Countercultural

Look Deeper, See Clearer, Run Harder

How to Overcome Doubt and Pray with Faith

Often when I pray, I don’t pray with faith. I think the more I ask God, the more likely I am to get what I want. The truth is, I tend to pray most when I don’t believe God will answer.

Pray with Faith

Luke 18:1
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Those crazy students from UW-Oshkosh

Five years ago, in March of 2011, I learned something extraordinary about prayer. I stood in a room filled with more than 4,000 students as the rock band Skillet blasted music through the sports center. You might not believe it, but more than 400 of the college students gathered had just responded the Gospel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of the year.

It was the turn of the new year in 2011. The ministry I work for was planning a big outreach at UW-Oshkosh, and the Christians on campus were pumped.

The students had been praying for the band Skillet to come to their campus, and we were excited to share good news with them. “Hey guys, guess what?” we said to the students, “We talked with Skillet’s tour manager, and it sounds like they’re free on February 18!” We could not have been more surprised at their response.

“No,” they replied. “We really believe God gave us March 4th for this event.”

Excuse me? Here God had answered our prayers and opened a door, and the students quietly responded, “Thanks, but we’re really praying for March 4th.”

Fervent Prayers of Doubt

There’s something admirable about persistence. Just think about the “persistent widow” in Luke 18. She was deprived of justice, so she came to an unrighteous judge again… and again… and again.

Finally, the judge says, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me” (Luke 18:4-5)!

The problem is, I often look at God as more of an unrighteous judge than as a loving Father. If I ask Him enough, then eventually He’ll hear me, right? So we ask and we ask, but our prayers are never filled with faith.

We might be fervently praying, but we’re lifting up fervent prayers of doubt.

The difference between doubt and faith

James has strong words for us,

James 1:6-8
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

In other words, if you’re not going to pray with faith, you might as well not pray. Why?

Prayer is dependent on the object of our faith, not the subject.

The subject is me. I pray. But if I chalk up my success in prayer to how I talk or kneel or sound to myself or others, my focus is wrong. Prayer has always and will always be based on God’s faithfulness to His own character.

Two truths to help you pray with faith

Every truth about God revealed in Scripture can fuel our prayers. However, there are two huge character qualities that regularly give me faith to trust in God.

1. God is Sovereign.

No circumstance you face is beyond the reach of God.

Isaiah 59:1
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

God is sovereign, and that means He has the final say over your circumstances. Whether forces of nature or the heart of a king—God has the final word.

Psalm 135:6
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.

Proverbs 21:1
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.

Isaiah 46:10 (NLT)
Only I can tell you the future before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.

2. God is Faithful.

If God is sovereign, then He can redeem any situation. If He’s faithful, then He will.

God’s given us a guidebook to prayer, and it’s called the Bible. When our prayers are aligned with words God has already promised to uphold, we can be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will answer.

John Piper contributes in this regard: “Jesus promises that every time we pray, God will answer. He will either do exactly what we ask, or something even better, which he would not have done had we not prayed.”

I love that last part—“which he would not have done had we not prayed.”

One of the best examples to learn how to pray with faith is George Mueller. He’s the guy who ran the orphanage in England in the 1800s. Maybe you’ve heard the story about how he prayed for food, and a milk truck broke down outside the orphanage while a baker brought bread after being prompted to do so in a dream.

Here’s the secret to his prayer life:

I always pray with an open Bible, filling my praise and petition with God’s word. I pray God’s promises, His declarations concerning Himself. I pray His names and titles by which He reveals His nature and character. I pray the rights He gave the believer to bold and confident access. When a need arose, I spread them all out before God who hears His children. My heavenly Father will not break His word to His own child.

What if we approached God with that same confidence, knowing He will hear us?

Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

What I learned from crazy students at UW-Oshkosh

Alright, back to the story. Those crazy students in Oshkosh? God honored their faith.

About a week after that first phone call, we got another phone call. “Something came up,” their tour management said, “and we had to change a lot of our shows. We’re sorry, but February 18 isn’t open any more. But if you’re interested, March 4th is now available.”

The band came, the Gospel was shared, and lives were changed that night.

Those students taught me an important lesson. When God speaks, listen. And when God promises, pray with faith. God is not an unrighteous judge. He’s a perfect, sovereign, faithful Father.

Luke 18:7-8
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

  • I think you’re right – we too often fall into a state of “unbelief” where we carry on praying but with little or no expectation. We do well to remind ourselves of what God has done for us in the past. i also liked your example of George Mueller who reminds us that praise (and thanksgiving) our as important as our lengthy list of requests – probably much more so.