Ask and Believe

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “Ask” which you can read here. It was all about encouraging us to ask of our generous and gracious God.

At that time, I prayed a specific prayer to the Lord and am thrilled to say that it was fulfilled this week. The content of the prayer is not for sharing, but please do join me in thanking and praising our Wonderful Lord for His faithfulness.

Here’s the thing though… I was more than a little surprised when the answer came. What does that say about my faith in general, or in that particular prayer? If we are surprised when God answers our prayers, it is because we did not expect Him to do so. Let me be clear; if we do not expect any answer to our prayers, then why pray in the first place? Prayer is not simply “wishing!”

I am truly humbled to see this answer come, and God has challenged me to not just pray big, but to really expect the answer to come. I have heard Christians pray for something, say “Amen!” and then immediately say, “That probably won’t happen…” Why do we undo our prayers like that!

In the first chapter of the letter of James, it says this:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8 (NIV)

James is clearly talking about the subject of wisdom here, and yet what he says about not doubting applies to all that we ask of God.

Verse six tells us to believe but at the same time, not to doubt. These are two separate instructions, I think. Belief and doubt are not mutually exclusive. For the prayer I referred to above, I did believe God when I asked, but I also doubted it would happen. My doubt was not necessarily in God Himself, but rather in a) my deserving b) that it was His will and c) that the ask was too big for me and my faith right now.

I can say wholeheartedly that I did believe when I asked, otherwise I would not have asked at all. But in the gap between the ask and the result, I began to doubt that the answer would come. Can you relate?

James uses the example of a wave to illustrate his point. A wave is neither on the beach nor out to sea. One minute it is in, and the next it is out. I am fortunate to live by the coast, and so when we take a walk alone the shoreline, I am reminded of this truth. I do not wish to be like the wave. When I pray, I want to be fully in – believing that God will come through and not doubting either Him or myself.

That is why it is so important to pray with the Bible. If we are not entirely sure if something is God’s will, then it is hard to have complete faith in it. However, when we pray with the Word of God, we can be sure that what we are asking for is promised by Him. It gives us full assurance of His faithfulness.

So I am going to continue to pray, and pray big! In an attempt to learn my lesson from this experience, I am going to focus on the Generous God we serve, and try not to allow doubt to talk me out of it. If God shows me that the answer is no, then I shall move on to the next thing!

Tell me your praise reports and prayer testimonies. Are you ever surprised by God answering your prayers? Let’s steadfastly remain in Him, trusting in His goodness and glory.

As ever, do send me your prayer requests. I would love to pray for you in whatever capacity I can. Comment below or get in touch. May your prayers be fruitful this week!

Praying Big

Yesterday’s post – What is prayer? – had a really positive response, so thanks to everyone for reading and sharing it. I thought I would continue on the theme of prayer today.

i heard a story this morning which I wanted to share with you. I retell it below in my own words. I’ve no idea if it is true, but it sends a clear message even if fictional.

Alexander the Great was the leader of a huge empire which stretched across much of the world. Despite this, he never forgot the needs of his people and one day every year he would invite randomly selected citizens to come and ask him for something. Whatever they wanted, he would grant it if it was within his power.

For many years, people would come and ask for small things. One would ask for enough food to eat. Another would request some new clothing.

One year, a peasant was selected and he stood before the great leader. Unlike the others, he asked for a great palace to live in, and the resources to invite all his friends and family to come and dine in the palace and take care of them.

Without hesitation, Alexander the Great said “Yes!”

Later, Alexander was asked why he would grant such a lavish request. His response was telling. “Anyone could give extra food or clothes, you do not need to be anyone special for that. But this request made me feel like a king! For only a king could give what this man had asked for.”

I wonder if our prayers to God the Father are somehow reflected in this story?

When I think about my own prayer life, I am humbled to realise that i do not pray anywhere near “big enough.” How often do we find ourselves saying something like, “God, if you would just….” or “Even if you could give a little help…” What does this betray about how we think about God or ourselves?

Perhaps we think God is not powerful enough to handle our prayers? Or, more likely, perhaps we think we do not deserve to receive answers to such big prayers?

Let me reassure you today, God can handle any prayer you care to offer to Him. The lights in heaven will not dim if you ask too much of God. God created the heavens and the earth, and He raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Is anything too hard for God?

Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the time set for it, I will return to you—about a year from now—and Sarah will have a son.”

Genesis 18:14 (ISV)

Abraham and Sarah became parents at a very old age, and that was not too difficult for God.

On the other point, do you deserve to have God answer your biggest prayers? No, absolutely not. But that is why we do not pray in our name, but in the Name of Jesus.

If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.”

John 14:14 (ISV)

When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we are approaching the throne of God presenting all that Jesus is and has done. We do not go on our own merits, but on Christ’s. When God looks upon us, He no longer sees our sin and sinfulness, but the perfection achieved by Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross.

I once heard someone say, “I’d rather ask God for everything and get some of it, than ask for nothing and get all of it.” We rarely ask for the “big stuff” because we often don’t think big enough.

There is much I learn from my own children on this point. My daughters rarely limit what they ask for. It does not matter how big it is, they go ahead and ask. It never crosses their mind that I might not be able to deliver! And even when I say no (far too often I am sad to admit) it does not faze them one bit – they just go on and ask for the next thing.

If we ask for more in prayer, then what is the worst than can happen? If we ask for anything from God which is not His will, then it will not happen. So move on and ask for something which is in His will. Clearly we should not be asking for things prohibited by the Bible, but don’t limit God by assuming He will say no before you’ve even asked. At least give God the right to refuse!

Set your minds on God, not just what He has done, but on Who He is. Not only is He all powerful, but He loves you so much He gave us His Son to die for you! If we begin to grasp the depth of His love and the strength of His power, then we will never cease to pray!

