I have spent a lot of years of my life – more than I would like to admit – praying for things the "old fashioned" way.
It was all very impressive, I'm sure. Great articulation. Plenty of emotion. Even weeping and wailing at times. If they had an American Idol for pray-ers, I would have had a shot at the gold.
The only problem was that I didn’t have a whole lot to show for it, except maybe sore knees. Very few real answers came down the pike, just a lot of spiritualizing on my part. Heaven seemed to increasingly take on the timbre of brass. My faith waned, my overcoming power faded, and my walk dwindled to near-nothing.
Looking back on it now, I would venture a guess that the reason the whole enterprise collapsed under its own weight is because this emphatically was not the way Jesus taught us to pray for our needs.
The prayer of faith
Indeed, Jesus gives a radical formula for the prayer of supplication, one indicative of a different relationship with God than anything before.
And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God.
“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.
“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
[“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”] - Mk 11:22-26
There are several requirements in this instruction, and they point to some startling presuppositions. Let's take a look at them.
Faith in god
First, we are told to have faith in God. Immediately our attention is turned away from the law, and from both the condemnation it brings to sinners and the pride it brings to hypocrites. All that self-focus is no good. We are not to have faith in ourselves, and we are not to beat our breasts, thinking that getting prayers answered depends on our perfectly keeping rules and regulations.
Instead we are to focus on our unchanging God. We are to live our prayer out at a higher relational level altogether, one based on His promises and not our performance.
The implication here is a revolutionary revelation of God as the loving Father, the generous gift-giver, who is eager to bless, and indeed, who is restricted in blessing us only by our lack of faith.
This is not a God whose arm we must twist in order to get results! We do not need to persuade God, cajole or bargain with God, and certainly we should not foolishly try to manipulate Him, in order to get Him to bless us. No, this is a God who is waiting for His sons and daughters to claim the inheritance that has already been laid up, purchased at so great a Price at Calvary. Indeed, must it not grieve God that His son took such pains, yet so often the gifts He purchased for us go unclaimed?
Secondly, we are told that our prayer should be authoritative. Notice that Jesus immediately has us talking to mountains, telling them to move on along! It is obvious that He fully expects us to be doing this stuff, and doing it successfully. Note very carefully: it is impossible to persuasively command a maintain to be cast into the sea while we have a sniveling, moaning, worm-like attitude. I know of no mountains that are going to respect such a prayer. The mountains that I'm familiar with respect only one thing: authority.
Now, you might wonder where we get this authority from. Take a look at the familiar Great Commission statement recorded by Matthew.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” - Mt 28:18-20
For our study, note two things. First, all authority has been given to Jesus. That means, very simply, that there is nothing outside of His authority. Fair enough.
But now look at the first two words of the next verse, "Go therefore". "Therefore" is indicative of implication or causality. In other words, because Jesus is invested with all authority, we are to go. And the logic behind that says that we too are invested with all authority pertinent to our task, because we are his regents.
That doesn’t mean that all creation is subject to us as it is to Jesus. That would be absolute authority. It does mean, however, that when we are about the King's business, we carry His full weight of authority, just as if He were there in our place.
Our first reaction to that might be to think it's crazy. How could little old me, with all my weaknesses, blind spots and stumblings, have that kind of authority? Note in the next verse that Jesus confirms the scope of our authority, by leaving our field of prayer wide open. His teaching pertains to "All things for which you pray..."
Consider an old story from Jamaica. Traffic cops there stand on little elevated platforms to supervise intersections. One day a certain cop was stricken and unable to continue. The traffic scene quickly became chaotic. At this point a young boy climbed onto the platform and began to direct traffic. 10-ton trucks obeyed a 80 lb boy's commands to stop and go. Their doing so had nothing to do with his power, it was because he was standing in the place of authority.
And so it is with us. It's not about our power, it's about whom we represent. So if we expect to get results to prayer, we must pray with authority. And that leads to the third requirement.
