I remember a time when Annie and I would easily wish away the days and weeks in excited anticipation of an upcoming event. It might have been a holiday, a birthday, an evening out with friends or the next season or episode of Lost(!)… Whatever the event, the days and weeks in between could be nothing more than vehicles to get you there; empty squares in a diary that stood in between now and the squares filled with capital letters and exclamation marks!
As we have said many times throughout this blog, in more recent times, both Annie and I really cherish each day as a gift from God.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24
Somewhere in the middle of Friday, Annie said to me: “Today feels like a waste of a day.” When each day is so very precious to you, one day spent lying down feeling tired and full of cold, does feel that way. The Friday that Annie had was nothing to really write about. Certainly nothing that that required more than the three words: ‘Sick and tired!’.
On Friday evening we had our final choir practice before going out into the city the following day for our inaugural praising in public. It was also marked as being the first practice that Annie was unable to make. It seemed a real shame. Of all the health barriers that she had been able to overcome for the previous practices, even if it meant turning up plugged into a drip driver, it was a cold that kept her from coming to that last practice.
When Philippa and I got home we prayed with and for Annie and although it wasn’t a long prayer meeting, it was nonetheless very special. As I was praying the Spirit of God very clearly pointed me to a scripture and prompted me to pray accordingly.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. – Mark 11:24
There are many verses in scripture that I don’t understand properly. Mark 11:24 is one of those verses. When you don’t understand certain scriptures before reaching for your favourite bible commentary to see what your favourite bible scholar has said about it, you can always frame those particular verses in the wider context; the wider context of the passage where the verse is found; the wider context of what you do know from the Word of God; what you know about Jesus, what you know about God’s nature.
Some of you reading this might wonder why I struggle with what appears to be such a simple verse. Surely, Jesus was saying, if you ask Him for something in prayer and you believe so much that you continue as if you had received that thing, then you will get it…?
But I personally know that not everything I ask for is good for me – even if it seems so at the time. I know God knows best. His will for me is good and perfect. Jesus is able to distinguish between what I need and what I want much better than I am. Some of you reading this are parents and you know that it is because you love your children, there are often times that you won’t give them what they want.
The reason this world is so messed up is ultimately as a consequence of man’s belief that what he wants, is best. And so I personally believe that I am right to not assume that everything I want or ask for is truly good for me.
I am also cautious about that verse in Mark 11 because I have met Christians, going through physical suffering who bear the added pain and scars inflicted upon them by other Christians telling them that the reason they haven’t been healed is because they didn’t have the faith according to verses like Mark 11:24. That really upsets me. It makes me wonder whether those who hurled that verse at a suffering brother or sister really understood four simple words the Apostle Paul wrote to the fractured church in Corinth:
Do everything in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:14
However, as Christians we have to be careful of forging our interpretation of scripture simply on our experiences (good or bad) or on a knee-jerk retaliation to something or someone else. When we hear scripture used without love, it’s easy to conclude (whether or not we know what it means) that it must mean the exact opposite.
I’ve witnessed enough Christian casualties to easily bring me to the conclusion that in Mark 11:24 Jesus couldn’t possibly mean that as Christians we use prayer to name it and claim it and that if we don’t receive it then that is just because our faith is just second-class. But I have to be careful not to develop a long-winded routine of textual gymnastics in order to take all the bits of scripture like that and render them to mean the exact opposite simply because I’ve witnessed misuse. We have a phrase ‘Be careful not to throw the baby out of the bath water.’ which might describe what I am trying to say here.
Like I said, I haven’t entirely grasped exactly what verses like that actually mean. And I’m not using this entry to write my commentary, but during our little prayer meeting on Friday night, the Lord really helped shine a light on that verse .
In the context of that passage in Mark 11, Jesus is actually talking about faith and about having faith.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:22-26
Faith in God is something we can have. But those that have it, receive it as a gift from God. There are lots of verses that I could quote from scripture in support of this. Just a few that come to mind…
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8
In Luke’s gospel we read how the Apostles (the 12 disciples of Jesus) asked Jesus to increase their faith.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” – Luke 17:5
And we have that verse I’ve used a number of times in the lifetime of this blog from Hebrews which names Jesus as the author, the originator of the faith we have in God…
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, – Hebrews 12:2
When I was praying over Annie on Friday evening, the only way I can explain what happened is to describe it as the Spirit of God saying to me: “I want to give you the faith to believe that Annie will be well tomorrow and that she will be there to enjoy the choir singing. You just need to ask for it.”
This is not something that I would say is a routine, or a tradition in the way that I pray. But I had absolute peace in praying it. My spiritual journey has sometimes been plagued by doubt – a joy-robbing doubt that Jesus has helped to alleviate through His forgiveness and His presence. But in this instance I had absolutely no doubt. Although Annie was coughing and retching on Friday evening, God had given me complete peace that I had prayed according to what His Spirit had prompted me to pray for along with His gift of faith that accompanied His prompting. Philippa said she experienced the very same thing. So much so that on Saturday morning she said rather than text Annie to see how she was, she would continue to trust and believe that Annie was well enough to come along.
Not only was Annie well, she was incredibly, I would say, miraculously well. This entire weekend has been another one of those remarkable weekends of health. On Saturday morning, she looked healthier than I’ve seen her in months. Annie remarked that she was pain-free all through the weekend and her increased energy was evident to all. She even joined the after-singing fellowship at Keystones Cafe – not only that, she had the stomach and stamina to eat Jalepeno Cheese Poppers there as well!
And you know something, as weird as this sounds, I was among the few on Saturday who were not surprised at this! I was joyful, but not surprised! I don’t say that out of complacency or arrogance but rather a Spirit-enabled expectancy.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Ephesians 6:18
I am not writing this to tell you that I have had an about turn in my theology of prayer! I don’t believe that everything I pray for now will turn to gold. I don’t believe that praying in the Spirit is simply a riddle that once worked out is a fast track route to getting everything you ask for. When I read the scriptures I learn that we can sometimes quench and stifle the Spirit of God. Sometimes we pray without listening to the Spirit of God speak to us; we simply come with a list of things we already wrote out as if God was some sort of Santa Claus figure; other times we don’t pray because we doubt God is able to change the circumstances.
But this weekend, the Lord has once again increased my fervency for prayer in and according to the Spirit of God. To ask according to the Father’s will. To trust and expect accordingly. I long to walk more closely in step with the Spirit that I might more and more ask, believe and expect according to His good and perfect will.
We have had a wonderful weekend and I’ll use a separate post to write something about Sunday. I can’t recall a single minute going by on Saturday where I was not consciously joyful and mindful of the Lord’s work. In times like these, not only are we thankful for each day, but even the minutes are full and precious.
Thank you Jesus for your gift of faith!