FAITH AND PRAYER
A. Introduction: Recently we’ve been talking about prayer, as part of a larger teaching on the importance of
learning to praise and thank God at all times—in everything and for everything (I Thess 5:18; Eph 5:20).
1. We noticed that a number of Bible passages that urge us to thank and praise God continually also tell us
to pray without ceasing (I Thess 5:17; Rom 12:12). So, we’re considering how we can pray at all times.
We have more to say in this lesson. First, a quick review.
a. We must understand that prayer is more than asking God for things. We communicate with God
through prayer. Prayer is talking to God. Through prayer we express our reverence and love for
God, and our continual dependence on Him for everything.
b. Praising and thanking God continually helps us pray or talk to Him without ceasing. When we
praise and thank God, we are expressing to Him how wonderful He is and thanking Him for what
He has done. We are communing with Him.
2. Jesus Himself told His followers that they we should pray always and persevere in prayer. Luke 18:1
a. And, when His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave them what we call the Lord’s
Prayer. This prayer not only gives us a pattern for prayer, it’s a good prayer to pray word for word.
1. In this prayer Jesus assured His followers that our Heavenly Father knows what we need before
we ask, but we should ask anyway. Matt 6:8; Matt 6:9-13
2. In the context of this prayer, the Lord assured us that our Father takes care of birds and flowers,
and we matter to Him more than flowers and birds. He’ll take care of us as we seek Him and
His kingdom. Matt 6:25-34
b. Jesus instructed His followers to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking because
our Father is faithful. He gives good gifts to His children. Not only will our Father meet our
physical needs, He will give us more of Himself (His Spirit—His strength, His peace, His joy) to
help us deal with life’s challenges. Matt 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13
B. Paul the apostle wrote some of the verses we’ve used in our study of prayer, thanksgiving, and praise to God.
And we cited him as an example of someone who praised God in difficult circumstances (Rom 12: 12; Eph
5:20; I Thess 5:16-18; Acts 16:19-25; etc.). We also have a record of some of the prayers he prayed.
1. Paul was an eyewitness of Jesus, and was personally taught the message that he preached by Jesus
Himself (Gal 1:11-12). Paul would have known about the Lord’s Prayer, either directly from Jesus or
through his interaction with the original twelve apostles (Peter, John, James, etc.).
a. Paul wrote more New Testament documents than any other author—fourteen of the twenty-one
epistles. Epistles are letters written to Christians who came to faith in Jesus after the resurrection
under the ministries of the apostles.
b. These epistles were written to explain what Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished, to teach
Christians are to act, and to address questions and issues that came up among the early believers.
2. Many of Paul’s epistles were written to people that he himself brought to faith in Jesus. He was
invested in them and they were dear to him. So, he prayed for them with regularity. And in some of his
epistles Paul recorded how he prayed. These are good prayers to pray for yourself and others.
a. Col 1:9-12—We are asking God that you may be filled with such wisdom that you may understand
his purpose. We also pray that your outward lives, which men see, may bring credit to your
master’s name, and that you may bring joy to his heart by bearing genuine Christian fruit in all that
you do, and that your knowledge of God may grow yet deeper. We pray that you will be
strengthened from God’s glorious power, so that you will be able to pass through any experience
and endure it with joy (J. B. Phillips).
b. Eph 1:16-19—I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God,
the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that
you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that
you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize
what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people. I pray that you will begin to
understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty
power that raised Christ from the dead (NLT).
c. Eph 3:14-16—When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to
the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious,
unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength by his Holy Spirit (NLT).
1. Notice some common themes in these prayers. Paul prayed that they increase in their
knowledge of God and His purpose and future for them. (Paul stated God’s purpose in Rom
8:28-29—conformity to the image of Christ. He stated that their future is the life after this life
in Rom 8:18.) He prayed that they would bear Christ-like fruit that their lives would glorify
God. He prayed that they would understand the greatness of God’s power toward them and be
strengthened inwardly by His power to deal with this life with joy.
2. Notice that there is nothing about making this life the highlight of their existence or helping
them get their blessing and fulfill their destiny. There’s nothing about fixing all their problems
or giving them a prosperous, happy life.
