First published 24 July 2011
I can remember learning – but I can’t remember where – as a teenager, that actions spring from belief. And it’s something that resonated so strongly with me that it has stuck in my consciousness since then. Actions spring from belief. What I believe about things will affect what I do and the way I do it. Or put another way, the way I act is evidence for what I really believe, no matter what I say. Actions speak louder than words, as they say. So I should challenge myself in both directions: Examining my beliefs, how do they affect positively the way I live my life? Examining my actions, are they consistent with what I say I believe? Of course, it’s more complicated than that, because we don’t know ourselves as well as think we do sometimes. And that’s where I often get frustrating inconsistencies in my life, and sin. And that’s the way this series about prayer came about, and how it has concluded, but in different ways.
I think that when I came to James 5:15 last year I knew deep down that God would only grant the requests that He wanted to grant, and therefore there is a possibility that some of our prayer requests are not granted. And therefore I was content (was that rest, though, or resignation? There is a difference, and I confess to oscillating). James 5:15 removed my contentment, because I felt the strain of an apparent inconsistency. “The prayer of faith will make the sick person well.” Should I be content? Or should I be holding out for healing for all those sick people that I regularly pray for? Different passages in the Bible appeared to say different things.
But I think that the challenge to put my beliefs into action has become more pressing through the study of the passages I identified. And in rounding off this series I just thought it would be helpful to briefly list all those challenges.
• Ask God boldly for what we need;
• Humbly acknowledge God as our heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us and who loves us, and will give us what is best;
• Pray for what will enable us to glorify our heavenly Father by seeking His kingdom before anything else;
• Pray specifically for the Holy Spirit to fill us more and more.
• Prayer requests are not granted to those who have no faith.
• Conversely, if we have faith in God then we must have boldness to pray for big things as well as small.
• Faithful prayer involves perseverance.
• Praying in Jesus’ name means having the glory of God at the heart of all we desire.
• Praying in Jesus’ name means acknowledging that we are only able to come to God in prayer through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
• Praying in Jesus’ name means asking for God to work in our lives to enable us to do the work He has given us – namely, bearing fruit in good works and sharing the gospel with other people.
• Be assured that God is ready to help us as we work for His glory and the coming of His kingdom.
• Don’t pray for our own pleasure and self-satisfaction. Pray with God-centred motives and for God-centred motives.
• We see more of our prayer requests granted when we know we pray for things that God wants, as revealed in His Word, and as we understand and align our lives with that more deeply.
• Praying according to God’s will means knowing the Bible.
• Praying according to God’s will means accepting and rejoicing that God has the final decision in the answer to my prayers.
• Praying with the church is an important and special privilege, giving us even deeper access to the presence of Christ.
• Don’t shy away from praying for big and amazing things, not least the raising of a dead soul to life to receive salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
• Our faith when we pray should be based on our knowledge of God and His promises in His Word, not on our past experiences of answered prayer.
• Praying with righteousness, repentance and confession, in the community of the church, will result in healing… but the full extent of that healing may have to wait until Jesus’ second coming.
• Just keeping praying and don’t give up.
And of course, those are just the things we learnt about prayer. I’m sure that we also learned a lot of other things as well, such as the importance of caring for the weak and those in the margins of the church, such as the way God assures us of His work in us, and many other things.
One of the things I pray for is that I may never lose sight of all that I’ve learnt through these studies.
It is quite moving for me to realise that when I started studying these passages I was just approaching the end of my course of chemotherapy. As I come to the end of this series of blog articles, just over a year later, I am fully fit and have been back in work for six weeks. The Lord has been very gracious to me. Not only have I been “raised up” from my illness, which is amazing enough on its own. But I have felt the warmth of His love through the church. And I’ve been given the time to study and benefit from His Word, and to share His Word with other people.
Apart from to urge us once again to never neglect persevering and faithful prayer, my final point is this: God uses our questions and confusions, weaknesses and doubts, to teach us huge amounts more than we ever expect, if we turn to His Word with faith.
It started, if you remember, with simply reading the Bible. Literally, just reading. How many of us miss out on learning all these big things about God and His infinite love for us simply because we don’t simply read the Bible?
And then I allowed myself to ask an honest question. My reading led me to some confusion, and into asking questions. And I turned to God’s Word to get the answers to those questions.
And all that learning about prayer, and the other things as well, stemmed from that one simple honest question, “Does God guarantee I will be healed if I pray for healing?” It started with weakness and doubt, and the result was a superabundance of encouragement.
I am certain that the Lord will do the same with your weaknesses and doubts, whatever they are. Read the Bible. Allow yourself to ask questions. And turn to the Bible to find the answers. Act on the answers. And the Lord will provide you with an overflowing amount of learning and encouragement.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
May God bless us and glorify Himself in us.