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The Power of Prayer
Rarely do we understand so much about a subject and practice it so little. This series on prayer can transform your life. Learn not only precepts about prayer, but how to pray in an effective, powerful manner that will elicit supernatural results.More from this series
If you have your Bible with you, open to Mark chapter 11, and we’re going to look at verses 22 through 24. The context of this is pretty interesting. It’s very near the end of Jesus’ ministry, and He’s going into the feasts, and the festivals. And as He goes in one morning, there’s a fig tree that doesn’t have any fruit on it.
And so, in the morning, Jesus curses this fig tree. And that afternoon, they’re coming back, and the roots are up out of the ground, and it’s withered just like that. And Peter, basically, says, “Hey, Lord, not bad, huh? Pretty powerful; when You speak, things happen.”
And in response to that, with His disciples, in this private encounter, Jesus said, as though they were surprised, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth…” Basically, “If you think that was something…” “I tell you the truth, disciples, followers of Mine, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself in the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.’” Pretty outrageous, isn’t it?
But now, He pushes it to the next level, because the word therefore He generalizes, and begins to explain, “This isn’t just an instance. It’s not just for you, disciples.” But notice the next line: “Therefore I tell you” – here’s the principle – “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it” – notice the result – “and it will be yours.”
Look at it again. Now, is this outrageous? Is this a great promise? Did Jesus maybe just go over the edge? Flu, virus, having a bad day, didn’t really mean to say this? “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Is He really saying that if we can muster up inside, I believe, I believe, I believe – give me a Mercedes. I believe, I believe, I believe – okay, a Cadillac. Is that what this is all about? Somehow, you can conjure up, and if you believe it, and can think it, then it’ll come true?
I don’t think so. I think it’s one of the biggest and most misunderstood promises in all of Scripture. I think He’s saying something very important here, but, often, it’s not what we think.
In the early days of my Christian life – and I’d like to say, not recently, but pretty recently – I think, a lot of times, when this passage would come up, I’d try and change the topic. How do you explain this one?
I remember having a good friend who – I was probably a couple of years old in Christ, a sophomore in college and he was in an accident, and he ended up paralyzed. We prayed and fasted, as a young college group. God spared his life. And he was one of these Stryker frames, where they sandwich you together, with a spinal cord injury. He was now a quadriplegic, at the time, didn’t even know if he was going to use his arms.
And I remember coming across this verse: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” And I didn’t have much background, as I’ve shared with you. I’d never read the Bible much. But you know what? Whatever it meant to believe, I spent all day mustering up as much faith as I could get. Praying, and reading, and then reading, and praying, and trying to visualize God healing Frank, and trying to believe God was big enough to do it, and trying to somehow conjure up, I wonder what this kind of faith looks like?
By 11:30 that night, I snuck in the hospital. Looked this way, that way – the nurses aren’t looking. Get around one corner, here comes an orderly – face this way – went up the back stairs. Finally, I get in his room, and he’s in this bed. And I got down on my knees, and so I went up underneath, and, “Hey, Frank, how you doing?” He’s awake. I said, “Frank, I’ve been praying all day, and I came across this passage.” I quoted it to him.
We talked for a while, and I said, “Frank, I want to pray for you. I want to believe, because it says that if I believe, that I’ve received, that God’s going to do it.” And with all the zeal and sincerity I could muster, “Oh, God, heal Frank right now!” And I prayed a lot of stuff.
Then, I opened my eyes, hoping that he’d say, “Chip! Chip! I felt something warm and powerful go all over my body! Get that nurse! Let me out of here!” It didn’t happen. Well, maybe it’ll happen tomorrow. It didn’t happen. Maybe next week – it didn’t happen. Maybe next month – it didn’t happen. He’s still in a wheelchair.
So, what’s this mean? Is this true, or not true, or did I so completely misunderstand what this is all about that I wasn’t praying the way God wanted me to? Any of you have this? You ever prayed some of these prayers, like, Hey, God, it says in Your Word, and I’ve tried it, and this one doesn’t work, at least for me.
Well, I’d like to suggest that, probably, the problem is getting back to: what’s it mean? Because here’s one obvious observation about this passage. Regardless of what it does mean, we can all agree – look at verse 22: “Have faith in God.” Verse 23: “If you do not doubt.” Later in verse 23: “…but believes.” “That you ask for and believe.” If there’s one thing we can all agree on, whatever Jesus is communicating, it has a lot to do with faith, right? It has something to do with believing, whatever that means.
