Unbelief can kill you

Hindrances to successful prayer

Living here and now, believers in Christ have God the Holy Spirit living inside of them, interested in their daily activities, their thoughts and wishes. Instructing, explaining, giving out assignments and directions, including what to pray.

If we are inhabited by God himself, and if we are praying what God desires for us to pray, then what might hinder us from getting those prayers answered?

Unbelief, which can come from (1) a willful refusal to believe, or (2) ignorance of who God is, his character, his love, his grace, and his will. The result is the same, a lack of active, energized faith. Faith and belief are from the same Greek word, pistis.

  • Matthew 13:58, Mark 6:5-6 – Jesus could do no mighty works in Nazareth because of unbelief.
  • Matthew 9:25, Mark 5:40 – Jesus put unbelievers out of the room (case of the ruler’s daughter).
  • Acts 9:40 – Peter also put unbelievers out of the room (case of Tabitha/Dorcas). Read the passage about Aeneas first, then this passage.

Peter put the unbelievers out of the room first, before praying. He prayed not for the dead woman, but to get God’s instructions on what to do about her. Then he turned and just spoke to her, as he had done to Aeneas, telling her to do something she could not do. And she did it. There was a good reason to put the unbelievers out, unbelief can kill you.

  • In Mark 9:23-24, the father of a demon-oppressed boy came to Jesus after the disciples couldn’t help him. “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

Honoring the small faith the boy’s father did have, Jesus helped his unbelief – he healed and delivered the boy. (Jesus told the disciples, this kind comes only by prayer and fasting.)

Misbelief, a mistaken belief, believing the wrong thing, such as:

  • Miracles ceased with the apostles, not for today – yet more miracles occur today than ever.
  • Healing is not in the atonement, it’s not always God’s will – but Jesus healed ALL that came to him. The word for healing is the same Greek word for salvation. You can’t parse this word, it’s the same, single word: Greek sozo, soteria.
  • “Whatever will be, will be” – but that’s from Eastern religion, it’s not a Christian principle.
  • You can’t really know God’s will for sure – but He wants you to know his will more than you want to know it. See Colossians 1:9.
  • You don’t deserve answers to prayer because of past sins, or not being good enough. But salvation is by grace, it’s not deserved, it is by accepted faith. So are answers to prayer.

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Current sinful practices may hinder answers, but it’s not because you don’t deserve answers. You put up a barricade to receiving answers by believing the wrong things.

Doubt. Doubt may come before faith, and frequently does. Doubt simply means trying to decide between two things; the choice and decision is yours. This is usually from the Greek word diakrino, to examine in order to make a determination; to judge, discern, contend, waver, determine; doubt.

  • In Matthew 21:21, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”
  • In Mark 11:23, he said “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.”
  • James 1:6 translates this word as wavering, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”

Doubt is not bad unless you remain there, never coming to a decision.

Note: Sometimes you have plenty of time, but sometimes you have to decide quickly. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God can you make the right decision when you don’t have much time…

  • In Matthew 14:26-32, Peter was headed to Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee. As the wind arose he looked at two things, Jesus and the boisterous waves. Doubting his own ability (and perhaps his survival), Peter had to make a quick decision. He made the right one. “Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Belief problems can be solved. Hindrances to successful prayer, God-directed prayer, can be removed. Studying the scriptures and getting to know God’s character is essential to that, because active faith – belief – comes by hearing, present tense, the word of God (Romans 10:17).

(Notes adapted Class Notes, Principles of Intercessory Prayer.)

Que sera

Reposted from September 2006

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be” — God’s will?

Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe unto them who call evil, good, and good, evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

A couple of years ago, the Sunday School class I attended was studying the Bible account of Jesus and the disciples, the boat and the storm.

Jesus and the disciples were in a boat headed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee when a bad storm came up. Jesus was taking a nap and the panic-stricken disciples woke him up, saying “Lord, save us, we perish.” (Matthew 8:25) Mark puts it like this: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38) Jesus got up, rebuked the storm stopping it in its tracks, and then rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. (They could have stopped the storm themselves, without waking him up.)

One of the class members said, “God was trying to kill Jesus with the storm. That’s why the storm arose in the first place, and then Jesus cancelled out God’s will by rebuking the storm.”

I asked her, “You don’t believe Jesus was God?” “Well, yes,” she said, “but everything that happens is God’s will, isn’t it?” She looked a little puzzled at my reaction when I strongly disagreed. The notion that everything bad and evil happening in the world is God’s will, his design, his doing — is calling evil, good, and good, evil.

God created man to have a will of his own, gave him authority to use it, and has never taken that authority back. God did not force Adam and Eve to disobey a direct command. He doesn’t force me, or you, or Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or a child rapist, or a terrorist, to commit evil.

