I am a pastor, and I am also in the process of repenting. Now, if I left the last statement alone, it would not mean much, because there is not a day that goes by of which I cannot find something to repent. Repentance in itself is a journey to intimacy with God. However, every once in awhile, I discover something from which I need to repent that I had never thought of before. I have found that these seasons of deeper repentance usually coincide with a paradigm shift in my thinking, and this time has been no exception. Let me explain.
Throughout most of my Christian experience, I have tended to measure my own spirituality and that of others by theological orientation, religious practice, and evangelistic outreach. These things, of course, are not bad in themselves and should be a part of every Christian’s experience in one way or another — but just not for the reasons that I once thought. My paradigm shift has been in recognizing that instead of measuring my spirituality by my habits and education, I have begun measuring it by my faith in God and His promises. The rub is that it is impossible to grow my faith unless I place myself in a position of absolute dependence on God.
If you remember, Jesus several times reproved His disciples for failing to do so (Matthew 8:26), while making sure to commend those who did (Matthew 8:10). One notable example of this commendation came after Jesus noticed a poor widow putting her last two mites in the temple treasury. I am sure that you remember the story:
“And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had”” (Luke 21:1–4).
Do you see the paradigm shift illustrated in the story? For most of us, our “faith” is directly proportionate to our abundance. So when we have an abundance of time, money, resources, relationships, and health, we have “faith” in God, and we give back to him out of our abundance. But such is not faith in the truest sense. It is merely gratitude, which Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount requires no faith at all!
“And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:33).
Are you beginning to see the picture? Doing good things for God because we have been blessed by God is no different than baking cookies for your neighbor because he mowed your lawn when you were out of town on vacation. It is only when we are challenged to give out of our poverty and complete dependence — before we actually receive the blessing — that our faith becomes that which God commends. Thus, the life of the widow is an example of someone living in absolute surrender to God.
So, what does this have to do with our prayer life?
Well, once we begin to realize what real faith is and what it is not, then our prayer life will mold to it accordingly. Jesus called the exercising of genuine faith — “abiding.” Notice how Jesus connects the two together:
As you can see, prayer itself is not the fruit of faith — answered prayer is!
When we have genuine (abiding) faith in God, we will not merely pray, we will pray expecting our prayers to be heard (Mark 11:22-24), and the fruit of that faith will be seen in a righteous life filled with unselfish love (Romans 1:17; Galatians 5:6) and seeing God’s power work in answer to our prayers.
So, the best way to examine our own faith is to examine our own prayer life — not whether or not we are praying (remember Jesus said there are many who cry out to him “Lord, Lord”) (Matt 7:21) — but whether or not our prayers are being answered.
The only way that Jesus could say to us, “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you,” is that He knows that when we are truly abiding in Him, our desires and our will shall come into perfect harmony with His desires and His will, which shall be done in earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Thus, when we pray God’s will back to him in a fully surrendered state of being — like that of the poor widow — what percentage of those prayers will be answered? 100%!
The challenge involves getting to a place in our walk with Him, where we are willing to let go of our own will and fully surrender to His.
When that happens, though, we then have the assurance given Elijah, as the Bible says:
The reason Elijah’s prayers were so powerful is because he was praying back to God the promises God had already revealed to him.
Again, such is the fruit of faith!
Such is the fruit that I want to come to expect, not just hope for, in my own life and in the life of God’s flock that He has entrusted to my stewardship.
Call to Action: Recognize Our Need
Imagine a church where prayer was not just a formality, not just an exercise in hope without certainty, but an exercise in faith. Imagine a church where people actually believed when they prayed that God was hearing them and acting immediately on that for which their petition called. Imagine a church that asked whatever it desired, and God did it for them because they were so in tune with His will.
This paradigm shift is only possible as we recognize our great need, as the widow did and yet held not back from giving all that she had to God. The gospel can never take root without the soil of need, but when it does, we can be assured to see the fruit of our faith — answered prayer!
All scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.