So, let’s go, before we even look at the main text, and find out what the Scripture teaches faith is. What is it? And, believe it or not, in Hebrews 11:1 – I’ve put it in your notes – He gives a definition for faith. “Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”
Faith is not subjective. Faith isn’t conjuring something up. Notice what it says. The operative words: being sure and certain. Faith is having absolute confidence that something that hasn’t happened yet will happen, and that something that you can’t see will come to be. That’s what faith is.
See, for there to be biblical faith, you have to have a word from God. Faith boils down to: God says this. Do you trust that what He said is true, or not? If you don’t have a word from God, you can’t have biblical faith.
I didn’t have any word from God. I didn’t have a promise from God that said He would heal my buddy. Sometimes God chooses to heal people; sometimes He chooses not to. You can’t put God in a box, and tell Him what to do. But any time God gives us a promise, any time we know what He says, He says if you’ll act on that, that’s biblical faith.
In fact, look at verse 6 of Hebrews. The author goes on, and develops not only the definition of faith, but how important it is. He says without faith, without trusting in what God has said, and acting on it, it’s impossible to please God. He says you can go to church, you can pray, you can give to the United Way, you can be morally pure, but if you don’t believe God, you don’t please Him. What He wants from you and me, more than anything else, is faith.
And then, He gives the reason why: “because anyone who comes to God…” If you want to have a relationship with God, you’ve got to believe two things. You “must believe that He exists” – know Him for who He really is – but you also have to believe a second thing. Often we believe the first, but not the second: “and that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly or diligently seek Him.”
God is on the edge of His chair, if you will forgive the little picture, longing to bless you, longing to draw you close, longing to reveal Himself, longing for you to take any kind of step, in response to His Word, so that He can say, “All right.” Like a father watching a little baby, or a toddler, take a few little steps, God’s arms are out. That’s the kind of God He is. Faith is believing that He exists, and that He’s a rewarder.
And so, if you wanted to summarize it all: faith, therefore, is having absolute confidence that whatever God says, He will do. That’s all faith is. You can feel close to God exercising faith. You can have flu and exercise faith. You can feel distant from God and exercise faith. But any time you have absolute confidence that God said this, and you believe it, to the point of acting on it – that is what the Bible is talking about, in terms of faith.
Now, I want to ask you a question – it’s a little personal – and the question I have, when we get, now, back to praying, is: when you pray, when you close your eyes, and you decide, I want to spend good time with the God of the universe, are you coming to God with absolute certainty, and confidence, that what you’re asking for will be given? Have you ever thought of praying that way? When you bow your head, are you certain that the things that you’re going to ask for, God is going to answer – specifically, what you’re praying for?
And some of you are looking at me like, I don’t know if you can pray that way. Chip, where are you going with this one? Is this one of those trick questions?
No, it’s not a trick question. I’d like to suggest that God wants you, in the great majority of your prayer time, to have one hundred percent, absolute confidence before Him, and pray specific things in such a way that you will know He will answer that specific thing.
Where do I get that? Here’s our text for the day. Follow along, if you will, as I read 1 John chapter 5, verses 13 through 15. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” – he’s writing to his children – “so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
And the context is, he said, “Whoever has the Son,” in verse 11 and 12, “has life. Those who don’t have the Son don’t have life.” So, he’s writing these things to assure them, all those people that are really in God’s family.
Now, notice verse 14: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything” – and notice this phrase – “according to His will, He hears us.” Now, let’s stop and do a little analysis. “This,” he says, “is the confidence.” The word for confidence means “boldness; assurance; openness; absolute certainty.” When you come before the very throne of God, he says, “This is the absolute confidence, the certainty, that we possess before Him.”
And what is that confidence? “That if we ask anything,” and it lines up with His will, it’s “according to His will, He hears us.” And that little word, “He hears us,” literally means His ears are open to us; our request has gained audience before the King of the universe.
Now, look at the next verse. It gets even more radical. Verse 15: “And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have” – or possess – “what we’ve asked for.” Have you had times like that, in prayer? Have you had times when you have prayed, and you know, since you’re praying according to God’s will, that the very thing you’re asking for, God guarantees He’s going to answer for you?
And by the way, notice, the word know is repeated twice. There are two words in the Greek New Testament for know. One is a knowledge that comes by way of experience. There’s another word that means know. It’s a historical or a verifiable, objective fact like, “I know that gravity exists.” If I believe in gravity, fine. If I don’t believe in gravity, fine. Jump off a three-, four-story building. Whether you believe it or not, you have, basically, the same result.
That’s this word. It’s absolute certainty, historical fact. We know that God hears us. And if you pray according to His will, and He hears us, then you know that you’re going to get whatever you ask.
