Prayer, Faith and God’s Will

by | Apr 10, 2008

How do I balance the feelings of guilt over “inadequate praying” with the fact that I know God can heal him, the fact that I want God’s will, and the fact that I don’t know what God’s will is?!


Dear Butch,

When have we prayed enough? I know of only one instance in which God said explicitly, “You’ve prayed enough.” In Deut. 3:26 God told Moses, “Enough! Speak to me no more of this matter.” In this case, “enough” meant God didn’t want Moses to ask for permission to enter Canaan anymore.

God seems to say the same thing to Samuel who was mourning for Saul (1 Sam. 16:1), to Jeremiah who was praying for his people (Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11), and to Paul who was praying for his thorn in the flesh to be removed (2 Cor. 12:8-9).

The Bible measures prayer primarily in terms of persistence, not in terms of quantity. Jesus admonished his disciples to “pray at all times and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Jesus does not warn his disciples about failing to pray “enough”; he warns them about failing to persist in prayer. Jesus follows this admonition with the parable of the widow whose persistence breaks through the unjust judge’s indifference.

Is God’s heart so hard that we must harass Him into executing justice for us? Far from it! Jesus’ point was God will answer the prayers of His elect, but they must persevere in faith. Persistence in prayer is faith in action. It is often God’s mercy that stays His hand (Rom. 2:4) or His wisdom that waits for the fullness of time to answer His children’s requests (Gal. 4:4).

When Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given …,” he worded his statement in such a way to indicate clearly that he meant, “Ask and keep on asking and it shall be given to you. Seek and keep on seeking and you shall find.…” Receiving and finding through prayer are the certain outcomes of persistence.

While the focus of Scripture is on persistence, Scripture does not ignore frequency in prayer. In fact, the language of praying “day and night” shows up more than once or twice (Luke 2:37; 18:7; 1 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:5; 2 Tim. 1:3). Integrating persistence and frequency requires the leadership of the Spirit, which is one of the reasons we are told to pray “in the Spirit,” i.e., being led by the Spirit as we pray (Eph. 6:18).

Provided that you have obeyed the Spirit’s promptings to pray and have been persisting in prayer, you should reject guilt over “inadequate praying” as the harassment of our enemy.

With regard to praying for healing, the three facts that you mention in your question are crucial for understanding the prayer of faith (Jam. 5:15). Biblical faith is believing that God can (Matt. 8:5-10) and will (Heb. 10:23; Tit. 1:2) do what He has said He will do. Faith is not believing that God will do whatever I have asked Him to do without regard for His will.

This is perhaps the most prevalent misunderstanding of faith, and it is frequently bolstered by the misinterpretation of Mark 11:24. Contextually, the faith which believes that it “has received” what it has requested is a faith that knows it has made its request according to God’s will.

There are certain things God has said He will do anytime we ask Him. Granting physical healing is not one of them. There are at least four reasons why people experience sickness: as chastisement for wrongdoing (1 Cor. 11:30; Jam. 5:15-16), as a means of bringing about their death (2 Kings 2:1; John 11:4), as a means of bringing glory to God through their healing (John 9:3; 11:4), and as a natural consequence of the fall (Phil. 2:26-27).

Unless God chooses to reveal why a person is experiencing sickness, we cannot know with certainty what His will is. In such cases, we can pray with no greater faith than Jesus who said, “If thou wilt … not my will, but thine be done.” While asking God to do what He knows is best, we should rest in absolute certainty that He will most certainly answer such a prayer (1 John 5:14-15).

Dr. Phil