If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it shall be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all his ways.” – James 1:5-8
Faith is a requisite of answered prayer. When we pray, God expects us to believe that He will do the thing that we ask Him to do. And if we do not believe it, we should not expect God to answer our prayer.
It is important that we understand faith correctly. Often people will believe that God CAN do this or that. But they don’t believe that God WILL do it. Some will even call it presumptuous to expect God to do what we ask Him. But the opposite is true. It’s presumptuous for us to not take Him at His word! How insulted God must be on a regular basis when His people choose to believe their circumstances or human reasoning over the Word of God.
The apostle James, our Lord’s half-brother and leader of the church in Jerusalem, knew a little something about prayer. He could have written this: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives sometimes, and it might be given to him.” No, he spoke very plainly: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God,…and it SHALL BE GIVEN TO HIM.” This is very much in line with the teachings of Jesus, who said, “Ask, and it SHALL be given to you…” It does not say, ‘might,’ or ‘maybe,’ or, ‘if it is His will.’ It says SHALL.
Now don’t get me wrong, we should never pray for anything that isn’t God’s will. And if we don’t know God’s will on the matter, it is perfectly acceptable to pray with uncertainty. But the Bible is a book full of information about the will of God. When we know his will, we should never pray ‘if it be thy will.’
It is often not difficult to ascertain the will of God. God’s word is His will. By searching the scripture we can determine what God wants to do. Sometimes the will of God for a specific circumstance is not present in the scriptures. In such cases, we can look to God to lead us by His Spirit as to what His will is. And if He does, we can latch on to that when we pray.
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. – 1 John 5:14-15
At this point I should make it clear that God’s perfect will is often not accomplished. I know that this sounds blasphemous to some, but it is a very obvious truth. For example, is it ever God’s will for someone to commit murder? Of course, we know it is not, for He said, “You shall not murder.” But we see that since Cain and Able, murders have been common throughout history, including genocidal leaders who have murdered millions. In every case it was His will for men not to murder. His will was not accomplished.
This same line of reasoning can be applied to any sin, and to many other things, as well. Is it ever God’s will for us to steal or lie or cheat or divorce or act in anger, etc? It is not. Yet humans act against God’s will everyday. What about people who aren’t saved? Is it God’s will that they walk in darkness? It is not, for He is ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:9)
All this is extremely important to understand in regard to prayer. There are many things that it is God’s will for us to have, but if we do not pray and believe God for them, we will not have them, and God’s perfect will will not be accomplished.
So how do we pray in faith?
First, as I mentioned, we must know the will of God. If you don’t know what God’s will about a certain circumstance or situation is, go find out. Search the Bible in regard to your need. You’ll never be able to pray in faith unless you can be certain that God wants you to have what you’re praying for. There are many resources out there that can assist you. You can even search the web for, ‘what does the Bible say about so and so.’ This is a good start. Talk to godly friends, seek help from your pastor, etc. Do what you need to do to know the will of God about the subject you are praying about. That way, when you go to pray, you won’t need to wonder if God wants you to have what you’re praying about. You will know. And then you can be like the widow from Luke chapter 18, who stubbornly kept going back to the judge until she had her answer. Let’s look at that parable again:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ” Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:1-8
I want to pay particular attention to the last verse, where Jesus said, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” This verse tells me two things. Number one, that true faith in God is rare, so much so that Jesus wondered if there would be any when He returned. And number two, that the widow from the story was a demonstration of true faith.
I don’t want to comment too much on the first point, except that this ought to motivate us to pursue God and put our trust in Him so that He might find us full of faith when He comes. But on the second point I want to emphasize that this widow shows us how to pray in faith. It is a prayer from someone who knows what they want, who knows that it is right for them to get it, and who will not be quiet until they do. This widow had faith in this unjust judge. In other words, she believed that he would answer his request. If she didn’t believe that he would, why would she keep going back to him? She kept going back because she believed she was going to get what she requested.
Jesus taught us to pray this way:
“And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” – Matthew 21:22
Believe what? That we will receive the things that we prayer for. This is even more clear in a parallel passage in Mark:
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. – Mark 11:22-24
We see this also with other prayers in the Bible. When Elijah prayed for a drought upon the land to try to wake the people up from their wickedness, the Bible says he ‘prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months’ (James 5:17). We see that this is very similar to the parable of the widow, and also to the parable of the friend at midnight (see Luke 11). Earnest and continued prayer was offered, believing that the answer would indeed be given. The prayer did not cease until that answer came. We see this even more clearly in Elijah’s prayer for rain to come again upon the land. James 5:18 says, “And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” And in 1 Kings 18, we see exactly what that prayer looked like:
Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And seven times he said, “Go again.” Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” So he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’” Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel. – 1 Kings 18:41-45
Elijah prayed the prayer of faith. He got on his knees and besought God until the answer came. He sent his servant seven times (and would have kept sending him) until he finally saw the answer that he was expecting. That little cloud was all the sign he needed. He knew his prayer was answered.
When we approach God, we should approach Him using the examples of prayer that He gives us in the Bible. We must know His will, pray according to it, believe that the answer will come, and keep praying with expectation until it does. This is the formula for answered prayer. If we can learn to do this, we can be people that often receive blessings from God. And when we do, we will experience that joy that Jesus spoke of:
Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. – John 16:24