Q: I feel I’m very ineffective at prayer, and just a few days ago, a passage of Scripture struck me in a way that gave me pause.
I was reading Matthew 21 and this verse jumped out at me, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt… you will say to this mountain ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea’ and it will happen, and whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith.”
I know God can do anything, but I doubt because I also know that He does only what He wants, that is, what His divine will is. I’m not so bold as to presume that my prayer will change His mind. I’ve been praying for someone who is seriously ill, but because I don’t know God’s will, my prayer is vague. If it’s not God’s will for this person to be healed, then he won’t be healed no matter how much I pray. It seems like a self-defeating circle.
Asked by: Christiana, Texas
A: Well Christiana, I’ve been sitting here wondering exactly how to answer because I could give you a very long answer to many excellent questions that you’ve embedded in your letter.
First of all, when Jesus said if you have faith, you can move this mountain from here to there, He is using a hyperbole. He just meant to say that faith can do mighty things. So why is it that He goes on to say that if we ask in faith, without doubting, we’ll receive it? In cases like that, it appears to me that God shares with us what He intends to do, and therefore when we pray, we are, in effect, praying His will back to Him. There are instances like this in Scripture. Of course at a time like that, you can really pray in faith because God is granting you the faith and the ability to know His will.
Now, regarding your friend who is sick and the whole matter of the will of God. There are times when we don’t know God’s will, and we can’t pray with great faith that God is going to heal someone. But, we should pray for that person, and we should commit them to God. Remember how Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if it is Your will, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” That’s the bottom line for every growing Christian. Let God’s will be done.
We are to bring our petitions to Him, as the Apostle Paul teaches very clearly. He says, you know that we come before God, we bring our cares before Him, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that the purpose of prayer is not simply to have our petitions answered, but that we draw near to God and get to know Him better. He knows that only desperate people pray.
Finally, I need to add this. You said that you do not presume that you could change God’s mind. Well, that might be true, because we don’t know what God’s mind is, but remember this, Christiana, prayer changes things. It may not change God’s mind in the sense that you and I think of it, but prayer changes things. Your prayer might, under the divine will of God, make a huge and lasting difference. Keep praying, keep praying! Keep seeking and you’ll grow in faith. And who knows, you might even see some miracles.
- Matthew 21:21