In the nineteenth century answers to prayer were obvious. George Muller prayed for money to fund his orphanages and God provided it. He only had to ask God, and a local baker would feel moved to get up early and make extra loaves for the children's breakfast or a milk cart would break down outside his door and need to dispose of the milk before taking the cart to the cart wright for repair. Similarly. Barnardo and Spurgeon could be provided with money for their orphanages, Booth got support for his Salvation Army, CT Studd for Africans and Hudson Taylor for the Chinese. They all had stories to tell of miraculous answers to prayer. Where now is the God of Elijah? And of George Muller, William Booth, CH Spurgeon, Dr Barnardo, Lord Shaftesbury, William Wiberforce, James Hudson Taylor, JG Patton, William Carey and Dr Livingstone, the God who answers prayer?
In Mark Ch 11 we read of a God who moves mountains in answer to prayer. Where is that God?
The first instruction that Jesus gives is to have faith in God (v 22). The Jews had faith in the Temple. Jesus had just revoked Temple worship as a means of doing God's will. He had put an end to the old covenant and brought in the new, a covenant that was a direct relationship between God and man. Now he says don't put your faith in the Temple, put your faith directly in God.
We never really do that do we? I've told the story before of the man who falls over a cliff, but saves himself by clutching to a branch of a bush by the cliff edge. He cries for help, "Is anybody there?" and there comes a response from the sky "I will save you. Let go of the branch and my arms will bear you up."
"Who are you?"
"I am God. trust me and I will save you."
"Is there anybody else up there?"
The truth is that we would rather trust anyone but God. We trust in science, we trust in technology, we trust in ourselves.
It is only when we get to the end of our own resources that we begin to see miracles.
We should not have faith in prayer. It is not for our much praying or our eloquent prayers. Your heavenly father knows what you need before you ask. It is not how often or how long or how flowery are our prayers. It is the fact that we ask.
Why do we need to ask if God already knows are needs? Because he wants us to ask. As James says, "You receive not because you ask not".
We should not have faith in our faith. It is not those with the greatest faith that get answered. There should be no answer that goes, "You have not been answered because your faith is too weak".
But verse 25 tells us that we must also pray with a clean heart. We first need to forgive so that we may be forgiven. If we are harboring secret sins we won't be heard. Those secret sins may not be murder, theft or adultery. But resentment, bitterness, gossiping, unkind words, greed, covetousness, self-indulgence and back-biting.
I feel that some of us are past praying, or have gotten out of the habit, or have ritualised it, or have despaired of prayer. And some of us have been unwilling to give up something that we hold higher than God. And some of us are unwilling to accept God's answer.
Last week Liverpool played AC Milan for the Soccer Championship of Europe. There were Christians on both sides praying for victory. God's answer to one was yes and to the other no. It's the noes that we find hardest to accept; except when it's a yes to going to a Brazilian slum as a missionary. Those sorts of yeses are difficult too.