Imagine one particular morning you’re eating breakfast with my husband and me, looking onto our large backyard with numerous trees of various kinds. Our two dinette windows occupy most of that wall’s space, while about 25 feet away, three chickadees vainly try getting seed from my bird feeder. They know from lots of experience that when they see seeds, it should flow out the holes at the bottom of the plastic feeder onto the tray where they can eat it. In frustration, the two parents pecked several places on the sides trying to force the seed onto the tray. “Why won’t those stubborn seeds come out so we can eat them?” the chickadees question.
Although I was sorry the seed didn’t cooperate, I was also amused at the birds pecking on the feeder and realized that tiny drops of last night’s rain must have caused the seeds to stick together, just before they escaped from the feeder. Deciding I’d need to tend to it after breakfast, my thoughts turned to the plight of the chickadees and suddenly I saw how much they reminded me of myself in my prayer efforts. God often connects strange things in my imagination.
My prayer answers remain with God, whom I know has all the provision I need. As were the chickadees, I am mystified why my prayers are not answered. I know Psalm 66:18 (NKJV) “If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear” and have made sure there is no unconfessed sin in my life. Then, I obey Hebrews 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly [with confidence – NIV] to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” So I humbly but boldly (because Jesus Christ my Savior is my Great High Priest – verse 15) go into the throne room of Almighty God and request my needs to be met.
I have done everything I know to do, seeking the answers I so desperately need, just like the chickadees resorting to pecking on the plastic holder trying to get the seeds. I know verses 19 and 20 of Psalm 66: “But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me!” Knowing God’s love is infinite and never-ending, I’m assured that whether or not my prayer is answered, God still loves me. But that isn’t my specific quest, is it?
Remembering the story of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, I return repeatedly to God’s throne of grace to meet my needs, just like the chickadees returned to the feeder and finally resorted to pecking on it in order to try to reach the seeds. One time, however, I again read Hebrews 4:16 and realized that it does not say that I can go to my High Priest and get my needs met, which was the way I’d always understood it. The verse clearly states that believers can go boldly in their time of need and that we will find grace and mercy. Oh, that’s different than the way I’d thought of that verse for years. I focused on that word “need” and understood, mistakenly, that my needs are met. While the verse certainly does not say they won’t be provided for, it doesn’t guarantee them either. Hebrews 4:16 guarantees mercy and grace.
Wow, that’s different, isn’t it? Or is it? God’s mercy and love through Jesus is the only way anyone can come into His throne room in the first place. That is the first and greatest need. What better place can I run to in my time of need? There is none! I suddenly recall the words of a plaque my mother had: “His hand will not take you where His grace cannot keep you.” In other words, whatever circumstances I find myself in, I can be assured that God’s grace is walking those same steps right beside me.
I checked the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as well as Nelson’s, given below, to see how they define grace and mercy:
GRACE: Favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves. Grace is one of the key attributes of God. The Lord God is “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Therefore, grace is almost always associated with mercy, love, compassion, and patience as the source of help and with deliverance from distress.
MERCY: The aspect of God’s love that causes Him to help the miserable, just as grace is the aspect of His love that moves Him to forgive the guilty. Those who are miserable may be so either because of breaking God’s law or because of circumstances beyond their control, as when Jesus healed people. Finally, because God is merciful, He expects His children to be merciful (Matthew 5:7; James 1:27).
Let’s reconsider the chickadees as believers and the feeder as God. What if we could live by rules that guaranteed our prayers were answered just as we wanted? Rules are easier, I think, because then you can check off the boxes and be assured you’ve done all you need to. The Pharisees of the New Testament kept all the outward rules but didn’t have compassion for anyone and were the ones Jesus rebuked most because of that. They liked to be highly praised by men but that was all they gained from their religion. They didn’t have a clue about what God wanted from them. And they had no joy.
Now contrast the difference of living a life of faith, which isn’t really following a religion but rather it’s a relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. We study the Word of God and listen to His Spirit speaking within us and follow that course. Unfortunately, sometimes I misunderstand and get my instructions wrong; maybe you do also. However, our gracious God gives us more than one opportunity to get things right.
When I first set up a blog site, I often had to redo posts several times before they displayed correctly on the site. Our spiritual life is often the same way. When I was a teen, I prayed very earnestly for a friend to come to know Jesus as their personal Savior. I prayed much and could repeat Bible verses about believing and receiving what you ask for. My faith for my friend’s salvation was the expectation and substance that Hebrews 11:1 uses as faith’s definition. In that case, however, I needed to put feet to my prayers. I don’t know why but I never talked to that friend about Jesus and how to become a believer in Him. Yet I had shown others how to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. Unfortunately, I never learned that my friend knew Jesus. One thing I didn’t understand at that time is that God will never force people to believe Him.
