Two little twin boys recently walked up to our house with their mom and little sister. They could hardly wait to show us their two buckets filled with several layers of . . . woolly worms! Woolly caterpillars. The kind that seem to be everywhere right now. Pretty cool little creepy crawlies, those worms! Pretty cool little guys, those great little twins!
Now catch this woolly transition: Woolly worms are one thing. Woolly thinking about faith, and particularly about faith and prayer, is another.
The “prayer of faith” is a biblical term. But both prayer and faith get twisted pretty often by flashy TV preachers and their bunch into something much more akin to magic and superstition than Christianity.
What I’m thinking of is the very common, very mistaken, notion that praying with the kind of “faith” that is the key to “powerful prayer” means working ourselves up into some highly emotional and extremely subjective state so that we can make a desperate request of God absolutely expecting him to answer with exactly what we want. We’re most likely to get exactly whatever the “it” we want is, this approach says, if we “amp up” our “faith” so as to bar the doors of our minds to any possibility of our not receiving “it.” If we don’t get “it,” then the purveyors of such “faith” tell us that we just didn’t “believe” hard enough, and we must work harder to banish all doubt.
Such an approach is unbiblical, mistaken, and often, arrogant and cruel. As C. S. Lewis once wisely wrote, this kind of thing “is not faith in the Christian sense; it is a feat of psychological gymnastics.”
For a picture of real faith, and for a real corrective to the other sort, Lewis points us to the Son praying to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The perfect Son. The perfect Father. The perfect prayer. Perfect faith. And the answer was No.
And may I point you to another amazing picture of another poignant scene? Another father. Another son. Another prayer.
The son is terribly afflicted by an evil spirit. (The disciples have struck out on casting it out.) The father “prays,” asking Jesus, “If you can do anything,” (it’s the same Greek root word for Jesus’ request to the Father: “if it be possible”), “heal my son.”
Jesus replies, “‘If you can?’ Everything is possible [the same word again] to him who believes.”
I love that father’s response: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” And, despite faith-flaws and weakness, the answer to this father is Yes, and this son is healed.
We have a Lord who counts our honesty about our weakness—even our weak faith—as much more valuable than our ability to build in ourselves some emotional state that supposedly excludes all doubt.
Faith in God, even a little faith, much smaller even than the “mustard seed” sort Jesus also taught about, is still real faith. Perhaps faith in the quality of my ability to believe is also faith of a sort, but it’s the wrong sort. It’s faith focused in me, not faith focused on God.
You’re invited to check out my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!
Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.