When Camilla and I started leading Island City Church in 1999, we didn’t have a clue. We loved God with all our hearts and prayed with faith, but our prayers seldom moved mountains. There was this one time when there was a lot of sickness going around so we organized a healing meeting. We laid hands on the sick, prayed like mad, and more people got sick! We joke about it now, but we weren’t laughing then. Why was it so hard to heal people?
If I could go back in time and give that green and keen couple one book to read, it would be Andrew Wommack’s, A Better Way to Pray. It would have led to radical changes in the way we did things. I now know that there is right way and a wrong way to pray. Jesus said as much in Matthew 6:5-8. One way pleases the Lord and results in supernatural transformation; the other way achieves nothing of lasting significance.
I have learned much in my grace walk, but learning how to pray effectively has probably led to the biggest changes in the lives of those I touch. Just the other day I prayed for a man who had come out of a car crash with serious head injuries. He was in a coma heading for death, but I prayed and now he will live. God is good!
I want to list some contrasts between what I learned as the traditional way to pray and what I now understand is the Biblical way to pray. I’m not saying I have discovered the best way to pray, but it is definitely better. As Wommack says, I haven’t arrived – but I’ve left! If you find these contrasts helpful, I recommend reading Wommack’s book.
Traditional way to pray: Pound the gates of heaven with persistent prayer (like the widow) until you get your breakthrough.
Biblical way to pray: Ask and you shall receive. Every time.
God is not an unjust judge who must be badgered into responding. He is our good Father who longs to bring justice quickly into our situations (Lk 18:8). It is a mistake to think that God rewards our praying efforts. Jesus said the pagans pray long prayers thinking they will be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them (Mt 6:8). Instead, have faith in a good God who does not need to be begged or cajoled into blessing His children. Here’s Wommack:
“From God’s perspective, praying an hour a day has no value in and of itself!… There is absolutely no virtue in long praying! Jesus normally kept His prayers short. Only twice in the New Testament did He pray all night. Since both are recorded in all four Gospels, you might think it was eight. Really it was just two different occasions… The shorter the prayer, the greater the faith!… ‘HELP!!!’ is a great prayer!” (p.14)
Study the scriptures and you will never find Jesus begging God to heal people. Jesus said “everyone who asks receives” (Mt 7:8). What is the condition for receiving? Asking! How many times do you have to ask before you’ve asked? Just once! We must settle it in our hearts that Jesus’ words are true and that whatever we ask for in prayer, we will receive, and quickly (Mk 11:24). Sometimes there may be a delay in the manifestation of the healing (more on this later), but God is never the reason for the delay.
Traditional: Pray with hope.
Biblical: Pray with faith.
Much of what passes for prayer is wishful thinking. “I know God can heal you, I’m just not sure that He will.” Or how about this one, “God wants to heal you, but if He does it now no one will be more surprised than me!” You can pretty much guarantee that these sorts of prayers will change nothing, because they are empty of faith. James 5:15 says “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.” If you are not sure that God will answer your prayers, He probably won’t (Jas 1:6-7). You have hope but no faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t yet see (He 11:1).
Traditional: Pray “if it be thy will.”
Biblical: Pray according to His will.
How can we pray in faith if we are uncertain about His will? One of the greatest tragedies of the modern church is that so many are uncertain regarding God’s will for forgiveness, healing, deliverance, and provision – despite the emphatic promises in His word.
“Surely He has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains [of punishment]…” (Is 53:4, AMP)
Praying “Lord, if it be thy will, heal this person” is utterly faithless. He already did! Jesus made full provision for everyone’s salvation at the cross, and that includes healing. He has already carried all our sicknesses and by His wounds you have been healed (1 Pe 2:24). As TJ McCrossan said, the real question is not “God, can you?” but “do you believe?”
If you want to know the Father’s heart, look at Jesus. He healed every sick person who came to Him (Mt 8:16, 12:15, 14:36). He never gave anyone leprosy to teach them character and neither will He make you sick to teach you things. His will for healing and deliverance is inseparable from His will for salvation. He wants everyone forgiven, healed, delivered today! What’s the hold up? We are! A broken creation eagerly waits for the sons of God to rise up in this revelation and enforce Christ’s victory in every place where the kingdom has not yet come.
Traditional: Ask God to forgive/heal/provide/deliver/pour out His Spirit.
Biblical: Thank Him that He has already done all of those things!
If one tragedy is being uncertain of God’s will, another is being unaware of what He has already done. The cross really did change everything! Jesus is not coming back to wave a magic wand over your problem. He already did everything He needed to do at the cross. Here’s Wommack:
“God has already done everything He’s ever going to do! He moved once and for all in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the atonement, God has already forgiven and healed every person who will ever be forgiven or healed. He doesn’t even have to lift his little finger now to cause a healing or salvation! As far as God is concerned, the sins of the entire world have already been forgiven… As Christians, we are to instruct people to believe and receive what God has already done for them through the atonement.” (p.4)
It’s pointless asking God to do something He’s already done. Look at the way Jesus prayed and you will see there was very little asking and a whole lot of thanking and commanding. Jesus has given us clear instructions. He said: “heal the sick” (Mt 10:8). He didn’t say “pray and ask God to heal the sick.” No, you heal them. The problem with that prayer meeting I mentioned above was that we spent all of our time asking God to do something He had commanded us to do. We were passing the buck and denying the finished work of the cross. So how do we heal the sick? A good place to start is by thanking and praising Him for what He has already done.
Traditional: Talk to God about your mountain.
Biblical: Talk to your mountain about your God!
So much of what passes for prayer is complaining to God about our problems. The doctor gives us the sentence of death and we repeat his death-dealing words in prayer. This is not wise:
“Most people who think they’re praying are really just griping, murmuring, and complaining. They are releasing the power of death into their lives through their negativity in prayer. God is not pleased with that!” (p.23)
God doesn’t need to be informed about your problems – He already knows! When we are faced with a mountain-sized problem, the average believer says, “God would you move this mountain for me?” But Jesus told us to speak directly to our mountains and command them to be cast into the sea (Mk 11:22-23).
So how do we speak to our mountains? I’ll look at that in Part 2 of this study.