Is that a radical thought for some of you this morning? You’re looking at me like, Oooh, boy, I’ve never heard this before! Did you know this passage was in the Bible?
Well, let’s talk about how it works. How can you pray with confidence, and certainty? Well, the first question we need to ask is: to whom is this promise made? It’s a radical promise, but it’s not for everybody. Notice, in verse 13, “These things are written to those who believe in the name of the Son of God.”
This is reserved for people who are God’s children. A lot of people can pray, and God does different things, but this promise is reserved for people that have personally asked Christ to come into their life. Their sins have been forgiven. The Holy Spirit has come and taken dwelling inside of them, and it bears witness with their spirit that they’re the child of God. This promise is for anyone that’s in God’s family this way.
Now, the second question we might want to ask is, well, then, how must we pray to know that God hears our prayers? That’s in verse 14. Chip, you’re telling me that this passage guarantees that God’s going to hear my prayer. But how do I know that for certain? Look at the little phrase “if we pray” – how? You look. What does it say? “…according to the will of God.” If you or I pray anything “according to His will” – and that phrase means that it’s God’s intention; it’s His highest desire; it’s His authorized plan to be fulfilled.
The next question, as this passage opens up, is not only how to pray according to God’s will, but how do you know God’s will? See, at this point, I hope your mind is saying – let me just have a quick aside – I hope your mind is saying, in your heart of hearts, I pray a lot of vague prayers. I’m not sure I pray real specifically.
I think I, instead of having faith, you know what I find in my life, and probably with many of you? I find, instead of praying in faith, I’m usually praying in hope. Oh, God, I hope this happens. Oh, God, this is a good desire. Oh, God, this would be nice, if You did it.
That’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said, “When you come, asking in faith, believe that you’ve received it, and it’ll be given to you.” I don’t think He’s joking, people. I don’t think He just threw that one out to impress Peter and the boys. I think He was saying, “If you can know what the will of God is, once you understand My will, then you can ask for it, and I will deliver, and you can take it to the bank. I want you to pray specifically, and with certainty, and with confidence, and I will answer.”
Now, the question that’s a sixty-four-dollar question is: how do you know God’s will so you ask the right stuff, right? There are two ways.
The first is by the promises of God in Scripture. The second – on those areas where they’re not promises, that we’ll look at later – is by the ministry of the Holy Spirit leading you in prayer, and showing you that God can give a personal word for you in how to pray.
You see, right here in this Book – and I understand, some of the promises in this Book are just for Israel; they’re not for you and me. Some of the promises are for specific people. Hezekiah gets some special promises. But some are for special New Testament saints. But I want to tell you, there are literally hundreds of promises that I can claim, you can claim. I know it’s God’s will. I can ask according to that promise, and God promises, one hundred percent of the time, He’ll answer your prayer, when you bring that promise, and pray according to His will.
The amazing thing that I’ve learned, as I’ve been studying on prayer, is, the great men and women of God who pray, they pray with an open Bible. They pray with the Bible open. And they go to God, not thinking, Let’s see, I’ve got to read three chapters today to keep up with my little chart. They read, and they pray, God, show me Your will for me. Show me Your will for Your family. Show me Your will for the future. And they ask God, and He gives them specific promises, and they take it to the bank, and they pray specifically, and God comes through for them.
Let me give you a couple of examples of how to pray according to the will of God, first by the promises. Let’s pretend – I’m sure no one here has this – let’s pretend some of you have a big decision to make, or you have a big problem. And you would really like to know what God would want you to do. You either need to know what to do, or you need to know how to do it. You’ve got a marriage situation, and you need to say something to your spouse, but you’re afraid, If I say it that way. Oh, gosh, if You would give me wisdom, God, about how to say it.
Or you’ve got a situation with one of your children, and you know that you are backing away, and you need to move into this situation, and speak the truth, but you know if you do it wrong, you’re going to have fireworks. And you need God to give you wisdom about how to approach your child.
Or some of you have job situations, and your supervisor, or one of the people that work for you – you need wisdom from God about how to step into this delicate situation, and know God’s will, so that He can work it out. And so, your need is wisdom.
The biblical definition for wisdom is “the ability and the skill to understand God’s design for life, and then find your part in it so it works.” So, can I tell you this morning that if you need wisdom, there’s a promise from God: James 1:5 – and then, some conditions in verses 6 and 7.
Here’s what God promises to every person in this room: “If any man” – that’s generic, man or woman – “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.” Right? “But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea that’s tossed to and fro. Let not that man expect that he’ll receive anything from the Lord.”