Belief that what we are praying for will happen
It's impossible to pray with authority unless we actually believe that what we are praying for is going to happen. Jesus is clear that we must believe this, without doubting, and not merely from the head, but from the heart. There are some important implications here.
First, the question of God's will in the matter must be settled. If we are not sure what God wants to do in a situation, we simply cannot have prevailing faith. If there is any lingering doubt on this point, we must take the matter to God before we can proceed. Otherwise, we are moving ahead of God in our own strength, and either the matter will come to nothing or we may even risk making a great mistake.
Often there will be a period of abiding as we seek God's will. We may have to examine a matter before both the Word and our conscience, making sure there is no offense in it. Other times we will definitively hear God's voice and immediately know without a doubt what we are to do. But whether clarity comes quickly or after a period of seeking and assessment, we must settle the matter of God's will before we can proceed to overcoming prayer.
Once we're clear on what God wants to do, our heart will be free to move forward. From a platform of peace we now can launch out with power. And as we increasingly see our vision with more clarity and substance, our faith level increases, and with it power.
Believing it is done
And that leads to the last faith requirement. Not only are we to believe we are going to receive our wish, we are to believe we have already received it. To the natural mind this too seems crazy, but it's only an extension of the previous principle of believing. God's vision and power are unhindered by time, and the Kingdom begun by Jesus is an assault on the enemy's plunder ahead of the Kingdom's coming in fulness. God calls the things that are not as though they were, and He is calling us to do exactly the same.
This hearkens back to having faith in God. Since we count the matter accomplished, we are not striving, rather we are resting and confident. God's power is perfected in our weakness, so all we need to do is be willing vessels of His intercession. He will do the rest.
All this makes sense. If we are plagued by doubts, there is no way we can have the requisite power. If were are uncertain, we will not have the joy of the Lord – and that joy, Nehemiah assures us, is our strength. If we're not convinced, we are going to drag ourselves to the battle. We're going to be looking for failure to occur, and by a self-fulfilling dynamic, failure may well come.
But if we fully believe we're on the winning side, we will go at it whole-souled and enthusiastically. We'll go the extra mile, put in the extra hours, turn the cheek time and again if necessary, all the while expecting to win. And we'll persevere until we bring forth the victory.
There is one final requirement to prevailing prayer, one that may seem out of place at first, and that is our need to forgive our offenders.
We may ask what on earth forgiving others has to do with getting our prayers answered. The answer is that the entire process of supplication is one of uniting with God to draw His power down into a situation. We simply cannot draw near to God if we have unilaterally set ourselves up as judges of others. That is an offense against God's sovereignty, for He alone has the right to judge, and He alone has the qualifications to accurately judge the true motivations of the heart.
If we come to God with unforgiveness in our hearts, then we are making our requests while at the same time we are offending Him. What's more, the chances are very high that even if what we are requesting is a good thing, our heart motivation in it may be as self-centered as our lack of forgiveness. In that case, God would be hesitant to grant our wishes, lest receiving them do more harm than good to ourselves and others.
Our prayer regards some aspect of "the horizontal' or our fellow man, so it is essential that we relate to that horizontal aspect correctly. We must forgive in order to have a pure heart, and only the pure in heart see God – that is, get their prayers answered.
So we see that Jesus has instituted an entirely new way of not only praying for things, but actually of relating to the Father. This would be impossible without the foundation of the New Covenant of His Blood. This is the better covenant – actually, the perfect covenant – by which we are no longer under bondage of the law for righteousness (Rom 10.4). Now we are free to relate to God, not based on our own nonexistent merits, but on Christ's, which are infinite.
So let us enter the throne room boldly, yet reverently, for help in time of need, in full faith that God is both well-able to grant requests and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. If cleanse our hearts of unforgiveness, prove His will, and then allow faith to assure our hearts, we can be sure that we will not go away empty-handed.