Reading: Genesis 24
“What is the prayer of faith?” “If God has promised, do I need to pray?” “Does praying with the word, “if” mean that I doubt God's promise?” Questions like these are not uncommon. Biblical examples of prayer which God clearly answered should inform our answers to these questions.
In Genesis 24 we have the story of Abraham sending his servant to obtain a wife for Isaac. Abraham is the father of faith. He is one of the Biblical examples of faith held before us throughout Scripture—we may be able to learn some things about faith from him. Abraham explains the need to his servant of going to the land of his relatives to obtain a wife for Isaac, because the promise would be in jeopardy if Isaac married a Canaanite; yet, Isaac must remain in the land of promise.
Abraham tells his servant, “You go to a far away town, find my long lost relatives whom you've never met, ask them for their daughter to come back with you (whom they've never met), across the dessert to marry Isaac (whom they've never met), and live happily ever after (where they will never see her).” (Genesis 24:3-5) The servant has a fair question, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?”
The odds are not in favor of this proposition. And notice what Abraham, the father of faith, did not say: “Don't you dare say 'if' and speak doubt over this situation. God is precariously poised to help us, but if we doubt Him, we will not receive the promise.”
Not at all, rather Abraham responds,
"The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, 'To your offspring I will give this land'—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.” (Genesis 24:7-8)
Notice, Abraham quotes God's covenant promise, he also tells him, “He will send his angel before you,” and then, he has no problem saying, “If the woman is unwilling to come back...” Evidently Abraham, expressing the real possibility that something could happen otherwise, doesn't impede faith. Evidently Abraham and Jesus both understood that all our prayer is ultimately subject to, “if it be your will.” Living in the reality isn't a lack of faith, but rather it is a part of faith. Faith is trusting God, not positive thinking. Part of trusting God is trusting that His will is better than our own and so even our requests are subject to His will.
Then notice the prayer of the servant as he arrives in the town of Nahor and its answer.
Then he prayed, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14May it be that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too'— let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master."
15Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor. (Genesis 24:12-15)
God had already set the answer in motion before the prayer was uttered. But the text shows us the prayer and its answer to reveal to us how God does indeed answer prayer. Of course, the human mind wants to understand how it all works. “If God was responding to the prayer, then how was it that Rebekah was already on her way?” Or, “If Rebekah was already on her way, because God was working in her to do so, then why pray?”
Evidently, God had planned all this to happen prior to the prayer. In fact, Abraham had said, “God will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.” So one could easily ask, “Why pray?” Most of these questions come from either a faulty understanding of what faith is, or an unhealthy pursuit by the finite to fully comprehend the infinite.
First, in regard to faith, it is clear that praying for help, after God has promised it, in no way contradicts trusting God. Rather, it affirms a trust in God's promise. Biblical examples abound. We are to pray because of God's promises, knowing we are surely praying according to His will. He will indeed hear us (1 John 5:14).
Second, we must realize that it is not our job to try to figure out what God is thinking or planning regarding the future in order to know what we ought to do. That is silly. Abraham's servant didn't stop and ask, “Now, what has God previously ordained here, so that I don't need to ask about that...” Rather, he lived by faith: He trusted in God. He prayed to God because he needed help to accomplish the miraculous. God answered; God had begun answering before he prayed. Jesus affirmed this truth as well in Matthew 6:7-8.
The fact that the Father knows in advance should not keep us from asking...but rather should keep us from babbling on and on as if God were unwilling to answer. God is poised ready to listen to our prayers and ready to answer, because of His great love and care for His children. That is amazing.
So yes, let's pray for those things God has promised. And let's trust Him to answer. And let us not fear that if we say, “if” or, “if it by Your Will,” will hinder God from working. Bottom line: Pray, trust, and see God work in our lives.
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