).

Too often humans fail to note that one of the missing characteristics of these ancient gods is HOLINESS. God, on the other hand, is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 99:5, 9; Revelation 4:8). That shows a totally righteous and noble purpose to everything God does and allows, even when He is dealing with us, that is totally contrary to the characteristics of any pagan god.

When we realize that God has a very high purpose for mankind (Job 7:17-18; Psalm 8:4; 144:3; Hebrews 2:6) and especially for those in the Church (Hebrews 2:3), it brings the matter of suffering and trial into a totally new dimension.

The apostles in their writings made very important remarks about trials and suffering that even some Christians prefer to ignore because hardships are so unpleasant to think about. (We want our personal situation to be different.) We are told to rejoice in trials and suffering because God is producing a great work in us (James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 4:13). We are told to be thankful in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Christ also set the example of what we are to face through suffering (Hebrews 2:10; 5:8; 1 Peter 2:21). But from a human perspective, we instead want to always be secure and comfortable. We forget that this also often leads to a poor spiritual condition (Revelation 3:17). Perhaps we are perplexed when we encounter some sort of hardship, forgetting what the Christian life involves (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 4:12). The apostles never had it easy, even suffering for the Church’s behalf (Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 2:10); and most of them were martyred. But the negative things that happened to the apostles did not sway them from viewing what was taking place in their lives as beneficial (Acts 5:41). Our relationship with God and our view of how He is dealing with us should always be positive, even though at times our life can be painful (1 Peter 4:16).

The world also endures trials and sufferings, but they can be due to a variety of factors, including sin (Romans 8:22). God is dealing with the world differently than He does with the Church. He wants Christians to be distinct and separate (Acts 2:40; 1 Peter 2:9-11).

When you define success the wrong way, then a number of negative reactions and conclusions may arise:

Some may conclude that prayer and faith do not work. Your mind can start to keep score on all of the people who have not been helped or delivered, and these can become labeled as examples where “God let us down.” It begins to build scepticism regarding the existence and power of Almighty God, when the truth is that we had a very wrong premise to start with.

Some may feel that they “did not lobby” God enough. In our world, if enough people express their opinion or exert their influence on a politician, then likely a law or policy will be changed. Unfortunately some may take the same view of God—that the more we pray for a situation, the more likely we are to get the outcome we want. But we should not view God in this way, even though God does want us to be persistent (Luke 18:1-8).

Some may feel they need to defend God. When the impending result is not what everyone wanted or expected, some may try to redefine and restate everything that occurred and even defend God. But God needs no defence, for His Word stands (Numbers 23:19; John 10:35; 2 Corinthians 1:20). Given the perfection of Almighty God (Matthew 5:48), our analysis should not focus on whether God kept His word, but rather whether we made some wrong assumptions in its application and expected fulfillment.

I am not saying that one should therefore be fatalistic. I believe in miracles and have had dramatic miracles in my life that could only be explained by the existence of God. But on the other hand, there are times when I expect God to be totally “invisible” because a greater purpose is going on. There is a time for miracles and a time for none. We destroy faith if we focus on the wrong measure of success. We should not think that being “full of faith” means that we will get 100 percent of our prayers answered the way we want them to be. Only He has all the facts. Only He knows what is best and when it is best.

We Need to Define Success as God Defines It

Too often we adopt the world’s view on an issue. The world may often define success as having health, money, status, multiple possessions and long life. We need to define success differently since this is not the way God would define it. Our main concern, for example, should not be whether we live a long life but whether our Christian life has been a success and whether we have done all we could to make that possible. Christ prayed to be delivered from His trial of crucifixion (Matthew 26:39, 42); but ironically, had this happened it would have made Christ a failure and would have produced bad consequences for all of us.

Those of us who have been called to be Christians have an indirect obligation and responsibility to endure in this life and to prepare to rule with Jesus Christ in the next life (2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:3; 4:5; James 5:11; 1 Peter 2:20; Revelation 2:26; 3:12, 21; 21:7). God’s process and methodology is often outside of our individual mental capabilities to truly comprehend, but God knows what He is doing in shaping and teaching us (Psalm 119:75-77; Proverbs 17:3; Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 4:12; Hebrews 12:5-6). We understand our duties to overcome sin and to develop godly character (2 Peter 3:18). But the complete path is not clear to us, for we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), which also implies that we often cannot see the full picture at all. Unfortunately, we often keep defining success from our perspective and not God’s.

When you have the right focus on what constitutes success, then your faith should be strengthened and not diminished (Romans 8:18; Hebrews 2:10). We should still pray and ask God to answer our petitions; but if we do not receive the responses we want, we should realize that something much more important is taking place. Our faith should therefore become stronger.

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