I have been thinking about prayer. Every time I read verses like Matt 21:22 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”, I am floored by the import. Can Jesus really have meant this? What is the catch? It is simply the only if in that passage – if you believe. There can be no other catch.
What is it to believe? When I met Jesus I believed. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. “ (Jn 1:12-13 NIV) I had no doubt, I was born of God. When I asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit – baptized in the Holy Ghost – I received. No doubt about it.
And there have been many answered prayers, yet I still wrestle with doubt. Or is it faith that I wrestle with? It is a matter of some importance. If I’m wrestling with doubt, I have faith. If I’m wrestling with faith, I am in doubt. Regardless, it seems the path to follow is the same. Believe the truth.
Wrestling in prayer is not just a 21st century angst thing, it has an ancient pedigree. Paul wrote in Col 4:12 NIV about “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured”.
Now what kind of wrestling was Epaphras doing? Was it with faith or was it with doubt? Or was it with wicked Spirits whose dominion he was invading? Or was it with himself so he would keep on praying until he was assured by the Holy Spirit that his prayer was answered? All of these have been put forward as an answer to this question. Let’s look at them a little bit closer.
What was Epaphras’s prayer? That the Colossians would stand firm in all the will of God. That they would be mature and fully assured. (Assured of what? I might add). Do you think that maybe Epaphras didn’t believe that the Colossians would stand firm and he had to convince himself that they would so he could pray in faith? Or maybe he was tempted to doubt that they would stand firm so he wrestled with doubt. Or is it more likely that demon spirits were preventing the Colossians from standing firm in all the will of God and he was wrestling with them? What precedents do we have?
Many will take us to Daniel for the concept of wrestling with the spirits. Unfortunately for this point of view, Daniel didn’t wrestle. What Daniel saw was “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” Dan 10:5-6 NIV This man then said, “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Dan 10:12-13 NIV So we see that it was this mysterious man with the voice like a multitude who was dealing with the “prince/king(s) of Persia”. Regardless of who you might think the prince/king(s) of Persia might be, Daniel was humbling himself in fasting and prayer.
But why did Daniel continue this for three weeks? Why three weeks? Was it just until he got an answer? Or was it until he was done “mourning”? Scripture doesn’t say.
One time Paul sought the Lord for an answer to his problem of the “thorn in the flesh” that was making him weak. He prayed three time! Yes, a whole three times! Then he was answered. “My strength is made perfect in weakness” was the answer.
Daniel set his mind, he was determined, to get an answer from the Lord. He humbled himself three weeks, then it seems was done. The man told Daniel that the answer came when he first prayed! How often do we pray just a casual “if it be your will” and then go get something to eat? How often are we, am I, determined to get an answer? When do we pray with such determination?
This brings to mind a verses of scripture that read “if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deut 4:29 and “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord”. Jer 29:13-14 NIV This seeking is to be done with all your heart.
If we truly believed that we could find the answers to all our questions and solutions to all our problems buried in the backyard, who among us would not be now digging? And if you did not find the treasure immediately, would you stop digging? Not if you still believed. Paul wrote that his “purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col 2:2-3 NIV We know where it all is! It is in Jesus! Can you dig it?
So if we need an answer to our prayer, do we believe? What will we do if we believe? Keep on praying until we receive! This often takes wrestling, probably with our flesh so we can continue until we are answered. The old saints used to call this prevailing prayer, or praying through. I need to pray through until I’m answered. Do you?