Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©

Chapter 7 ATTITUDES IN PRAYER (Continued)

3 Faith

"This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith".
(1 Jn.5:4)
"Faith is the act by which we enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So Luther could say in his characteristically direct way, 'Faith is prayer and nothing else'.(3)"
(Daniel Jenkins)

A vast number of passages in the Bible speak of faith as required of us as we come to God in prayer. Hebrews 11:6 sums them up, "without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." This is the explicit teaching of Jesus, as when he says (in Mark 11:22-24), "Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." "Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive" (Matt. 21:22).

What then is true faith? Faith means trust in God as a loving and wise heavenly Father. Jesus commends to us the trust of a little child as the attitude he looks for in us. In our human frailty we often complain about our circumstances, as the Book of Exodus speaks of the people of Israel before the Red Sea (Ex.14:10-14) and when they were in need of water in the wilderness (Ex.17:1-4). The attitude of faith involves simply bringing our circumstances and our needs to God. When we have the knowledge of what God has done in the past for those who have trusted him, and when we know the truth of his very nature, we have the basis on which we should be able to trust him. Isaiah 26:3-4 expresses movingly this attitude of trust, "Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace - in peace because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting Rock." Isaiah 30:15 is comparable, "Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."

Faith in the sense represented by the passages just quoted is more than belief. H.E. Fosdick says, 'The tragedy of the Church is to be found in the thousands who fondle their credal maps, on which are marked the roadways of God's friendship, but who do not travel.' (4) Faith is trust, confidence, even meaning, as Hebrews 4:16 puts it, that we are assured that we can "approach the throne of grace with confidence". The Gospels provide good examples of those who came to the Lord with a real trust, like the leper who came and said, "If you are willing, you can make me clean" (Mk.1:40). In Matthew 8:10-11 Jesus commends the faith of the Roman centurion as an example for others, a challenge to those who had greater opportunity of the knowledge of God and stronger reason to have such faith. He also commends the faith of the Canaanite woman who clung to her plea that Jesus would come to the help of her daughter, saying to her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' (Matt.15:28). Martha (Jn.11:22) showed exemplary faith when she said to the Lord, "even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him". Hebrews 11 is full of examples of those who approached God in faith and lived their lives in faith.

There were others who came to Jesus conscious of their lack of faith, like the man who came on behalf of his epileptic son, and could only say, "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mk.9:24). In Matthew 17:21 Jesus' answer to the disciples as to why they had been unable to help in that case was, "Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." There are sad examples in the Gospels of lack of faith that hindered the work of Christ (see Matt.13:58, 14:31 and 16:8). Constantly Jesus challenged his disciples themselves about their lack of faith, and sought to lead them on to an attitude of more confident trust (Matt.8:25-27). The incident of the 'cursing of the fig tree' was such an occasion when the Lord gave the disciples a lesson on faith (Matt.21:20-23)

Faith is in fact facilitated when we realise the greatness and love of God and have an assurance of his will and purpose. Faith rather than doubting (cf.Jas.1:5-8) becomes the natural attitude to show towards One who is known as a mighty and loving God. Such an appreciation of what God is like enables faith to replace anxiety in the way that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount (in Matt.6:25-34), and as the apostle Paul underlines in Philippians 4:6. 1 Peter 5:7 has the same emphasis, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you."

Trust we should note also means patience, because trust involves the willingness to let God answer our prayers in his own time and his own way, since time in the purposes of God is not necessarily reckoned as we reckon it (2 Pet.3:8). The need of patience is indicated in the way, as we have seen, that the prayer vocabulary of the Bible gives a significant place to the terms, "waiting on God" and "waiting for God". The psalms often use these terms, and Lamentations 3:25-26 puts it that "the Lord is good to those who wait for him", and that "it is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord" (cf. Hos.12:6, Mic.7:7). In the famous words of Isaiah 40:31, "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (5)

4. Obedience

"Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false ---
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob."
(Psalm 24:3, 4, 6)
'The meaning of prayer can be summed up in the one word "surrender".'
(Toyohiko Kagawa)

Prayer is sometimes thought of as seeking from God our highest and greatest desires. Rather we should see it as submitting ourselves to receive the highest and best that God wants to give. One way of putting this is that the desire for righteousness of life is true prayer, and those who pray best are those whom the Sermon on the Mount describes as the "pure in heart" or as those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matt.5:6 and 8). James 5:16 puts it, "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.". Proverbs 15:8 says "the prayer of the upright is (God's) delight". We have seen how Isaiah 58 speaks powerfully of the approach to God that is acceptable to him, emphasising that the "fasting" that God accepts is the attitude of humility, expressed also in actions carried out in obedience to his laws, working against oppression and showing concern for the needy. If such conditions are fulfilled, the Lord says, "Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am." (Isa.58:9, cf. Mic.6:6-8.) In the New Testament 2 Timothy 2:22 speaks of calling on the Lord "out of a pure heart". 1 Peter 3:12, quoting the Old Testament, says, "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer." Amos (5:4, 6, and 14-15) makes very clear that seeking the Lord involves seeking righteousness, and the same emphasis is in Zephaniah 2:3, "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness ---." Zechariah 3:7 speaks of "right of access" as the privilege of those who walk in the ways of the Lord.

In practice righteousness means obedience to the will of God. The Sermon on the Mount that begins with 'the Blessed Attitudes' ends with the dynamic contrast of the fate of the two houses, representing the lives of those who choose to obey the teaching of Jesus and those who refuse to do so (Matt.7:21-27). True prayer and obedient action belong together, as both involve the seeking of the will of God to be done in our lives or the lives of others. 1 John 3:22 is to be understood in this way, "we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him". It is not that obedience merits the answer to our prayers, but Christian life is a matter of seeking to please God, and prayer is seeking the pleasure of God in our lives and in the lives of others. We must see the two as belonging intimately together. In our very human ways we can all too readily make prayer into an asking God to bless our self-chosen ways, or asking one thing with our lips when in our hearts we desire something else. In John 15:7 the words of Jesus make abiding in Christ the condition of answered prayer: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." The context shows that such abiding involves obedience, as it also clearly involves dependence and trust.