Have you ever been frustrated with your prayer life, feeling like your prayers seem to just hit the ceiling? Or do you struggle to pray because, no matter what you pray, God just doesn’t seem to answer? Have you wondered if perhaps, your lack of faith is the reason why God isn't answering your prayers?
As a Christian, you know that God answers prayer. Scripture is chock full of His promises to do so.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7
For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Luke 11:10
Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. John 14:13,14
You know these scriptures, and you believe these scriptures, but yet, your prayers still aren’t being answered. And so you are left to wonder, if God is who He says He is, and if He does what He says He does, then why isn’t He answering your prayers?
Obviously, you know the problem isn’t with God.
Which leaves you with the conclusion then, that the problem must be with you.
Your faith must be too small.
Acts 12 tells the story of how Peter was miraculously escaped from prison.
Picking it up in verses 5-17:
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison.
It is worth taking note here, that the Greek text for this word, earnestly, in verse 5 is, ektenes. Ektenes is a medical term used to describe “the stretching of a muscle to its limits.” While it might seem a little odd to us to use a medical term to describe how the church was praying for Peter, it’s actually quite brilliant and makes perfect sense if we understand that Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, is a doctor. Luke is using his knowledge of medicine, his area of expertise, to paint for us, a word picture. It is a picture of someone stretching out all they can for something they care deeply about. This church was desperate for Peter’s rescue and their prayers reflected that.
Here is what is so incredibly interesting about this word choice. Luke used the same form of this word ektenes, to describe the agonizing, earnest prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before He is sentenced to death on the cross.
“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet, not My will, but Yours be done.” An angel from Heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:42-44
What we’re seeing here is two different examples of the same form of earnest prayer; one by the church as they prayed earnestly for Peter, and one by Jesus, when He earnestly asked God the Father if He would take from Him this cup.
What these prayers have in common is, they were both prayed in earnest; earnest to the point of “stretching a muscle to it’s limit”. Peter's friends stretch their prayer muscles as they pray for his release. As Jesus prays, He literally sweats drops of blood.
But here is where they differ.
Peter escaped death.
Jesus did not.
And here is what is so very incredible about this.
Regardless of the outcome, both earnest prayers were holy and acceptable to God.
Jesus' sole purpose for coming to this earth was to die on the cross because it was the only way that death could be overcome. He came willingly and intentionally and yet, just before the appointed hour of His death, He agonized over that purpose. And in His agony, He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet, not My will, but Yours be done.” And God said no.
The church prayed for Peter with this same kind of earnest. And when Peter comes to the door, the servant girl who recognizes his voice, in her excitement forgets to open the door to him and instead, runs to tell the church. But they don’t believe her! They told her she was out of her mind! This church was literally praying with all their might, for Peter’s release, and when God answers their prayers, they don’t believe it!
Here is what we can apply to our own prayer lives…..
If perfect Jesus could earnestly pray a prayer that He already knew God would say "No"
to, (remember, Jesus is one with Father and He knew the only way to conquer death was through the cross,) and the imperfect church could earnestly pray a prayer that God answers and yet they can’t quite believe it, how much more should we pray in earnest?
David Guzik, in his commentary for this passage in blueletterbible.org says this;
“Much of our prayer is powerless because it lacks earnestness. Too often we almost pray with the attitude of wanting God to care about things we really don’t care too much about.
Earnest prayer has power not because it in itself persuades a reluctant God. Instead, it demonstrates that our heart cares passionately about the things God cares about, fulfilling Jesus’ promise “If you abide in Me and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.” John 15:17”
Jesus’ prayer was earnest. In His agony, He asked His Father to “take this cup from Me.” The key to His earnest prayer though, was this, “Yet, not My will, but Yours be done.”
The church prayed for the release of Peter, but they found it hard to believe that God had actually answered their prayer. Their prayer was earnest, but their faith was not overwhelming.
And I am so glad of this! It brings me much hope! Because often, my faith seems small; too small for God to be able to do anything with. This church’s answered prayer seems to solidify the words of Jesus when He said Truly, I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20.
See, their underwhelming faith was not an issue. This would imply then, that my mustard seed faith, and your mustard seed faith, is not an issue either.
So, this is what I want to leave you with.
Maybe your unanswered prayer isn't because of a lack of faith. Maybe your unanswered prayer is due to your lack of earnest prayer.
This is not to say that every unanswered prayer is due to lack of earnest. Nor, that every prayer offered in earnest will be answered the way you hope.
But, if we strive to align our hearts with God’s heart, and begin to pray in earnest, “not to persuade a reluctant God”, but to “demonstrate that our hearts care passionately about the things He cares about”, perhaps we might begin to see more answers to more prayers.
And wouldn't that in turn, begin to grow our mustard seeds of faith?
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Stay holy, Beloved.