Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Praying With Doubt

At the end of a recent small group meeting, as the guys all huddled up for prayer, it became obvious that we were all weighed down by a common concern. A couple that we all knew and love seem headed for a certain divorce. We knew that a solution, reconciliation, and restoration were all way beyond us. We felt powerless. We felt sick.
So we prayed. Heartfelt prayers. Ernest prayers.
But, while these actual words weren’t used, I believe our prayers could be summed up and paraphrased something like: “God, we know you are in control of everything. We know you perform miracles and can heal this marriage. We pray that you would restore these two into one. But . . . we know this situation is probably beyond repair and . . .”
We prayed with doubt.
People often cite various Bible verses to assert that God doesn’t answer our prayers unless we have the faith to KNOW that He will answer them from the start. For example:
But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NLT)
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24, NLT)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)

But what about having ‘faith as small as a mustard seed?’ (See Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6) What happens when we have enough faith to approach God, to bring our concerns to Him, yet we still harbor some doubt in our hearts and minds? Will He hear us? Will He answer our prayers? What then?
Well, the story in Acts 12:1-16 describes that very scenario: Peter was in jail and “the church was earnestly praying” for him (v. 5). So, an angel came and released Peter from the jail. Peter went to the home where the church was praying for him. After Peter knocked at the door, a servant girl ran to the others to tell them Peter was there. “"You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.” (v. 15-16, emphasis added)
Why did those praying for Peter doubt that it was him and assert that it must be his angel? Why were they “astonished” that he showed up at their door? Because there was at least some element of doubt in their minds and hearts that their prayers would be answered.
Yet they prayed. And God heard their prayers. And He answered them.
I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have been surprised, shocked, amazed, and – yes – astonished that God answered my prayers. In various instances I suppose I may have thought “God probably won’t get involved in such a minor thing,” or “This isn’t a ‘spiritual’ matter that God deals with,” or “This is just a shot in the dark,” or maybe even “This is TOO BIG for even God.”
Doubt crept in.
But - I still prayed (usually).
So, is a bit of ‘doubt’ when praying a good thing? Well, I certainly am not saying that it is. But I will say that it’s better than having so little faith in God’s love and power that you don’t see any need to or benefit in praying at all. Still, God desires that our relationship with Him continue to grow such that our prayers are less and less clouded with any doubts.
The more we pray, the more we will see God’s power in answering prayers, and the less we will doubt His ability/willingness to answer prayers in the future. As we experience His answers over and over, we begin to have more faith and less doubt that He will answer us. Our faith grows as we trust Him more.
We should begin to expect answers to our prayers rather than being astonished by them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.
Yes, I’m still praying for my friends’ marriage. But I’m also praying to have more faith in my prayers, and less doubt. I’m not there yet – my lack of faith shows in the fact that I haven’t yet bought my friends an anniversary card for next year.
My faith still has a ways to grow.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.
Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers
for all believers everywhere.
Ephesians, 6:18, NLT
If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter.
He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs,
our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves,
knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God
Romans 8:26, MSG

Today: Pray – even if you aren’t sure God is listening. Pray - even if you aren’t certain God will answer or how He’ll answer. Pray – even when you don’t know exactly what to pray.
Tomorrow: Do it again.

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