THE PRAYER OF FAITH
T. PIERCE BROWN
Your friend is in the hospital with what the doctor says is an incurable disease. You have no reason to doubt the doctor’s diagnosis. Yet you believe the Bible teaches that you should pray for the sick. Sometimes you hear a person pray for those who “are sick of this congregation.” You have often felt like praying for those who “are sick of the preacher,” but at this time you feel a desire to pray for this particular person who is sick of something else.
You are aware that James5:15says, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” But you remember that the previous verse was talking about the elders doing the praying and anointing him with oil, so you are not sure that applies to you. You remember that James 1:6 says, “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed.” But you remember that the previous verse is talking about wisdom, so you are not sure that applies to sickness.
Then you remember that Jesus said in Mt.21:22, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” But then you remember that He was talking to the Apostles in the days of miracles, and you are not sure that applies today. And you have heard good preachers pray for the doctor’s hand that does the operation, and the nurses who give the medicine, and perhaps for the knife that does the cutting, or various other things, but they seemed to have hesitancy in praying for the patient. So you begin to get a little uneasy. But then you remember Philippians 4:6 where Paul says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
So you breath a sigh of relief and pray, “O God, if it be thy will, cure my friend (especially if blessing the doctor’s hand did not work).” But you still feel a little guilty because you did not believe the friend could get well, for the doctor said so. You know that God could cure the friend, but doubt that He will in this case, so in order to give Him an easy way out, you said, “if it be thy will.”
Is there any hope for your uneasy condition, your slightly befuddled mind, and your small feeling of guilt because you have prayed, but feel that you probably did not pray in faith, for you really did not believe it would happen? There may be a little hope, although I am doubtful if I can remedy all those in this article. But I may be able to slightly clarify one small point.
We have clouded the issue because of our failure to distinguish between the meanings we attach to the terms “belief” or “faith” in various contexts. We may say, “I believe I will go to lunch now.” What we really mean is, “I plan to go to lunch now.” It has nothing necessarily to do with faith in anything or any person. Then we may say, “I believe it is going to rain this afternoon.” We may only mean that we have a strong or weak opinion that the probability of rain is more than 50%. Or we may mean, “The forecaster said so, and since He has proven trustworthy, I have faith in the accuracy of his prediction.”
We know that the Bible says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom.10:17). But we frequently talk about believing something that has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not God or anyone else spoke about it.
Also, the problem is compounded because we often do not make a distinction between having faith in a person, and having faith in a proposition. One may trust a person, which generally automatically involves his trusting in what that person says or does. But one may trust in the truthfulness of any specific proposition without having any general trust in the person who stated that proposition. You may believe a particular statement of a known liar, and yet have no trust in the liar himself. And there may be a situation in which a person may trust in another and NOT believe what that person says. But that can only be true in the kind of situation in which a person has said something, but you may not believe he has said it the way it is reported, so although you trust the person, you may not believe what he actually said for you do not understand what he actually said.
Now let us examine the situation where you may pray for a person to get well, but do not believe he will. You may feel guilty because you have been told that if you do not believe he will get well, you do not have the proper faith in God, so you are not praying in faith. You probably do not have enough faith in God. But in terms of what we have just said about confusing the use of word “belief,” note that when it is affirmed that you do not believe he will get well, that term “believe” may not necessarily have anything whatever to do with your faith in God. Has God told you that the specific person would get well if you prayed for him? You know that He said, “The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” but you also know that could not mean that every specific sick person will get well when a faithful child of God prays for him. Paul would not have left Trophimus inMiletussick in that case (II Tim.3:20), nor would anyone die if you could get a man of faith to pray, “God, bless all the sick folks that they may get well.”
So one may have a great deal of faith in God and not believe the particular proposition, “This specific man will get well if I pray for him.”
Let me try to illustrate that point. We may sing, “Be not dismayed, whate’er betide; God will take care of you,” and believe it, but that does not necessarily mean that we will not have a flat tire or a wreck. We may improperly say, “I believe that I will not have a wreck, because I prayed for God to take care of me.” It would be more accurate to say, “I have an opinion that I will not have a wreck,” for no matter how great your faith in God, He did not promise that you would not have a wreck.
There is an outstanding passage that should help clarify this. In Luke 21:16-18, we find these interesting words, “And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren and kinsfolk and friends, and some of you they shall cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But there shall not a hair of your head perish.”
One might say, “I believe I will not get my head cut off, for I have faith in the Lord’s promise that not a hair of my head will perish.” What Jesus meant by the expression, “Not a hair of your head will perish” was true, but it did not involve the idea that they could not therefore get their heads cut off.
Paul could firmly assert that the time of his departure was at hand, and conclude that he would die a violent death, and still have perfect faith in God and His promises. And you can firmly believe the doctor’s statement that normally your friend will die of some disease and still have a firm belief in God as you pray for that friend to get well. Only if God had told you that specific friend would get well would the belief in the testimony of the doctor be in conflict with your faith in God.
When we started the program of getting gospel message to every home in the nation, we talked to each other about our faith in God. Sometimes we would say things like, “I believe God is behind the program, and if God be for us, who can be against us.” We were aware that God did not say anything in His word about this specific program. Thus, we were aware that we used the term “belief” in two or three different ways. Notice them again, as we look at the ideas of knowledge, faith and opinion. We knew that the Bible said, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations—and lo, I will be with you always–.” We believe in Jesus, and that the Bible is the word of God, so we believe that we should do that, and that He will be with us as we do that. Since we have tried to make sure that every aspect of the program is carried on in a scriptural manner, we generally say, “I believe God is behind the program,” but the word “belief” there is not equivalent to our belief in the Great Commission. That is, our opinion that a particular method is exactly what God wants is not on par with our faith in the specific statement of Jesus. And if we say, “We have faith that it will succeed,” we may mean that we have an opinion that a great brotherhood will rally behind this effort as they almost always rally behind any need they feel is great enough to merit their sacrificial effort. But notice the difference in my saying to you, “I have faith that you are going to give $10,000 to this effort” if you have told me that you are going to do so, and my saying that just because I think I know you well enough to feel that you will, or have an opinion that you will. If you do not give the $10,000, but only $9,000, I have no right to say, “I have lost faith in you” if you did not say with certainty that you would give $10,000.
If any specific program fails to raise the money that is necessary to do it properly, our faith in God will not fail, nor will it have been misplaced. Neither should our faith in the brotherhood fail, unless the brotherhood promises to support this particular effort and fails to fulfill its promise. Some, connected with one program or another may not like this concept, but we can still trust each other even if we choose not to monetarily support a particular program in preference to another. However, if you oppose any particular program that is carrying out in a scriptural way the specific command of the Lord, you can not be trusted to “be prepared unto every good work (II Tim.2:21).
So the original thought of this article concerning “the prayer of faith” is that such a prayer is not just a prayer offered in the opinion that God will raise this particular person. If that were the meaning, then any time you had an opinion, a feeling, or a guess that God would cure a sick person, and He failed to do so, then you would be justified in losing your faith in God. We recognize that we have not even touched an adequate exegesis of the phrase “the prayer of faith” and whether it has relevance to this age as it did to the Apostolic age, but time and space forbid it in this article.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600