3. We have a very limited view of prayer. For most of us, prayer means telling God what we need or
asking Him to fix our circumstances and stop our problems.
a. Many, if not most, of life’s problems can’t be easily fixed or changed. Most mountains can’t be
moved. We have to learn to deal with the mountain through prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
b. To pray, praise, and thank God continually we must have realistic expectations about this life. And
we need an eternal perspective.
1. We live in a sin damaged, sin cursed earth, and life is filled with trouble. There is no way to
avoid problems, trials, pain, loss, and death (John 16:33; Matt 6:19; etc.). But God is able to
use the harsh realities of life in a fallen world and cause them to serve His ultimate purpose—a
family of sons and daughters who are like Jesus in character (Rom 8:28-29; Eph 1:9-11).
2. There is more to life than just this life. We are only passing through this world in its present
form. The best is yet to come—first in the present Heaven, and then on this earth after it has
been renewed and restored in connection with the second coming of Jesus. Rev 21-22
3. In the context of the many trials that he faced in his life, Paul wrote these words: For our
present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an
immeasurable great glory that will last forever. So we don’t look at the troubles we can see
right now; rather we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will
soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever (II Cor 4:17-18, NLT).
c. None of this means that you can’t make definite requests to God and expect help from Him in this
life: I need a job, help in this situation, wisdom, finances, health, etc. But you can’t dictate the
specifics—how, when, where. Paul also made the following statement about prayer:
1. Phil 4:6-7—So stop worrying about even one thing, but in everything by prayer whose essence
is that of worship and devotion and by supplication which is a cry for your personal needs, with
thanksgiving let your requests for the thing asked be made known in the presence of God
(Wuest). If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than
the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in
Christ Jesus (NLT).
2. Prayer begins with God—His glory, His kingdom, His will. We express our trust in God who,
as a good Father, will work in our situation and do what is best for His glory and our good.
C. In a lot of the popular teaching today, prayer is man centered, not God centered. It’s about technique, and
what we need to do to get our prayers answered the way we want. It’s about us and our faith rather than on
God’s greatness and majesty, and His goodness, and faithfulness.
1. Possibly you are thinking, doesn’t the Bible say that by using our faith we can move mountains and kill
fig trees, and that we can have what we say if we believe we have it before we see it? Can’t we use our
faith to change our circumstances by decreeing and declaring the circumstance to change?
a. These ideas are based on Mark 11:22-24. As with any Bible passage, to accurately interpret what it
means, we must consider the context. Who was talking to whom and what were they talking about?
How would those who first heard Jesus make these statements have understood them?
b. Jesus made these statements to His twelve apostles as part of an incident where He cursed a fig tree
and it withered up. The Gospel of Matthew and Mark both give details about what happened.
2. This incident occurred during the week leading up to the crucifixion, in the spring of AD 30. Jesus was
with His apostles, men who had left all to follow Him. Jesus has begun to predict His death, although
they didn’t yet understand what He meant by His statements. Matt 16:21; Matt 17:22-23; Matt 20:17-19
a. The week began on Sunday with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, in
fulfillment of Scripture. People laid garments and branches on the road in front of Him, and the
crowds shouted praise to God. Mark 11:1-11; Matt 21:1-9; Zech 9:9
b. Jesus went to the Temple and looked carefully over everything. Because it was late afternoon, He
and His apostles left the city and spent the night at a nearby town called Bethany. The next
morning, on the way back to the Temple, Jesus cursed a fig tree. Mark 11:12-14
1. Jesus entered the Temple and overturned the tables of the money changers (those who provided
visitors with the current coin of Judea), and those who sold doves, accusing them of turning His
house into a den of thieves (Isa 56:7). Mark 11:15-17
2. Jesus also healed lame and blind people in the Temple. The chief priests and scribes were
indignant because everyone, including little children was praising Jesus, shouting that He was
the Son of David (a Messianic title). The religious leaders made plans to kill Jesus. Matt
21:14-16; Mark 11:18
c. Jesus didn’t spend the night in Jerusalem. He and His men again stayed in Bethany. The next day,
as they passed the fig tree, the apostles noted that it had dried up from the roots. Mark 11:20-21
1. Why did Jesus curse this tree and declare that it would never again bear fruit? Jesus had
approached the tree because He was hungry and the tree had leaves on it. Fig trees put out fruit
first, then the leaves, so Jesus expected there to be fruit on this tree.