Now to the one who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine according to the power that is working among us—

Ephesians 3:20 (ISV)

God can do far more than we can ask or even imagine. How “big” is your imagination? How much more is God than that!

Start today. Let’s stop praying these tiny prayers as if we are bothering God. Let each one of us, as we pray, use our imaginations to go beyond whatever it is we were about to ask for. Take your prayer and multiply it first, then dare to go further and ask God to achieve it. He is able!

Bear in mind that prayer is not primarily about getting everything we want. Ask for your needs and wants of course, but let us all pray in ways which will last for eternity, not just the here and now.

We praise the Living God who hears our prayers and can do all things! Nothing is impossible for Him! Let us magnify and multiply our prayers a hundred-fold, and give God all the glory as we see the answers come! Amen!

All the Benefits of Believing

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #11

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Psalm 103:1 (ESV)

 

Read the entirety of this Psalm here.

 

This is the concluding part of our “All the Benefits of Believing” series, and I really hope you have enjoyed it and learned something.

Last week we reached the end of the psalm, and in this post I just want to summarise some of the things we’ve covered along the way.

Beginning and End

David launched into his song of praise by instructing himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” Praise is not always automatic, and sometimes we need to encourage ourselves to bless God. We are human and subject to many trials, and this can sometimes mean we just don’t feel like it. We must go beyond our feelings however, not only because God deserves our worship, but because it is better for us.

Likewise, David concludes his psalm with the very same phrase – “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” These phrases act as bookends, always bringing us back to our created purpose of worshipping God. We would do well to pray in like manner, beginning and ending with words of praise and thanksgiving.

But what comes in between? David’s list of reasons to worship the Lord – the benefits of believing.

These include:

  • Forgiveness
  • Healing
  • Rescue
  • Redemption
  • Satisfaction
  • Crowning with love
  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Compassion
  • Steadfast love

And the list goes on and on!

There is no shortage of things to thank and praise God for here, and I encourage you to spend some time going over the list and the psalm, and truly worshipping God. Even if you just pick one item a day and spend that day giving thanks, I’m sure you will be uplifted.

What might your list look like?

While David’s list here is extensive, your own personal list may be somewhat different. That is ok, and again, I encourage you to write one of your own. What are you especially thankful for? Perhaps a particular relationship? Perhaps your church?

What characteristics of God do you see displayed in the life of Jesus? Are there particular ones which you are especially grateful for? Read through the Gospels and find a few, then let them be opportunities to bless the Lord this week.

All the Benefits of Believing

The word “all” appears nine times in this one psalm (ESV). To me, it’s an important biblical word and not one to skim over lightly. Often we read the word, but exclude ourselves from the promise. All usually means all, which includes you. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting you force every Scripture into a promise or command for yourself, but equally don’t automatically disqualify yourself.

We do that when we feel unworthy of one of the promises of God. As I stated in this series more than once, you are qualified not because of your behaviour, but because of Christ.

It is interesting to me that David, who wrote this psalm, was not born again and could only look ahead to the promise of Christ. Yet his words of praise are so amazing. We, who live and abide in Jesus, should not only be able to enjoy David’s words, but lift up our own words of thanks.

David could only look forward to Jesus; we can know Him personally.

I’m conscious of those of you who may be reading this and thinking, “That’s all well and good for you Andy, but look what’s happening to me!” I hear you. These are wonderful things, but for some of us, they seem like a distant hope and not for the here and now.

For things such as forgiveness or being crowned with love, it is hard to prove these in our lives. What does forgiveness look like? The crown of love isn’t a physical one, so how do we know it is there? The simple answer (but not easy one) is faith. We believe these things because they are true, irrespective of how we feel about them.

Other benefits such as being satisfied with good things may require some adjustment on our part. You may be looking at a pile of bills covered in red and thinking, “so much for being satisfied with good things…” As I said in an earlier post, we have to choose between two opposing views. Do we believe God’s Word, or our circumstances?

It is the same choice that Adam and Eve faced; do they believe what God said, or do they believe the serpent?

When we encounter a promise in the Bible that is seemingly unfulfilled in our lives, there could be a number of reasons for this. Firstly, check the promise is for you. The context will help here. Is it a promise made to the church, or to a specific person, or to the nation of Israel? Is it applicable to you?

Secondly, if it is for you, then we need to ensure we have understood it correctly. In our example above, being satisfied with good things is not necessarily a promise that you will have everything you want whenever you want it. Similarly, it may have nothing to do with your circumstances, but rather your attitude. Are you dissatisfied because you are in lack, or because you covet things that others have?

Thirdly, is the promise for now, or for the future? Some things spoken of in the Bible are not for the here and now, but for heaven perhaps or another time.

Finally, if we have properly established the promise is for us, that it is for the here and now, and that we have not misinterpreted it, the only thing left to consider is ourselves. God always keeps His promises. He will always uphold His end of the bargain. If we are not receiving, then the problem is always with us and not with the promise, and certainly not with God.

The real benefit of believing

I want to conclude the series by repeating something I’ve said more than once – but it bears saying again.

All of the benefits we have examined over the last few months are truly wonderful. There are many things to thank and praise God for, but they pale in comparison to the real benefit of believing.

The real benefit of believing is Jesus Christ Himself.

I don’t think I can say it any better than Paul did when he said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

Philippians 3:8 (ESV)

All the benefits of believing are benefits of believing in Christ. If you are without Him, then you are without any and all of these blessings.

I encourage you not just to thank God for all of these wonderful things, but to thank God for the One Who made it all possible – Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus embodies these benefits. His made the way for our forgiveness, He is the One who redeems us, and through Him ours sins are removed.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, for all the benefits of believing in Him. Bless the Lord, O my soul, for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord! Amen!