What hinders prayer? Part 3

Myth 6 – If I doubt, God won’t answer

James 1 “5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But 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. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

Mark 11 “23 “Truly[a] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”

These two passages suggest that if you doubt, that God will not answer your prayer. However examine this next passage.

Mark 9:22 “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.”

James says that if a man doubts, he won’t receive. However this man had unbelief, yet Jesus forgave the doubt and went ahead and answered the prayer. On what basis could he do this? He was not acting on the man’s faith but on grace. Consider when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

John 11 “38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.[a] And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.””

See that the people did not believe Jesus would raise him, yet Jesus raised him anyways not because of their doubt, but because Jesus wanted them to know God had sent him. How do these verses reconcile? We are going to look into several passages about faith and doubt and hopefully a bigger picture will form that will clear up this paradox.

Now, we know the disciples did many miracles, and we know there were a couple instances in the gospels where they could not perform a miracle.

Matthew 17 “17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out? 20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, 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. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [21]

When the disciples couldn’t drive the demon out, Jesus came behind them and did it for them. Do you think it’s funny that when the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t drive it out, Jesus said, “Because you had so little faith,” and then described how they only needed a mustard seed? The answer to interpreting this verse is found in the old testament reference he quotes from Deuteronomy 32.

Deuteronomy 32:15 ”

They abandoned the God who made them
    and rejected the Rock their Savior.
16 They made him jealous with their foreign gods
and angered him with their detestable idols.
17 They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God—
gods they had not known,
gods that recently appeared,
gods your ancestors did not fear.
18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.

19 The Lord saw this and rejected them
because he was angered by his sons and daughters.
20 “I will hide my face from them,” he said,
“and see what their end will be;
for they are a perverse generation,
    children who are unfaithful.
21 They made me jealous by what is no god
and angered me with their worthless idols.

Jesus quotes from here when he says,

Matthew 17 “17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you?”

This perverse and unbelieving generation rejected their savior and instead worshipped idols. I believe that Jesus was not rebuking them for not believing that their prayers would be answered, but rebuking them for not believing he was the Son of God. They hadn’t put their faith “in him.” Hold on to me for a second, it should get more clear. Now let’s look at when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. He said that they only needed a mustard seed again.

Luke 17 “5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

Why would Jesus be content with their faith if they had just shown that they didn’t have enough? Why is it that only a mustard seed was required, yet the disciples still couldn’t perform the miracle? I believe he was talking about a different kind of faith than the definition we are familiar with. Not so much a confidence that what they say will happen, but faith that Jesus was the Christ. Notice, that even though they were performing miracles through faith and power, they had never done them through the name of Jesus.

John 16:24 “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

The amazing thing about this name is, as I will explain, it overrides our lack of faith, because you are no longer asking God for things based on your own merits or faith but based on Christ’s merits and faith. This is what I believe Jesus meant by “this kind can come out only by prayer.’

Mark 9:28 “After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.””

What kind of prayer could he talking about? Praying or asking in the name of Jesus.

Acts 3:11-13,16 “While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.”

If I ask in my own name, is ask God on the basis of my own merits and faith/doubt. But if I ask on the basis of Jesus’s name, I am asking based on Jesus’s merits and faith. When I do that, I receive whatever I prayed for, not because I had enough faith, but because the faith that Jesus has for that miracle was counting towards me through grace. This is what I felt like the Lord said to me, “Whatever I don’t give you because of your faith, I will give you because of my grace.”

Look at how he described what belief looks like before he talked about the name of Jesus.

Mark 11 “23 “Truly[a] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”

This verse makes no mention of Jesus, its based on confidence that what you say will happen. Then later in John, he starts describing faith differently. Not faith in what we say, but faith in Jesus himself. And he makes no mention about doubt being an issue.

