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Praying With Faith (text)

January 22, 2012 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: A Praying Life

Topic: Prayer Passage: John 14:12–14:14

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We’ve been talking about prayer and I don’t think any discussion on prayer could be complete without looking at what the Bible says about praying with faith. Prayer without faith is kind of like an airplane with no wings.  You can load a plane up with passengers and cargo but if it doesn’t have wings you won’t be able to take off –it’s the wings that catch the wind and provide the lift. In a similar way, prayer doesn’t rise very high without faith. You can load up your prayer list with people and things to pray for but it’s faith that catches the wind of God’s promises and believes in His goodness and faithfulness to us and causes our prayers to rise up with confidence that God is listening to and answering our prayers.

Jesus frequently challenged his disciples to greater faith and this morning I want us to read four passages from the gospel of John where Jesus encourages his disciples to pray in his name and expect answers. These verses are so extravagant they can make us feel uncomfortable, but it’s clear that Jesus is encouraging his followers to pray with bold faith. So let’s read beginning in John 14:12. We will have the passages up on the screen so if you don’t want to turn to each passage you can look up here.

John 14:12-14 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 15:7-8 -If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

John 16:23-24 -In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

In the gospel of John, the first twelve chapters provide an overview of Jesus’ three years of ministry. Beginning in chapter 13 the pace slows down and the last 9 chapters cover just the last several days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. What this means is that Jesus’ deliberate repetition of these extravagant promises wasn’t over a period of years but over a period of hours. It’s clear that in Jesus’ last hours before the crucifixion, encouraging his disciples to pray with faith was very much on his mind. Listen again to the repetition: Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do…if you ask anything in my name I will do it… ask whatever you wish and it will be done…so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give it to you…whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you…ask and you will receive that your joy may be full…

The word ask is the operative word in these passages. Ask Jesus and he will do it. Ask the Father in Jesus’ name and He will do it. But ask. A big part of prayer is asking. Let’s consider three ways that we are to come to our Father in prayer and ask:

  1. Ask confidently

In the first Star Wars movie (which is episode 4), Luke Skywalker is trying to talk the rather self-centered Hans Solo into risking his neck to help save Princess Leia and when he sees that appealing on humanitarian grounds isn’t working, he appeals to Hans Solo’s greed. He explains that she is rich and the reward will be – well a lot. How much? Solo asks. Well, more than you can imagine, Skywalker responds. “I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”

Does Jesus really mean that anything we can ask for will be done for us? I can ask for quite a bit! And at times I have, and I must confess I haven’t always gotten what I asked for. We know there must be qualifiers, conditions to what Jesus is saying. And we’ll consider those in a minute. But let’s begin by acknowledging that Jesus is encouraging us to ask and ask confidently.

Jesus isn’t giving us a formula here; he’s telling us something about the Father and about the power of coming in his name. When we come in Jesus’ name the Father delights in hearing us and generously giving what we ask for. Last week Matt talked about the danger of cynicism and one of the biggest ways cynicism comes through is we lose sight that God is a loving Father who delights to engage His children in relationship and loves to give us good gifts. Cynicism attacks faith by attacking our sense of confidence that God is good and loving and eager to be good to His children. When the cynic looks at these promises they work so hard to qualify and explain them that they miss Jesus’ primary purpose for giving them – not to twist our understanding of prayer into a theological pretzel, but to give wind to our faith. To encourage us to ask in Jesus’ name which means we don’t come in our own strength or merit, don’t come in the confidence that we’re praying just right or just enough or for exactly the right thing – but in the confidence that when we come in the name of Jesus, who has cleansed us of all our sin and clothed us with his righteousness, the Father hears our prayers as if the Son Himself prayed them. And He answers!

The antidote to the cynical spirit is to come to the Father with a child-like spirit and ask confidently. Our confidence isn’t that we will get exactly what we pray for the way we pray for it – as we go on we’ll see that that isn’t what Jesus is saying here. Our confidence is that when we ask in Jesus name, our Father will hear and He will answer.  The Father can give you more than you can imagine. And He can give you better than you can imagine. Which leads to the second point.

2.  Ask correctly

Ok, so without losing our confidence that Jesus is encouraging us to ask and ask confidently believing that God loves to answer, let’s address the concern that these verses – if taken at a superficial, face value, without connecting them to all that Jesus and the Bible teaches about prayer, could and has led Christians into damaging extremes and errors.

ILL: maybe you can remember years ago vending machines that seemed to reject any dollar bill that wasn’t in absolutely perfect condition. I think they’ve gotten a lot better lately but if your dollar bill wasn’t perfectly flat – if there was even one wrinkle on it – you just knew the vending machine would spit the dollar back out at you. You’d flatten it out and try to work that wrinkle out and try again. And God help you if you wanted a coke or a candy bar and all you had was an old, dog-eared dollar bill. That snickers bar might as well have cost a million dollars – there was no way you were going to get it.

Unfortunately, some teaching on faith can make it sound as though prayer was a vending machine and faith was the coin. You can pull the lever and get whatever you want if you have enough faith. Then, when a lot of people found that wasn’t exactly working that way, the focus was shifted to their faith – maybe you didn’t have enough, maybe you didn’t have the right kind, maybe you weren’t confessing your faith properly. Like the person trying to work their worn out dollar bill to make it acceptable to the vending machine people tried to work on their faith to get it to be acceptable to God so that He would give them the answer they wanted.