So, here’s a promise. You have that conversation, or you need to know “what,” or you need to know how to do something. The Bible says you can go right before God and say, God, my finger is on this promise. You said if I ever need wisdom, that I can come and ask. I know it’s according to Your will, because it’s right in Your Word. I’m asking, right now, for wisdom. Please give it to me. And as you do that, you can be guaranteed, with certainty, God will give you wisdom.
Now, note, you will have to keep your end of the bargain. Every promise has a condition. The condition is, it’s without any doubting. And that doesn’t mean there are no little doubts in your heart. That means the word – it talks about – it’s a double-minded man. It means that once God shows you what the wisdom is, you already sign off and say, “Whatever You show me, I’ll do.” Because you were hoping it would be a nice, little, light conversation, and you pray, and God shows you, “You need to confront so-and-so,” or, “You need to address this head on,” or you need to bring up an issue that everyone in the whole family’s been afraid to talk about.
He says, If you will ask Me for wisdom, I guarantee, a hundred percent of the time, I’ll show you exactly what to do, and exactly how to do it. That’s pretty specific, isn’t it? That’s how God wants you to pray. Where do you need wisdom? You can pray for it, and He’ll show you.
How about for deliverance? If it’s drugs, or alcohol, or pornography, or issues in your mind, or you’re involved in a relationship that you know is not holy, there is a promise from God, you can pray specifically, and God guarantees He’ll hear it.
You know what it is? 1 Corinthians 10:13. It says, “No temptation has taken you but such is common to man” – we’ve all had it – “but God is faithful and with the temptation will provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.” You can come to God. If you need deliverance, if you need help in getting over the hump of something, you can open your Bible, and put your finger on that promise, and say, God, show me the way of deliverance.
And then, the condition is that you take it. It might be joining a twelve-step program. It might be sharing your struggle with a close friend, or even your mate. It might be saying, “I’ll never drive home that way anymore.” It might be that you get your cable disconnected, because you’re up late at night, watching trash, and you keep finding yourself drawn back to it. I don’t know the way of escape, but God says if you pray specifically, He’ll do it. He’ll answer you.
The third example, here, is: how about for rest, or peace? Some of you come, and – man, if the truth were known, if we could peel back the façade of how energetic, and cool, and nice, and warm, and lovely that we all look, is you’re dying inside. You’re worn out, and you’re beat. And what you need is rest, and what you need is peace. And your RPMs are going zoom, zoom, zoom, and you open your calendar, and you think, Oh, it’s another week! And Monday here, and Tuesday here, and Thursday here, and the kids over here on Wednesday, and you’re about ready to go nuts! And some of you, you’re at the emotional end of your wits, and you think, I can’t take it! I can’t take life anymore!
There’s a promise. You can pray a specific promise, and you know what God will do? God will step in, He’ll calm the storm, and He’ll restore your body, and He’ll restore your emotions. You know the promise? Matthew 11:28: “Come unto Me, all of you that are heavy-burdened or laden” – “overwhelmed” is the idea – “and I will give you rest. Take My yoke” – “Come into My leadership, My authority for your life.” “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am meek and I’m lowly of heart.” “I’m humble. I’m not going to put a trip on you. I love you. I’m God” – “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
For some of you, you need to block off a couple of hours today, and turn off all the TVs, and turn off all the junk, and get two or three hours alone with God, and say, God, I come to You, because I need rest, and I’m dying! And you go sit in the presence of God for a couple of hours, and it’ll do more than any pill you could ever take. He’ll slow you down. He’ll show you where you need to slow down.
All those pushes, and those oughts, and those shoulds, and all those demands from people. He’ll show you what His yoke demands, and how you can say “no” to stuff, and how you can say “no” to pressure, and how you can be walking in His will, and how He can renew you from the inside out.
And the people that need rest the most are those that are sitting here, and you’ve never made a personal relationship. You’ve never asked Christ to come into your life. You’re just a great person. You’re a neat person. And people like you. And what you really long for is peace in your soul.
And right now, as I’m talking, you can shut off the whole rest of this message, and you and God can have a conversation, and His invitation, His condition to you: Come, right now, okay? Forget what that guy in the striped shirt is saying. Listen to Me. You come, right now, and you ask Me to come into your life. Ask Me to forgive you. Take My yoke. Come under My leadership, and My authority for your life. Take My Word as guidance. I’ll give you rest. I’ll give you peace. I’ll restore the relationships. I’ll give you forgiveness. You do that, right now, He’ll honor His Word.
