Prayer is difficult for everyone—no exceptions. When I pray, most of the time I don’t sense that I have gained access. It doesn’t feel as if anyone is listening. Obvious answers to my prayers are few and far between. Even when prayer does seem to make things happen, the cynical thought stands always at the door: Perhaps it would have happened anyway?
What if you could pray with 100 percent certainty—if you could know God will answer all of your prayers, all of the time? In Mark 11:22–25, Jesus says that such confidence in prayer is actually refreshingly simple. It only requires two ingredients: faith and forgiveness.
The Ingredient of Faith
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.” (Mark 11:22–24)
At first glance, this might look like “name it and claim it,” “gab it and grab it” theology—that if you believe with absolute certainty, God cannot deny your prayer request. This is not the case. I once heard a story of how three farmers in a time of great drought prayed for rain. Day after day went by, and day after day they prayed. But no rain. A stranger walking by their field one afternoon observed their ritual supplications and inquired what they were doing. When they told him, he said, “I am not sure you expect God to answer. . . . You didn’t bring any umbrellas!” He certainly had a point. How often do we pray without really expecting an answer? But perhaps the stranger’s theology is off. He seems to assume that if they had brought umbrellas into the field, God would have been too embarrassed not to give in to their request. The real question when it comes to their prayer, however, is, How do we know God intends to send rain? And, of course, there is no way of knowing that. Our only recourse at such times is to cry out, “Lord, if it be Your will, send rain upon our thirsty fields.”
I think we all know that. But the real question facing us today is, How do we square such sanctified uncertainty with Jesus’ words in our text? Doesn’t Jesus promise that if you believe that you have received it, it will be yours?
What are we to make of these words?
The key is to remember that faith finds its certainty in the Word of God. Remember the context of Jesus’ teaching. The day before, He verbally cursed a fig tree (Mark 11:12–14). On this day, the disciples are shocked to see that Christ’s word has been fulfilled. In the context of that fulfilled word, Jesus says, “Have faith in God!” In other words, they ought not to have been surprised that what God said, He did. So what Jesus is saying is that if you have a promise from God, no matter how great that promise seems to be, even if the promise speaks of a mountain being lifted up and hurled down, ask God to fulfill His promise, and you can believe with 100 percent confidence that it will be done for you.