John 14 “12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Notice that the focus of this verse is not on your confidence in what you say. He says, ‘whatever you ask’ and ‘I will do’ for whoever believes ‘in me.’ The focus is on believing in Christ. My thought on this is that without Christ, without asking in ‘his name,’ our own faith is the supply for the miracle. If we have enough faith, it will happen, and if we doubt, the prayer won’t be answered. But, what I feel like he is saying here, is that now we have a special privilege we did not have before. That privilege is that instead of asking according to our limited faith, we may ask in the name of Jesus. And when we ask him, HE does the miracle and HIS faith is what answers our requests. He has doubtless faith for us! This is what I fell like the Lord told me, “When you believe in my Son, I credit all faith to your account.” So Jesus showed them the steep requirements for an answered prayer, and then fulfilled it by saying that he was the way to get it.

(By the way, you don’t have to actually use the words, “in Jesus’s name.” There’s no harm in it, but God can discern the motives in your prayers and understand if you are asking through Jesus’s work even if you don’t use the words. Its a matter of your heart crediting the work to Jesus.)

Let’s look at an instance of doubt. There was one town where Jesus could not do many miracles because of their lack of faith and offense. Lacking faith, was not the only problem, as we know Jesus did many miracles to people with little faith.

Matthew 8:26 “He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.”

The problem was this town neither had faith nor believed that Jesus was the Son of God or put their trust in him (Mark 6). I submit that the faith that God really desires is faith that Jesus is His son. When we believe that, God credits his faith as our own. But when I don’t believe in Jesus I’m limited to my own merits and doubt.

Galatians 3:5 “I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.”

This town did not believe the message about Christ coming from God. God works miracles not by our obedience, but because we believed in his son. But if I believe in Christ (meaning I am a christian), God accredits me with all faith on account of Jesus! Jesus took all my sin at the cross.

Romans 14:23 “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

This includes my doubt. Just as God has forgiven me my sins, erased and forgotten them never to remember, so my doubt has been removed from his eyes!

I want to quote a paragraph from Aram225 out of the article I included above.

“Faith and believing are not two separate things.  They are the same thing, the only difference is that when we point our believing to Jesus the Son of God and His finished work God counts that as faith.  Genesis 15:6 “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”  In other words as we call on the name of Jesus and believe in Him God accounts that to us as righteousness.  We receive the gift of righteousness. And this gift of righteousness is also called the breastplate of faith and love.  The minute we point our believing to Jesus as the Son of God and receive His salvation God changes our believing to faith.  This is all done through His grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. This is the measure of faith that God gives to all that believe in His Son (Romans 12:3).  When we look at the words ‘believe’ and ‘faith’ in the Hebrew that is when we see the beauty of this free gift through the grace of God. In Hebrew believe is ‘aman‘  אָמַן and faith is ‘amanah‘  אֲמָנָה. The only difference between believe and faith is the last letter (the one on the left), it is the letter ‘Hey’ in Hebrew, the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet which stands for God’s grace. When we point our believing to Jesus, the Son of God He adds to us His grace that changes our believing to faith (our measure of faith that God gives to all).  Believing in Jesus gives you His perfect faith as you are now the righteousness of God in Christ.  And that is why it only needs to be the size of a mustard seed, you now have the perfect faith of Jesus to move mountains as you believe in Him and His finished work.”

Isn’t that wonderful! God once said this to me, “I can spot of mustard seed of faith within a mountain of doubt.” When we believe in Jesus, God erases our doubt from his eyes.

Now let’s turn back to that passage in James.

James 1 “5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But 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. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

The picture James is painting is that God gives freely to all without finding fault (which I believe includes our doubt). This is a picture unique to the new testament as God would find fault with Israel before he would answer their prayers under the old covenant. Now Christ’s death and resurrection has enabled us to receive freely from the Father. The faith that God expects is faith that looks to his son Jesus for everything. When we try to merit it, even by ‘our faith’ we are taking our eyes off of Jesus and are like Peter when he sunk while walking on the waves. Those who doubt are those who take their eyes off of Jesus in offense and reject the idea that God gives freely through Christ and instead they believe they must earn their blessings through law keeping or whatever they consider deserving. So instead of asking in Jesus’s name, they are asking in their own!