The final one, here, is for financial provision. Maybe you’re here, and you’re thinking, How do you pray? I’ve got bills up to my ears. I’ve got credit people giving me calls. And other people keep sending me more credit cards. I’ve never understood that. Every week, they want to give me more credit cards. But you’re overwhelmed. And you look at that stack of bills, and you look here, and you think, Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi, and you think – it’s pressure all the time.
God says you can pray specifically, for financial issues, and He will answer. Here’s the promise – Philippians 4:19: “My God,” the apostle Paul writes to a struggling, young, poor church that has just given a very generous gift to his ministry, “My God,” he says, “shall supply all your needs by His riches and by His glory in Christ Jesus.”
You’ve got a need? He says, “I’ll take care of it.” Now, please don’t read that to mean, “My God shall keep my middle-class lifestyle intact.” It doesn’t say that. He says He’ll meet your needs. If you’re in debt up to your ears, if you made unwise financial decisions, God may allow some consequences, to get you in a position of getting really dependent, really quickly.
The other thing, you’ll notice is there is a condition of this passage. It is written to a group of people who don’t have much, but have been generous with the first fruits of what God gave them. This promise is for people that have financial need, but who, by faith, are giving first to the work of God. And if you’re not doing that, this promise doesn’t apply to you.
See, with every promise, there’s a condition. God promises to meet the needs of those who are trusting Him by faith. And as you trust Him by faith, with your time, and with your finances, He says, “I’ll always come through for you.” And the biggest evidence that I don’t trust Him is when I don’t give Him my time, and I don’t give Him my finances. Because what I’m saying is, If I give it to You, God, then how am I going to pay these other bills?
Finances are so important to the American Church, because it’s probably the only way, in such a wealthy society, that we ever get a chance to even trust God. Because, basically, if God died tomorrow – which is obviously impossible – a lot of Christians wouldn’t know it for months. They wouldn’t. Because God doesn’t have to do anything supernatural in your life to come through for you. And until you put yourself in a situation for Him to do that, you don’t get to exercise faith, and trust.
Well, let me ask you, here, what, then, do you do? Those are promises, and that’s how you know to pray according to God’s will, but as we wrap it up, what do you do if you don’t have a promise from God? How can you pray if you’ve got a sick friend, or a sick child, or a sick spouse?
Look at Romans 8:26 through 27. This is what God says. It’s incredible. He says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Well, what kind of weakness? Well, when “we don’t know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in” – how? – “accordance with God’s will.”
What did our passage in 1 John teach us? If you pray according to God’s will, He hears us. If He hears us, we know for certain – what? We’re going to get what we ask.
So, there are times where you don’t have a promise, and you sit quietly, and you ask, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit: Show me how to pray here. We don’t always have a promise to pray, and so, what we need to do is depend on the Holy Spirit. How about some of you that are praying for kids, or people that you love, or people at work, and you don’t know how to pray?
Well, one of my older sons – those of you parents that are going through rough times in teens, I have been there. The name of the game in our home was sparks, sparks, and then heavy sparks. And this kid is so much like me, that we knock heads all the time. And I’m glad that he moved out of this stage, and is mature, and grown. But I remember, I said “black,” he said “white.” And he just had this rebellious chip on his shoulder. And out in public, with other people – great kid. At home, he’s testing me all the time. And I’m saying, God… And I’m communicating, “That rebellious spirit, we’re going to deal with.”
And I remember at my wits end, literally crying, doing “what I know is right,” and then going in the bedroom and telling, “Oh, Theresa, am I being too hard? Am I being an idiot? I think I’m doing God’s will – I hope. I think. Maybe.” You been there as a parent? I remember praying. I remember, as I was praying, I said, Lord, will You show me how to pray for my son? Because I was praying, Lord, will You break his spirit? That’s the problem I saw, when I prayed directly, right? I said, God, will You transform this kid’s attitude?
And as I prayed, you know what the Holy Spirit showed me? I didn’t get an audible voice, but I just sat there. And what I realized, the Spirit of God began to reveal, the best time in praying, sometimes, is shut up, and let Him speak.
And God just said, It’s not – rebellion’s not the issue. It’s hurt, and it’s woundedness. He doesn’t feel good about himself and he feels inadequate.
And boy, I started to pray differently. God, help him see himself the way You made him. God shore up the wounds and the hurts that he has inside. Because that’s where it was spewing from. And I kept the boundaries. And then, my wife and I, like absolute lunatics, looked for opportunities and times, “Hey, let’s go out for a Coke. Let’s go talk” – any common ground to just communicate to my son, regardless of his performance, that, “We love you, and you’ll never do anything that’ll keep us from loving you.”