2. A tree that appeared to have fruit but did not was known as a hypocrite tree. The number one
charge that Jesus leveled at the religious leadership during His ministry was hypocrite. Matt 23
A. Trees that don’t bear fruit is a theme that runs throughout Jesus’ ministry and teaching,
beginning with John the Baptist. Matt 3:7-10; Luke 13:6-9; John 15:2-6
B. Cursing the fig tree was a picture of what was going to happen to Israel because, as a
nation, they rejected their Messiah. In AD 70 they will be cut off as a nation—the
Romans will destroy their country.
3. This is the context in which Jesus makes His statement: Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you,
whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but
believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you
ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:22-24, ESV).
a. This is not a blanket statement that anyone who wants something or wants something to change in
their circumstances can have it by following this technique—speak and believe you have received.
b. Once again, remember context. These are men who have left all to follower Jesus. He has already
told them that they will be hated, persecuted, threatened, and arrested for preaching Him and His
gospel (Matt 10:19-30). And Jesus knows that they are about to witness Him being crucified.
1. At this critical phase of Jesus’ ministry (the reason He has come to earth), it makes no sense that
He would suddenly shift His instructions to the apostles and give them the key to getting what
they want from God in prayer. He was preparing them for what is ahead—hardship.
2. In two days Jesus and His men will celebrate their last Passover together. John’s gospel gives
a detailed account what Jesus’ words to them. They were aimed at preparing them for fact that
He was leaving, but that He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to help them. John 13-17
b. Jesus has spent three years assuring them that they have a Heavenly Father who will take care of
them. Now that what He has been preparing them for is about to unfold, He exhorts them: Have
faith God. No matter what you face, nothing is impossible for Him, nothing is too big for Him.
1. Jesus had previously talked to them about mountain moving faith, in the context of ministy. A
year earlier, when they were not able to cast out a devil, Jesus told His apostles: If you have
faith as a grain of mustard seed you can move a mountain. Matt 17:14-20
2. Mustard seed faith doesn’t refer to the size or type of your faith. It’s the object of your faith—
faith in Almighty God who cannot fail. If your trust is in God, He will get you through.
4. This is one reason why we talk so much about why Jesus came into this world. How you define Jesus’
purpose in coming to earth will determine how you interpret Mark 11:23-24.
a. If you believe that He came to give you an abundant life in this life, then you’ll see this as a promise
to get that house you want, that car you want, and as a way to get rid of your troubles.
b. Jesus died to change the direction of your life and turn you from living for self to living for God (II
Cor 5:15), He died to open the way for you to be transformed into a son or daughter who is like Him
in character and holiness (Rom 8:29; II Cor 3:18). He died to open the way for us to be restore to
God, and to deprive this wicked world of its power to permanently harm us (I Pet 3:18; John 16:33).
1. During His three year ministry Jesus He made it clear that sons and daughters of God should
have different priorities and perspectives than those who don’t belong to God. And, our
prayers should reflect those priorities—Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is
in Heaven. Matt 6:9-13; Matt 6:19-21; Matt 6:31-33
2. When you understand these things, then you will see this verse as a promise to those who are
fully committed to doing God’s will His way, that He will help you no matter what you
encounter as you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.
D. Conclusion: We have more to say next week, but let’s go back to Paul. Although he was not present when
the incident with the fig tree occurred, he would have heard about it either from Jesus or the other apostles.
1. When we read the Bible accounts of Paul’s ministry, along with the prayers he prayed, we don’t see him
moving mountains and killing fig trees (changing circumstances) by decreeing that they are gone.
a. When Paul was being taken to Rome as a prisoner, on a ship that went down in a storm, he didn’t
banish the storm and decree and declare that it was over. God brought Paul and the others through
it and worked good in the circumstance—a number of people were saved. Acts 27:1-28:1-6
b. Remember Paul’s testimony in jail, facing execution: I have strength for all things in Christ Who
empowers me—I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses me with
inner strength (Phil 4:12, Amp).
c. In the context of persecution, hunger, cold, danger, and the threat of death Paul wrote that in all these
things, we are more than conquerors (Rom 8:35-37)—overwhelming victory is ours (v37, NLT).
2. We don’t have a blank check from God to fulfill our dreams and stop our troubles through prayer, but we
do have a blank check for His inward help, peace, strength, and joy to deal with whatever life brings.