Galatians 3:12 “The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”

Romans 4:14 “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified”

Romans 3:28 “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

When they are trying to earn their prayers through the law, their faith is nullified because they are not asking God to bless them freely in honor of Christ but instead according to their merits. And they cannot receive on that basis. They are double minded men, somewhat believing in Christ, but still believing that they have to earn what God freely gives them. Jesus instructed us to ask in his name, not ours. God wants to give freely to us through Christ, and when I ask him to “pay me” for my service on the basis of myself, I do not qualify.

Romans 11:35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”

They can never receive God’s promise on the basis of the law because the law brings wrath not promise (Romans 4:15). These people never feel worthy to ask God for his blessings and instead keep delaying their reception of it till after they feel worthy. Consider the older son in this parable

Luke 15 “22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”

You see, God gives freely! He says, “everything I have is yours!” Just like Paul when he says,

1 Corinthians 3 “All things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephasc or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,23and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

Yet the older brother couldn’t receive it because he was too busy working to earn something that was already his. And he took offense when the father gave freely and without finding fault to the younger son because he deserved it and the younger brother didn’t. Some of us need to stop shying away from God’s generosity and begin to take hold of what God freely gives us.

What if I believe that God may give freely but I still have some doubts and am trying to deserve my prayers. Will God answer? Of course! If you even have a mustard seed of faith that God will give freely through Christ, it is enough to nullify a mountain of doubt. This doubt James is talking about I believe is an about outright rejection and offense at the idea of God giving freely without finding fault.

Mark 6 “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

This wasn’t just a town that was skeptical but still went along with Him. This was a town that rejected him completely because of their offense. I believe this doubt in James is for those who would reject God’s freedom in giving and have no confidence before him. Therefore when you ask, ask God freely in Christ just as He gives and don’t try to merit or earn what is free in your own name. That’s an insult to God’s generosity. Know that nothing good or bad you do will stop him from answering your prayers because God doesn’t find fault when he gives. He gives to honor his son, not your law keeping. That’s why its called “unmerited favor.” When you take the “unmerited” out of grace, it’s no longer grace, faith is nullified.

Then what value is faith?

Then is faith for my prayers of any value? Or course it is! In fact, when you know God will forgive your doubt you will have even more faith that he will answer your prayers. Faith gives you confidence in God’s promises and word. If you are confident in his promises you will be eager to pray, you will have an abiding hope, you will trust in him fully and expect good things. You will have peace in troubling situations, you will stay encouraged and joyful in life. Faith fills your existence with life and confidence! So by all means, grow in your faith and continue to grow more and more confident that he will answer your prayers. My goal is to disarm anything that would hinder your faith. Therefore, don’t put your trust in your doubt, but instead put your trust in God’s grace. And when you doubt, God will go ahead and answer your prayers, and when you see Him answer, you will have more faith the next time.

John 20:25-29 “So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Even though Thomas doubted, Jesus still gave him proof. But he said blessed is the man who believes even when he doesn’t see. So if you’re doubting, don’t doubt further by believing that God won’t answer. Instead, let him answer and his kindness will lead you to repentance. Then the next time you will have even more faith than before that God will answer.

Then why aren’t my prayers answered?

My brief answer to that. They are in the name of Jesus! Or will be. You have to have your eyes opened to see it. If you don’t expect good from God, you won’t see it when it comes or you won’t accredit it to Him. Jeremiah 17:5-8

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear[also translated “see”] when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

When you expect good from God by trusting him on the basis of His grace, you see the good that he brings and accredit it to him. In fact you become so consumed with expecting his goodness, that you can no longer see the trouble in your life.

Its not good to be hunting for reasons why God doesn’t answer your prayer because he does answer. Every reason disqualifies you and shatters your confidence. Instead, put your confidence in the fact that God says that when you pray in his name He will answer. Decide in your mind that your experiences will change according to the truth. Don’t give up on prayer! Keep on praying for more and more! You will keep on receiving!

