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-- © GodSpeak International 2007 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

Author: John DeLaughter <john.godspeak@sbcglobal.net>
Editors: Teresa Seputis and Sue Spaulding

Prayer-School Course #38

Praying To Obtain God's Best

By John DeLaughter

Lesson 12
Is it Possible to Pray "Beyond the Shadow of a Doubt?"

In charismatic circles, Christians differ on what is the "prayer of faith." Some believe that if you pray for a request more than once, it shows a lack of faith. Two passages are often used to confirm that position: "Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you" (Mark 11:23-24).

"But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:6-8).

Is it possible to pray "beyond the shadow of a doubt?" Are Christians supposed to psych their faith up before they pray? Does such a prayer "mantra" exist in the New Testament? And, does doubt lengthen our wait for God to answer our prayers?

In this lesson, I'd like to discuss two building blocks about doubt which serve as a foundation for waiting on God:

  1. How does God view doubting believers in the Bible?
  2. What happened when doubt entered the prayers of the early church?

Building Block #1

The first question that comes to mind is: How does God view doubting believers?

In the Bible, the Lord expresses His approval by pointing to a person as an example for others to follow. He shows his disapproval by reciting the avoidable pitfalls in a person's life. The sagas of the kings of Israel and Judah are filled with such comparisons.

A typical teaching on the relation of prayer, doubt, and faith goes something like this: "Usually Satan will try...to get you to talk as if you are not sure if your prayer will be answered. If he succeeds in getting you to express doubt, it is likely that your mouth's confession will cancel the effect of your prayer. Therefore, guard your mind and heart, and resist the temptation to talk negatively about the situations with others, especially to those with whom you are praying."

If this teaching is true, then the Bible should validate such statements. Many preachers place the giants of faith on pedestals. Did the same characters exhibit lives where faith and prayer were made "beyond the shadow of a doubt?"

Let's check out one Bible "Hall of Fame" notable. Abraham didn't have the baby of promise: Sarah did. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval...By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11: 1-2, 11).

Most of us say, "Wow," when we read God's definition of faith or read about one of God's champions. The pedestals of these faith champs are so high, that emotionally we know we can never attain those heights.

But, let's step back for a moment: Exactly, how steadfast was Sarah's faith?

The Bible records some interesting words about Sarah and Abraham: "Then they said to him, 'Where is Sarah your wife?' And he said, 'There, in the tent.' He said, 'I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.' And Sarah was listening at the tent door...Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?' And the Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?' 'Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.' Sarah denied it, however, saying, 'I did not laugh'; for she was afraid. And He said, 'No, but you did laugh'" (Genesis 18:9-15).

So, where is the faith when God promises something to person, and the recipient laughs in the Lord's face? This doesn't sound to me like a full-of-faith response, with no doubting in her heart. It sounds like a very human response, one like you or I might have had. Sarah's laughter conveyed the message of, "Yeah, right." And this isn't the first time Sarah exhibits doubt over a promise from God.

Let's look at another incident from Sarah's life: "Now Sarai...had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, 'Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.' And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai...Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight" (Genesis 16:1-4).

This sounds like an act of desperation, not an act of faith. Doubt drives us to "help" our prayer request to happen. Where is the faith in that? Yet, despite our misgivings about Sarah, God held her up as a member in the Faith Hall of Fame. Why did God put her name there? Was it a typo?

Let's look at another entry in the Faith Hall of Honor. Gideon is also mentioned in the examples of faith (Hebrews 11:32-34). How did Gideon get there? He was the "Doubting Thomas" of the Old Testament. Many Christians would place him in the Hall of Fainters, not the Hall of Fame.

First, Gideon asked God to prove that he talked with the Lord by asking God to consume a meal with fire from heaven (Judges 6:17-22). Next, Gideon did as the Lord instructed, but only under the cover of darkness, because he wasn't sure that God would protect him. Then, he put God through a battery of wet/dry fleece tests (Judges 6:36-40). Gideon was not fully convinced of anything God said. He wavered between the opinion that he'd seen God, or he'd gotten too much sun. God had to prove himself to Gideon, not once, but several times.

Did either Sarah or Gideon possess "faith beyond the shadow of a doubt?" Someone might inject, "That was the Old Testament; in the New Testament, things changed."

Let us look at a New Testament man of God, John the Baptist, a person of great faith. He spoke judgment over Kings, he saw the Holy Spirit as a dove, and he heard the voice of God the Father approve of Jesus. By revelation, he recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. And he attracted disciples that wanted to emulate his walk with God.

Jesus said of John: "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).

If doubt were part of John's makeup, it would have rendered him ineffectual for God, right? Strangely, John the Baptist did experience misgivings. God revealed to him that Jesus was the Messiah by vision and revelation; yet, despite the supernatural proofs of Jesus' identity, look what John did: "Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, 'Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?' When the men came to Him, they said, 'John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, 'Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?'" (Luke 7:18-20).

No one would question John the Baptist's faith. Yet, he experienced doubts that Jesus was the Messiah.

Another person might say, "John the Baptist doesn't count, because he ministered before the cross. After the cross, things were different. We are better equipped than the Old Testament Saints. Doubt renders our faith and prayers ineffective."

Building Block #2

Does God answer the prayers of doubters? Let's examine an incident that occurred after the cross to see whether He does.

"Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church...And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also..." (Acts 12:1-3).

Prior to this episode, when an apostle was imprisoned, he was released from prison, in a miraculous manner: That was the precedent (cf. Acts 5:17-25). But when James was killed by the sword and Peter was imprisoned, that precedent evaporated. The church began to pray for Peter: "So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God" (Acts 12:5).

The only thing we know about the prayer was that it was fervent and united. We would expect great measures of faith in operation among Peter's intercessors: But what does the Bible say?

"When Peter came to himself, he said, 'Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod...' And...he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. When he knocked at the door...a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, 'You are out of your mind!' But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, 'It is his angel.' But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed" (Acts 12:11-16).

Did great faith or great doubt greet the news of Peter's arrival at the prayer meeting? One group of intercessors believed the servant girl Rhoda was out of her mind. The other group of prayer warriors thought Rhoda had seen a ghost. I wonder how long Peter had to stand at the door? Neither response demonstrated that Peter's prayer warriors prayed with any great measure of faith. In fact, their reactions depict a group of intercessors filled with substantial doubt.

Let's step back from this example and look further at the earlier premise about effective prayer: "Usually Satan will try...to get you to talk as if you are not sure if your prayer will be answered. If he succeeds in getting you to express doubt, it is likely that your mouth's confession will cancel the effect of your prayer."

That teaching says that doubt prevents God from answering our prayers. How does that statement line up with the witness of Scripture? When the early church prayed for Peter, they doubted whether God would answer their prayers; their words revealed their attitudes. Yet, despite their misgivings, God granted their requests. And to boot, this example occurred after the cross.

We have seen two threads wind their way through our review of Scripture. First, God holds up doubting people as examples of faith. Sarah, Gideon, and John the Baptist would not meet many Christians' standards of faith. Second, God answers the prayers of people plagued by doubt.

Why doesn't the Bible square with what we've been taught about doubt and prayer? We haven't understood what biblical doubt is. Biblical doubt involves people following the Lord despite their doubts. It means they keep on praying despite their misgivings. To put it another way: "They (the men and women of faith) didn't allow the doubt in their heads to drown out the faith in their hearts" (Dr. B.J. Willhite).

Have you ever prayed for something or someone when you've had doubts about the outcome? You are not alone: So did those who prayed for Peter's deliverance from Herod. But God answered their prayers anyway.

-- © GodSpeak International 2007 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from copyright@godspeak.org --

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