We know that prayer isn’t a vending machine and faith isn’t the necessary coin. That’s not what Jesus is teaching us here. Prayer and faith, rightly understood, are built on who God is and who we are. God is infinite in His understanding and all knowing and all wise. We are finite in our understanding and often shortsighted and even foolish in what we think would be best. We also happen to be sinful and the primary organ that sin taints is our desires. In fact, sin’s originating point is our desires – we long for what we should not long for. James writes:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:14-15

So we know that when Jesus says whatever we ask for, whatever we wish for, that he isn’t giving us carte blanch to get whatever we want as long as we ask and have the right kind of faith.

So how do we pray correctly? Once again, James helps us in this.

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.(James 4:2-3)

James points out that the right asking is a path that lies between two cliffs: on the one side is the cliff of Not Asking. You do not have because you do not ask. That describes those who don’t pray, don’t ask their Father for help, for strength, for provision, for wisdom, for love, for change, for others to change or know Him, for blessing, for courage, for humility, for power. And because they don’t ask, they don’t have. The Father isn’t giving what they aren’t asking for. This again encourages us to ask.

But on the other side is the cliff of asking selfishly. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. This is the prayer life that is motivated by selfish desires and demands. We’re not asking for our Father’s kingdom to come, we’re asking for our ship to come in.

Asking correctly is asking with confidence in God’s goodness and with a surrendered will to Jesus’ Lordship. We are to bring big things and little things to God in prayer. It’s not wrong to ask for that promotion at work. It is wrong to ask because we want more money so we can buy more stuff (because deep in our hearts we are materialists). It is wrong to ask because we want to have the power and status that come with that higher position (because deep in our hearts we are prideful and want to feel superior to other people). So we can ask (and should) but also ask the Father to give what’s best for our hearts and souls. It might be better for my soul not to get that promotion and if I’m surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship than that is what my soul sincerely wants.

Let’s consider an illustration (use husbands but wives, this is equally true for you): a husband who feels that his wife is a nag who’s always harping at his faults might feel like it’s a hopeless case– she will never change. So he falls off the cliff of Not Asking – he might complain about her but he doesn’t pray for her. He has become cynical about her ever changing. Child-like faith is replaced by adult like cynicism – he knows “too much” to believe that prayer can make a difference.

Jesus calls him to ask and believe. To ask with child-like faith that God can change his wife, and at the same time to recognize that while he’s praying for his wife, God is going to be working on him. Does her nagging and fault-finding tempt him to be angry? Or to ignore her and plop on the couch with the remote? Or to be impatient with slow change in her (all the while depending on God to be patient with him as he changes very slowly)? God begins to change him over time to give grace and to follow Jesus’ example in giving love when sinned against. God begins to help him to focus on the good things rather than the weak or sinful areas in his wife’s life and from the heart he thanks God for the gift that his wife is to him. In other words, God is answering his prayers on multiple levels. He is at work in this man’s wife, but He is also doing a work of grace in the husband’s heart. Paul Miller writes:

A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace. Love and grace are uneven. God poured out on His own Son the criticism I deserve. Now He invites me to pour out undeserving grace on someone who has hurt me. Grace begets grace. (A Praying Life, pg. 152)

This does not change or diminish our confidence that the Father is generous and loves to answer our prayers. Not at all. As a father it’s hard for me not to draw a parallel with my relationship with my children. I want to be a father whose heart is inclined to say yes to my kids when they want something. And I want them to believe and be confident that their dad loves to bless them and give good gifts to them. But there are times when “no” is the most loving answer I can give, and I want them to believe that my “no’s” reflect my love and care as much as my “yeses”.

So asking correctly isn’t about the words, it’s about the heart. We don’t come demanding. Faith isn’t a formula to get from God what we want. Faith is a confidence that brings us to our Father and prayer is a conversation that is built on relationship – a relationship that is dynamic and growing and multilayered. So we ask, and if our hearts are postured correctly, then either we get what we wish for, or the Father works on our hearts and what we wish for changes and then we get what we wish for. All of this is built on relationship and that brings me to the third and final way that we are to ask.

3.  Ask connectedly

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is John 15 where Jesus talks about abiding in him.

John 15:7-8 -If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples

We cannot disconnect our asking from our abiding. Jesus calls us into a close and loving relationship with him – abiding in him, knowing him, loving him. In John 14, after encouraging us that whatever we ask he will do, he then says in the very next verse, if you love me you’ll keep my commandments.

As you go through the gospels, you begin to see that faith is expressed by people coming to Jesus. The centurian comes to Jesus on behalf of his servant, the father comes to Jesus with his son, a Gentile woman comes to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter, Mary comes to Jesus and asks him to do something about a wedding that ran short on wine. None of these demanded, all of them asked.

We could easily do an entire message on abiding in Christ, our relational connection with Christ, but I want us to see how central it is to our prayer life and our faith. Faith comes to Christ and asks. Are you asking? Are you coming to Christ? Bring your sin, your failures, your fears, your weaknesses – and come. Don’t try to get things worked out first – you never will. Just come. If you’ve been distant from God, come and share that with Him. He knows, but sharing it is what a child-like spirit does. Come. And as you do, you will see God’s work grow in your life and you will see answers to your prayers begin to happen all around you.

When you start “asking anything”, you’ll be surprised with how your life begins to sparkle with the presence of God. (A Praying Life, pg. 150)

More in A Praying Life

January 29, 2012

Praying in Real Life (text)

January 15, 2012

Prayer and the Danger of Cynicism

January 8, 2012

Prayer and Our Relationship With The Father (text)