This article was originally published in Edition (9) of Prayer Magazine,  Jan-Mar 2007.

F is for Faith expressed in Prayer

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11.1)   “But without faith it is impossible to please God because….” (11.6)   In other words my relationship with God is dependent on faith – saving faith to bring me into relationship with Him and continuing faith to make that relationship work.   Faith works in the realm of what is previously unknown, unseen or never before experienced.   If I rely on past experience or acquired knowledge then it isn’t faith.  

Jesus, in the passage known as the upper room ministry (John 13 to 17), said five times, “I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”   Faith expressed in prayer, with the goal of bringing glory to the Father, will bring God’s answer.   And Jesus’ promise can be relied on.   We can trust God because of what Jesus said and did.   He told His disciples that they would do greater works than He did.   So we should expect more of the miraculous, and not edit out belief in God’s supernatural working.

Faith is also a fruit of the Spirit – or rather faith-fulness.   Faith in all its fullness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work within and through us.   As all the Spirit’s fruit should be seen in each of God’s children, this also means that ordinary Christians and children can be full of faith – not just the so-called stalwarts of faith.   Hebrews 11 reminds us of many heroes of faith, but also of the unnamed ones who overcame, through their faith, extreme circumstances (see vs. 33-39).   By the way, children, without the disadvantage of rationalist thinking, often have great faith levels!

Faith is in God – not in faith.   Scripture talks about different measures of faith – small faith and great faith (see Matthew 17.20 and Luke 7.9).   We can ask for increased faith (Luke 17.5).   So we can grow in faith.   It is off-putting to say to someone that they are lacking in faith.   If they are, then I want to ask “what about yours?”   Shortage of faith is not something we should be accusing one another of.   Instead, we need to help one another grow in faith and grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I sometimes talk of stepping stones of faith.   When we wish to cross a stream we use stepping stones.   We step on to one, then another, and another, only to find we are in mid-stream.   We have left the safety of terra firma, but haven’t reached our objective – the other side.   Faith is like that.   If we haven’t the faith to jump right across to the ultimate, we need to build stepping stones of faith towards the final objective.   So, for example, if someone is terminally ill, do you have faith for an immediate healing and recovery?   If not, don’t pretend that you do.   Instead pray for steps along the way that will contribute to the person’s health and wellbeing.   As you see God work in small ways, then your faith will grow until eventually you are confident to ask God about the complete healing – in order to bring glory to Him.

It’s only as we see God work in small ways that we will have faith to trust Him for big things – even to do with nations (Psalm 2.8) and moving mountains (Matthew 17.20), and the ending of wars, or the transformation of whole communities.   But start with praying for your neighbour, relative or friend.   Then when God has answered, ask Him “what next?”

Forty Days of Prayer

Moses spent two periods of forty days in the presence of God on ‘the mountain’.   The first time the cloud of God descended, the glory of God came down, and Moses met with God.   God gave him the tablets of stone containing the 10 Commandments (which were broken because of the Children of Israel’s idolatry).   He also gave instructions for the tabernacle and the ark of God (Exodus 24.12-18 and beyond).

The second time he spent on Mount Sinai, he was hungry for the presence of God (Exodus 33.7-16).   So meeting with God was for him the priority.   Out of that experience God again gave him the 10 Commandments inscribed on two tablets of stone to replace the smashed ones.   And this time when he descended, Moses’ face was radiant with the aura of God’s Presence – something that was to be repeated when he came out of the tent of meeting with God.  (see Exodus 34.1-28)  

Moses refers to these experiences in Deut.9.18 and 10.10.   He prostrated himself before the Lord and He prayed – the type of prayer in which he engaged is regarded as deep intercession.   He took neither bread nor water – what is known as a dry fast. 

The temptation of Jesus in the desert also lasted for forty days.   Both Matthew and Luke record what happened (see Matthew 4.1-11 and Luke 4.1-13).   We know that He was full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit, that he ate nothing for the period – so making the temptation to change stones into bread very pertinent to his human need.   And it was at the end of the forty day period, when Christ was at his weakest physically, that Satan came to tempt Him.   Christ didn’t need more power or authority – He already had it!   But He showed that despite the physically weakening effects of fasting, He still was strong enough to withstand Satan.

These days many people all over the world have engaged in forty days of prayer and fasting.   Some are organized ones, where individuals and churches allocate a day each so that between them forty days are covered.   Others are inspired by a growing problem or burden for outreach where the challenges are so great that God’s children involved need to know that they are thoroughly and spiritually prepared.   And others are entered into as personal discipline.  

Going without food but taking fluids is the usual advice for such fasts.   Some will limit their food intake to soups or a light meal once a day.   But going without both food and water is rare and should not be attempted without counsel from spiritual and medical leaders.   The references in Scripture to forty days of such fasting were clearly orchestrated by God and were exceptional.  Both the receiving of the Ten Commandments and the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert were truly extraordinary and never-to-be-repeated events.   Few forty day fasts since can reflect such long-term spiritual impact and significance!

 

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