In the long time since then, I’ve also learned that sometimes we think we have faith for an answer but if we seriously question ourselves, we may find out differently. We might realize we’ve had a generalized belief but not a certain, specific faith for whatever it is we’re seeking. When my children were growing up and got sick, I’d pray for them to be well the next day so they could go to school. After a while, I realized that sometimes I knew as soon as I’d prayed that they would be healed, but at other times I didn’t have that assurance and they weren’t healed. I came to the conclusion that my faith for their healing wasn’t really active at those times.
Sometimes I feel like the father whose child had a deaf and dumb spirit that tormented him terribly. He asked the disciples to heal him but they couldn’t. Then Jesus came and asked what was going on, so the father asked Him to heal the child. We read the next exchange in Mark 9:23-24 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” The Message Bible has the father saying, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”
At one point or another, probably all of us have identified with this idea: Yes, Lord, I believe, but I’m hindered. Please help me to believe fully, as I desire to do. My faith is inconsistent and weak. I know that you are the Giver of all good gifts and that there’s no inconsistency with you (James 1:17). Therefore, you desire to give good things to those who trust in you, so please help me overcome my doubts and fully believe that You are able to do what You have promised.
Let me try to explain what I mean: We may not really know our Father well enough to believe that He desires to do good for us, but listen to what Jeremiah 29:11-14a (MSG) tells us: “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out — plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”
Perhaps we’re afraid God won’t answer our prayer because we don’t deserve the answer. I felt that way once about an issue I needed. I saw other people who seemed to be better people who had worse situations than mine and thought, well if they’re not getting their prayer answered, how do I deserve God to answer mine? To my surprise, God some time later asked me a question, “Did I deserve my salvation?” Of course, I didn’t deserve for Jesus to die for me! None of us does. So that settled whether I deserved that prayer to be answered. It was the grace and mercy of my loving heavenly Father Who gives all things good.
Sometimes our circumstances seem utterly bad, and we wonder what on earth is going on. Has our loving Father forgotten us or deserted us? Isaiah 50:10-11 (Amp) states: “Who is among you who [reverently] fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His Servant, yet who walks in darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendor [in his heart]? Let him rely on, trust in, and be confident in the name of the Lord, and let him lean upon and be supported by his God. Behold, all you [enemies of your own selves] who attempt to kindle your own fires [and work out your own plans of salvation], who surround and gird yourselves with momentary sparks, darts, and firebrands that you set aflame! — walk by the light of your self-made fire and of the sparks that you have kindled [for yourself, if you will]! But this shall you have from My hand: you shall lie down in grief and in torment. [See Isaiah 66:24.]”
Sandra’s Interpretation: Are times confusing and you can’t figure out which way to go? Are they distressing so that your plans for good haven’t worked out? Are you in physical pain and handicapped in what you can do? Has a major life change come upon you that doesn’t seem to be for your benefit?
If so, let me encourage you then to keep on trusting in your heavenly Father, who loves you more than you’ll ever know and is with you in every kind of trouble and turmoil. You are not forgotten, neglected or your circumstances unnoticed. The Holy Spirit is still dwelling in you and guiding you, if . ..
You will keep on trusting and obeying what you know to do. Do not give up hope of God’s rescue and His redeeming the situation, no matter what!
However, if you set off to do what you think will fix the fix you’re in, then you can’t expect God to rescue you because you’re trying to do it yourself. When you take control of a situation, you lock your heavenly Father out of it! You keep Him from being in charge. And, you’ll wind up regretting what you have done. Believe me, I know from experience!
That’s my interpretation of these verses because, as I said, I’ve learned the hard way.
Ephesians 3:20-21 exclaims: Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Do we take our loving heavenly Father at His word? The simplicity of the question doesn’t make it easier to answer. Our faith must leap up and grab hold of what we don’t see on earth to bring it from heaven into our realm.
Some reasons it seems so hard to grab hold of that faith is first of all that our great enemy Satan does all he can to put those doubts into our minds about Father’s faithfulness. Another reason may be that we simply have never been taught to really believe that what God says in the Bible that He can do, He truly can do. Thirdly, we often hear that we need to be logical, but faith itself isn’t logical. Salvation isn’t logical but extremely real. Of course, we may not have a prayer answered because we aren’t asking for something that will glorify God but will rather bring us praise. We often like to quote the first part of those verses but we must remember that God does great things for His glory, not ours.
What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 (MSG) states: The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. Verse 6 goes on to tell us, It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him (emphasis mine). This relates to the verses from Jeremiah and Ephesians above.
