Immediately after Hallesby talks about prayer as an expression of our “helplessness” (see previous post), he tackles the next big issue we probably all struggle with in prayer (I know I do!): Do I have enough FAITH to pray? How many of us have read passages like Matthew 21:21-22, Hebrews 11:6, or James 1:6-8 and worried that God would never hear or answer our prayers because we didn’t pray with enough faith? Hallesby makes it clear that we DO need faith to pray: “Helplessness united with faith produces prayer. Without faith our helplessness would only be a vain cry of distress in the night.” But then he goes on to describe the “faith” that is needed to pray. Here are a few of his comments:
The essence of faith is to come to Christ. …faith manifests itself clearly and plainly when sinners, instead of fleeing from God and their own responsibility, as they did before, come into the presence of Christ with all their sin and all their distress. The sinner who does this believes.
That was just what those people did who came to Christ and heard from Him these words before they departed, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” All they did was to come to Jesus and plead their distress before Him, whether it was physical or spiritual or both. …We have faith enough when we in our helplessness turn to Jesus.
Helplessness becomes prayer the moment that you go to Jesus and speak candidly and confidently with Him about your needs. This is to believe.
What about my (our) doubting heart? When I doubt whether God hears my prayers, or whether I’m praying with the ‘right words’ or the ‘right heart’, doesn’t that somehow constitute unbelief? Here Hallesby is very helpful in distinguishing between ‘doubt’ and ‘unbelief’:
Unbelief is something very different from doubt. Unbelief is an attribute of the will and consists in the refusal to believe, that is, refusal to see one’s own need, acknowledge one’s helplessness, go to Jesus and speak candidly and confidently with Him about one’s sin and distress. Doubt, on the other hand, is anguish, a pain, a weakness, which at times affects our faith. We could therefore call it faith-distress, faith-anguish, faith-suffering, faith-tribulation. …It is not harmful to faith nor to prayer. It (doubt) does serve to render us helpless. And, …helplessness is, psychologically, the sustaining and impelling power of prayer. Nothing so furthers our prayer life as the feeling of our own helplessness.
He gives a very helpful illustration of this in the man who who brought his demon-possessed boy to Jesus in Mark 9:14-30. Remember the man’s statement, “I believe! Help my unbelief”? Hallesby observes his use of the term “unbelief,” noting: He himself condemns his doubt as unbelief. That is what sincere faith always does; it judges itself strictly and unmercifully. But we should notice what judgement Jesus passed upon this doubting, unstable, shaky condition. In His eyes this was faith. This is clearly evident from the fact that Jesus healed the boy. Had the father’s doubt actually been unbelief, Jesus would not been able to heal him. …What is the reason that such a weak, unstable and doubting faith can be heard and answered? Because it was characterized by the essence of living faith: it went to Jesus. It pleaded its distress before Him.
One last comment from Hallesby that is very helpful (and very needed): the answer to prayer is not dependent upon our emotions or our thoughts before, during or after prayer. …I need not exert myself and try to force myself to believe, or try to chase doubt out of my heart. Both are equally useless. It begins to dawn on me that I can bring everything to Jesus, no matter how difficult it is; and I need not be frightened away by my doubts or my weak faith, but only tell Jesus how weak my faith is. I have let Jesus into my heart. And He will fulfill my heart’s desire. Amen!