“He who asks for much shall be given much. But he who asks for little shall be given little.”

Something the Lord told me.

For more on prayer, see John Long’s “Don’t Have a Cow Part 5: Prayer.” He urges us to keep prayer from becoming a work. Prayer is meant to be alive and joyous and a benefit of salvation, but don’t turn it into a work or put your faith in it instead of God. Realize that God will bless you with things you forgot or chose not to pray for on the basis of grace and his promises to new convenant believers.

Hebrews 6:14 “Surely blessing I will bless you”

Here is another article along the same lines that help identify what Paul means be pray unceasingly, by John Lilly.

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3 thoughts on “What hinders prayer? Part 3

  1. Pingback: What hinders prayer? Part 2 | Revelations in Grace

  2. Hmm brother Jon Paul that is a good point but I still feel obscurity around what makes a prayer answered. I’m not trying to pick theology battles but I must say I’m still not sure what exactly Jesus’ criteria for delivering a prayer is. There seems no logical consistency to what he answers and what he doesn’t. And that’s not just me making it up but things we’ve seen in real life. The problem with saying that imperfect faith gets your prayers answered is that it doesn’t explain why people with almost perfect faith quite often don’t get their prayers answered. We get a few obscure miracles on Joseph Prince’s testimonies but most of the maddening “faith” revolutions in America ended very badly-people were so faithful that they stopped their medicine and expected Jesus to heal them…and historically most of them got a big beating by their diseases. I mean, faith can’t get much stronger than that right? The second problem with getting people to believe that imperfect faith can give them healing and that it is Jesus’ faith that heals them is this-it hasn’t decreased their burden. They’ve only changed from saying “I believe Jesus will heal me” to “I believe Jesus believes he will heal me”. The second is indeed easier to believe than the first, but then I and most others find myself squirming in angst after I’ve declared it over 100 times with no effect. I’ve always wondered why God can’t give a precise explanation as to what exactly makes the difference between an answered prayer or not. And I’m not here to say that we need perfect faith, because even more puzzlingly people who have no faith at all sometimes get supernatural blessings. Neither Lazarus nor his family expected Jesus to raise him from the dead. And the fact that Joseph Prince keeps saying “don’t disqualify yourself” doesn’t really work. Some people are healed-some people aren’t. There’s got to be a difference in belief that causes that difference. But what is that difference? It has not been precisely defined, and near perfect faith, imperfect faith or even no faith all have times that they have worked and failed. That’s what I don’t get. I mean, I’m just asking my right eye to be healed. I’m not asking for a 28 million dollar jackpot.

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  3. Yes, I understand that. When people don’t always see their prayers answered they can sometimes end up blaming themselves for their lack of qualification. “O! It’s because I didn’t take enough risk to prove my trust. O! It’s because I didn’t have enough faith… God wasn’t willing… etc…” I do not have a solid answer, but the way I see it is that since we live in a fallen world, not everything subjects itself to God’s will, and because of that, problems arise. It not God’s fault, it’s not our fault, it’s simply the fall of creation. However, I don’t let that deter me. God is greater than the fall and in fact he does answer prayers. You have given several example of prayers that weren’t answered but I’ve found that the majority of prayers I pray, specific or vague, large or small are answered. We can be partial judges, who pay more attention to lack than the abundance. Sometimes we just need to wait for the Lord to answer. I waited two years for one thing I prayed for. All during that time, I did not think he would answer, and definitely did not have the faith I thought I needed. But in the end I received a huge gift that was exactly what I had asked for. Yes, I don’t try to find the answer to why some prayers aren’t answered quickly. But, I also have learned not to blame God or ourselves for that lack. What I do have one sense about is this idea that when we are trying to earn God’s blessings according to the law, we don’t receive them that way. God wants us to ask freely according to Christ’s grace and not by our qualifications. I found that when I approached God that way, more of my prayers seemed to be answered.

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