We see then that we can have two kinds of faith: faith mixed with hope that possibly what we pray for will happen or faith that is expectation and substance. I think most believers in Jesus Christ are confident that when they die they will go to heaven. That’s the faith that is expectation and substance; we can bank on it. Now we have no proof of heaven in this life, yet we hold onto it dearly. It gives us great comfort when a loved one dies. This is the kind of faith we need when we pray. Do I struggle with this? Definitely. But I’m seeing it happen more often. It’s a goal we can all reach if we persevere.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
Acts 12:12-17 states: He [Peter] came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
As I reread this story, I’m reminded of many times I’ve prayed by myself and with others. If we had been in this same situation, we would have reacted the same way. Peter had been put in jail earlier and was scheduled to be killed the next day. But God! God had other plans and intervened. The church had been praying sincerely for Peter’s release. To me, Rhoda stands out above the others in the faith she shows. She recognizes Peter’s voice and is so delighted, she runs back to tell the others that their prayers have been answered! In her excitement, she forgot to open the door for Peter, but she did believe it was him.
Notice the reaction of the others: They didn’t believe her. Earlier I said, “Our faith must leap up and grab hold of what we don’t see on earth to bring it from heaven into our realm.” Rhoda had done this because she recognized Peter’s voice and knew it was him, even though she forgot to open the door in her excitement. The others, who were probably older and wiser since Rhoda is called a girl in some versions, were praying in hope. Yes, they were praying very sincerely and earnestly because Peter was their leader and had known Jesus personally. He had seen Him crucified and after He was risen. Peter was so very important to them, and they needed him, so their prayers were desperate. But without complete faith.
What is faith? As Hebrews 11:1 tells us, it’s substance and evidence. Merriam-Webster Dictionary has several definitions of substance but one of them is: “a physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence.” Evidence is: “Something which shows that something else exists or is true; a visible sign of something; material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something.”
Using those definitions, let’s rephrase our verse, only in our case faith is a spiritual reality that bring earthly, practical results, so we can say: Faith is the spiritual substance of things we need on earth, the proof or visible sign of things that aren’t seen. We don’t pray for things we already have, whether they’re physical or spiritual needs; we hope for each thing we pray for, otherwise, we wouldn’t pray. Right? Therefore, real faith is the substance it takes to bring answers to our prayers, not just hope that answers will come.
Let’s go back to that fateful prayer meeting. What happened when Rhoda went back to the church and told them Peter was standing at the gate? First they told her she’d lost her mind or perhaps was only imagining Peter was there. Next they decided she had seen Peter’s angel. Never once did they consider that perhaps Peter himself might be standing at the gate in answer to their prayers! I can identify; can’t you? Unfortunately, I’m afraid many times I’ve been in the same situation where if God had answered some prayers, I’d have had difficulty believing the answer when it came. How little faith we often have without even realizing it! I often have to cry out with that father whose son was tormented by evil spirits, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!” (Mark 9:24). Those people were the same way. They desperately wanted Peter out of jail, but their faith was partially doubt.
James 1:6-8 says: Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
What I’ve learned over the years is that I must trust God to fulfill my prayer before He is able do it to. My doubts keep away the promises of God, as James indicates. Sometimes we simply don’t know God’s will in a situation, and that’s alright; He understands that. But to add, “if it’s your will” to every prayer is like saying, “God, I’m not sure you’ll understand what I need and therefore don’t know if I can trust you to answer me.” Our enemy the devil eagerly supplies us with doubts, but we must toss them out like we would anything else that’s rotten. We must learn to trust God to do what He says He not only can do but will do. I think that’s the reason we don’t see more prayers answered. We keep hoping but not entirely trusting.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. In order to please God, we not only must believe He is real, but we must also believe that He rewards us when we go to Him earnestly. We don’t only go for answers to whatever prayers we have, but we also go simply to worship Him and spend time with Him. That part gives us the assurance in our hearts that He will answer us. Once we have that assurance, then we simply thank God for the answer while we wait to see it manifest here on earth. We don’t need to keep on begging God for the answer; that is doubt speaking. Many verses in the Bible tell us how God answers prayer for His people. Don’t you do all you can to give your own children what they ask you for, if it’s within reason? Our heavenly Father is so much better a parent than the best of us will ever be.
The next time we pray, let’s stop and ask ourselves if we’re hoping God will answer or if we have faith that He will. The start of this article gave one biblical version of the definition of faith. Here are a couple of others:
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (NLT; emphasis mine).
The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. (MSG; emphasis mine.)
NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses] (AMP).
From now on, I’m asking myself how I’m praying – am I simply hoping or wishing, or am I praying in faith? To reiterate, when I accepted Jesus as my Savior, even though I was a young child, I didn’t hope I’d be saved. No, I knew with all my heart that I would be. That’s the expectation with which to pray so that God isn’t hindered in answering those prayers.
 All Scriptures are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
 New International Version
 An App on my android phone.
 Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 MSG: THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.
 Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
 (Amp) The Amplified Bible.