I’ve been studying a lot about prayer lately, and one of the most key aspects of powerful prayer is faith. I’ve written about faith before – how it is more than simply belief, but instead that it is a combination of belief and trust. There are many examples in Scripture of people who had great faith – just read Hebrews 11 if you want a quick rundown of the people in the Old Testament considered to have great faith. Jesus talked about faith a lot, but very rarely did he ever commend someone for their faith. Most of the time he was rebuking people for their lack of faith (how many times have I read the phrase “Oh ye of little faith!”?). But there were a couple of times when Jesus very animatedly proclaimed someone to have great faith.
The first example that comes to mind is the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. (Emphasis added)
The words I emphasized above must have been pretty stinging words to Jesus’ Jewish disciples. The centurion is a Roman soldier, not a Jew by any means, and yet he is designated as having greater faith than anyone Jesus has met in Israel. But I immediately noticed something about the centurion – he obviously had the belief that Jesus could heal his servant prior to coming to Jesus. He didn’t just see Jesus passing by and think, “Oh, look. There’s Jesus. I wonder if He can help me?” He believed Jesus could heal his servant beforehand, and he sought Jesus out to ask for His help.
Another example is the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter in Matthew 15:21-28:
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Emphasis added)
Again Jesus commends a person for her faith (and again it is a Gentile, not a Jew…very interesting, but a topic for a different post, nonetheless). This woman, like the centurion in Matthew 8, sought Jesus out. She believed that Jesus could heal her daughter long before she ever met Jesus. She had faith – Jesus, himself, said so.
So, if the centurion and the Canaanite woman both had faith, why did they still need to come to Jesus in order to receive what they already believed could be done? Wasn’t their faith alone enough? The answer is yes, but I’m not sure they actually demonstrated faith prior to coming to Jesus. Allow me to explain.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, faith is more than belief. Faith involves trust, and for us, this trust is placed in Jesus. The centurion and the Canaanite woman believed that Jesus had the authority to heal their servant and daughter, respectively, but it was not until they took action, by approaching Jesus (quite boldly, too, since they were Gentiles and were thought to be lower in status by the Jews…and they knew it…), that they received what they asked for. This action proved their trust. They had belief, but it was not until they proved their trust that Jesus said they had faith.
We often say that our works are useless, and that we must have faith. But I think this situation may can show us that we must take action in order to even have faith. We must prove our trust in order to be commended for our faith. And we must be commended for our faith before we receive that which we are asking for in prayer. I’m not saying that it is us who does anything, but it is the Holy Spirit in us that prompts us to come to Jesus. And I’m not saying that we have the power to save or the power to heal. Jesus does that. We just believe, and act on that belief to show that we trust Him. He does the rest.
So what does this mean for my prayer life? I believe God can do anything, but are my prayers enough to equate to acting on my belief, to prove my trust in Jesus? Do I need to act in other ways to validate my faith? I’m really not sure. I guess I can focus on what I do know and let God handle the rest.