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Dare to Pray! (Mark 11:23-24)

Prayer is how our entire Christian life began – asking God to save us, calling on Jesus’ name.  Prayer sustains us throughout our Christians lives – both individually and corporately as His Church, day and night.  Our last breath will probably be a  prayer uttered to our heavenly Father before we arrive home in Heaven, where prayer will no longer be necessary.

But until that day, we must pray:  We cannot see God’s true power at work in this world outside of prayer.  We saw last Sunday in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 the disciple’s failure in ministry because of the sin of prayerlessness, rooted in unbelief.  But I also wanted to explain a bit more about Christ’s powerful remedy of believing prayer, as reiterated further in Mark 11:

And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.  Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mk. 11:22-24).

We’ve all heard these kinds of Bible verses twisted, manipulated, and hijacked beyond recognition by prosperity preachers, stripped totally out of context.  But what then does it actually mean?  Do we dare to accept the full and joyous weight of what Jesus is truly teaching here?

Jesus is now headed into His final Passion week, with the agony of Good Friday in view.  He is saying to His disciples:  ‘Men, you are about to face the toughest week of your entire life.  Your faith is about to tested and refined through the fiery furnace of suffering.  You will be tempted to panic and despair, you will want to give up.  But don’t do it!  Keep trusting My Father, just as I had to trust Him throughout my earthly life.’

Further, our Lord is teaching the Twelve and us all:  ‘Remember what God did for Me through faith.  Remember that cursed fig tree, remember Lazarus walking out of his tomb, remember the 5,000 being fed, the calm seas after I rebuked the storm, the sick healed, the lame raised.  Remember that I worked these miracles through prayer. Remember the whole nights I spent in prayer, remember how often I lifted My eyes upward, how often I groaned heavenward in prayer.’

Here is the one unshakable conviction that led Hudson Taylor to suffer and give his life for 51 years to see inland China reached and at least 18,000 souls won to Christ:  “There is a living God.  He has spoken in the Bible.  He means what He says and will do all that He has promised.”  After Taylor died, one bishop said this about him:

The power inherent in a simple faith, without any accessories…, remains an awe-inspiring and tremendous fact. …We can be thankful for the one deep lesson taught to this generation by the founder of the China Inland Mission, the power of the pure flame of passionate belief.  …The spiritual force has been so great that no church or denomination can show so imposing a mass of missionary agents in China as the Inland Mission….

By the time of Hudson’s death, over 800 missionary recruits had come to join him in China!   His biographer states:

the secret of it all was Hudson Taylor’s simple, childlike, unshakable faith in God.  He is simply inconceivable apart from his faith in the Word, and character, of God.  There is no other explanation of the man. …If there is one Scripture, more than another, inseparably associated with [the name Hudson Taylor], it is [this]: Mk. 11:22,  “Have faith in God.”

 Oh that God would raise up among us here more Hudson Taylor’s who will trust God so fully that they too will take great risks and accomplish great exploits in Christ’s cause!

But let’s be real clear on what faith is and what it is not. There is nothing that Satan works harder to confuse Christians about than the nature of true faith:

What Faith is Not

Biblical faith does not say, ‘I can do this; I have enough faith; I have the potential, I am capable; I’m positive, I refuse to be negative; and I expect God to grant my every wish (like some fortune cookie or genie in a bottle).’  Disney theology is unbiblical, selfish, and very man-centred:

There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill
Who knows what miracles, you can achieve,
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe.
…Just believe, just believe…

Faith is only as good as its object.  People of every religion and people of no religion talk about “faith”.  Even faith in Coca-cola or boerwors may feel good for a while, and it can even improve your health and enhance your life temporarily just to have some kind of faith/hope – it’s called ‘the placebo effect’.  But Christian faith trusts only in the God of the Bible, the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:2).

Jesus says, ‘If you have true faith, even if it is the size of a tiny mustard seed, you can move mountains!’ (Matt. 17:20). It’s not about the size of our faith; it’s about the size of our God!  God can take the most pathetic, puny faith and do awesome things:  Like when Peter was about to drown at sea, but then he cries out in prayer to Jesus, and he is answered for his “little faith” (Matt. 14:29).  Or that desperate father of the demonised boy in Matthew 17, who runs to Jesus, cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”, and Jesus heals his son!  It’s not about the size of our faith; it’s about the size of our God!

What Faith Is

 Biblical, saving faith realises that God alone has unlimited power.  It is the childlike, desperate dependence upon our Father to accomplish His will, not my will.  “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).  Faith is the choice to trust Christ against all odds, despite everything else to the contrary.  Faith is expecting from the Lord what can be expected from no one and nothing else – trusting God to do what only He can do.

Faith was Satan’s first target in Garden with Eve and Adam. It was the lack of faith in the 10 spies, unlike Joshua and Caleb, that sent Israel into 40 years of wandering and perishing in the wilderness. Faith was central to Jesus’ ministry.  Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus declares, “Your faith has healed you; your faith has saved you; only believe!”

Faith On Display

 What is one of the best proofs of true faith in God, one of the clearest expressions of true dependence upon the Lord?  Our prayer life.  Through believing prayer, we discover Christ to be the ultimate ‘Rooter up of Mountains’, the ‘Lord of the impossible’!

Jesus is not saying that we can just ask God do spectacular things willy-nilly, any time we’d like.  When the Pharisees wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle, He refused to do so because of their unbelief:  “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign” (Matt. 12:39).  God can do anything He wants to do, according to His will, not ours (1 Jn. 5:14).

No matter how hard I pray, God has never promised to improve my health or circumstances in this life, or to dethrone dictators, as much as we long for that.  But in His Word, God has given me thousands of spiritual promises of how He will: provide my daily bread; forgive my sin; glorify His name, use His Word, bring in His elect; build His church, work “all things together” for our eternal good, to make us more like Christ!  For those kinds of spiritual desires that seem impossible at times, I can pray confidently, knowing God will answer!

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan describes how Giant Despair locks up the Christian in Doubting Castle.  If you let it, doubt will lead you into the darkest nights of despair that you have ever known.

Whatever You Ask?!

 Beloved, I wonder what other mountains of impossibility are staring at you on the horizon?  Trusting God with your spiritual struggles? unsaved loved ones?  financial fears?  career changes?  family conflict?  health concerns?, and much more.

We’ve only begun to imagine all that God wants to do through us as believers and as a church when we trust Him and as we learn to slay every doubt (in our hearts) and storm the gates of Heaven in believing prayer!  That’s exactly how Jesus would speak in His Upper Room counsel the night before His crucifixion, daring the disciples to ‘expect great things from God’ in the work of the kingdom:

“…I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. …If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, [nb, Christ-centred, Scripture-saturated prayers!] ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. …I appointed you to go and bear lasting fruit…then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” ((John 14:13-14; 15:7,16).

Do we dare to believe this?  Hudson Taylor once wrote: Oh, for the clear accent, the ringing, joyous note of apostolic assurance! We want a faith not loud, but deep; a faith not born of sentiment and human sympathy, but that comes from the vision of the living God. …There is no dream that must not be dared…  Faith laughs at impossibilities; and obedience raises no questions.

Or as John Newton put in his hymn:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None could ever ask too much!


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