It is not God’s will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9) Yet some people do perish.

We are instructed to pray for leaders and government authorities, because it’s God’s will for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 2:4) But not all people will be saved.

People have a free will of their own — some use it to make the wrong choice. The devil didn’t make them do it, and God didn’t make them do it.

If everything that happened was God’s will, why bother to pray? Just let whatever will be, be. But then certain other scriptures would have to be torn out of the Bible…

Like Ephesians 6:2, “Honor thy father and mother which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” That’s number Five of the Ten Commandments, quoted from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16.

Well, maybe the Ten Commandments don’t apply any more. Or maybe they don’t apply to everybody, or they don’t apply in any real sense. Just in a wishy-washy sense that only applies to some group dynamic — not to individuals at all, just the whole of mankind which will survive while individuals are slaughtered at God’s whim. Hogwash.

Many “if” statements are found throughout the Bible. If you do this, that will happen. It’s the eternal law of sowing and reaping. Long life is one of those “ifs.” Deuteronomy 6:2, “… that thy days may be prolonged.” Deuteronomy 11:9, “And that ye may prolong your days in the land…” If they obeyed God’s Word, that is. But they didn’t, and their days weren’t prolonged.

What about bad things happening to good people? If God isn’t behind everything, then is he powerless? NOT omnipotent after all? Couldn’t he do something to stop it, if it wasn’t his will? Yes, if God wanted to change himself, become an Indian-giver and a liar, he could. But he gave control of some things over to people.

We have an enemy, Satan, who hates God and us. He’s real; a real liar and a real murderer. He will kill us if he can, steal from us whatever he can take and destroy anything he can’t take. (John 10:10.) He is the accuser and the leader-astray, but he can’t make us do anything against our will. He can certainly suggest sin, demonstrate how to do it and promise to reward it, but in the end he will be destroyed. Those who side with him will be destroyed, too.

God told us to do certain specific things. He made promises and provisions to those who are in Christ. The global, spiritual warfare is real, the devastation is real, the pain is real, but God’s power is even more real. He loves to demonstrate that power through the lives of his people. If they will let him…

If prayer was useless and “que sera, sera” was true, why would we be told to pray so many times? If faith was powerless, why did Jesus urge the disciples to have God’s faith? If death and disaster was God’s will, why did God send the Holy Spirit and gifts of healing and miracles?

The choice to believe is ours, and I choose to believe God is good, his mercy endures forever, and his Word is true. Mark 11:23-24 is true. Mark 9:23 is true. Matthew 17:20 is true.

The problem isn’t in God or in his Word. The problem is in those who fall for “que sera, sera” and won’t pay the price to believe. Faith is ours for the taking, but it comes with a responsibility and a job description.

When somebody gets sick and dies, it’s easier to say it must have been God’s will and excuse unbelief, than to take responsibility for failure. The disciples failed, after all — they tried to cast out a demon from a sick child and failed. (Mark 9:14-29) Jesus came along, took care of the problem, then explained to the disciples what they needed to do differently. Prayer with fasting. Do you suppose they ignored Jesus after that and simply quit praying for the sick? I don’t think so.

Jerry Savelle came to Florence years ago for a series of meetings about healing. He recalled an incident when a man complained to him, “Brother Jerry, you prayed for brother so and so, and he died!” Jerry answered, “Everybody I pray for dies sooner or later.” That didn’t excuse him from praying for the next fellow, and it doesn’t excuse us either.

Thy will _________________ be done

“The Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew is so familiar that we usually use those verses as a prayer, rather than as a model for prayer.

The disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and he gave them those phrases as a learning tool. It occurs to me that if we really learn the principles of those few lines, we’d pray “Thy will ____________________ (insert specific request here) be done on earth…” and we’d actually insert specific requests.

We’d know what Father God wanted to do on earth because we had sought his will first, conversed with him, listened to his voice, and then prayed that, allowing him to go to work to fulfill his will.

Suppose God wants to end the floods in the midwest or the forest fires in California? We’d insert “end the floods in the midwest” or “end the forest fires in California” as a specific request. Amid the praise and the requests for personal provision, we’d pray for him to carry out his desires in specific situations by praying his specific will.

Dead people don’t praise God, the Bible says. Saving bodies is sometimes necessary before saving souls can be done. So if floods and fires threaten the lives of people, let’s don’t assume God wants to drown or burn everyone in their paths. Insurance companies call those events “acts of God,” but mercy is truly an act of God! Jesus fed the 5,000 as well as preached to them, after all. He knew growling stomachs interfere with listening ears.

I’d like to recite the Lord’s Prayer in a new way, pausing to fill in the blank: “Thy will ________________________ be done on earth…” That will take more time and work, of course. But the results of the seeking, the finding and the praying of God’s will no doubt will be worth it.