Matthew 21:22 says, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” The Bible is filled with examples of people who prayed for things, believing they would receive them. In the Old Testament, Elijah prayed for rain, Daniel prayed for understanding, and Jeremiah prayed for God to take vengeance against his enemies. In the New Testament, the blind beggars asked for sight, the lepers wanted cleansing, and the Syrophoenician woman asked for her daughter’s deliverance. All of them would receive from God because they asked in faith. But what about the times when people didn’t pray, believing? What became of them and their prayers? Here are three examples of times when people prayed without belief and the lessons we can learn to avoid their mistakes.
Belief is an Action, Not a Feeling
Before we get to the biblical examples, it’s important to define what “believing” means. From the Google dictionary, belief is a “trust, a faith, or a confidence.” It means that we accept something as true and expect certain things to happen because of it. For example, if you believe a chair will hold you, you will sit on it without hesitation. (For a full discussion of “belief,” check out my blog Lordship Salvation: What Does it Mean to Believe?)
If you believe God will answer your prayers, you will expect Him to respond. He won’t always answer “yes,” of course. Sometimes it will be “no” or “wait.” In the meantime, we stand on God’s promise to answer and refuse to listen to the devil’s lies. We also press in, watch, and wait until things change or He shows us another option.
Example #1: Balaam
We find Balaam in the Book of Numbers. He was a Gentile prophet who heard from God and had a reputation as one who could bless and curse with results. It was just that service that caused the Moabite king, King Balak, to offer him a deal. If he would curse the people of Israel (who were getting a little too big and strong for his liking), Balak would pay him handsomely. Balaam knew where his power came from, though. So, he asked God for permission to do it.
Of course, God said “No way” to that request and told Balaam not to have anything more to do with him. But Balaam really wanted the attention and prestige that came from being a part of the king’s company. He also wanted that money. He asked God again to go with Balak and promised to only speak what God would give him.
Long story short, through the course of the next few chapters, God used Balaam to bless Israel three times. It was only when Balaam stopped asking God for help and started giving secrets that Balak achieved an advantage against the Israelites. You can read the full story of Balaam’s disobedience, discourse with his donkey, and downfall here in my blog Balaam, Us, and the 3 Wills of God.
Balaam’s Prayer in Unbelief
But the focus for today’s blog is Balaam’s prayer. It happens in Numbers 23. Balaam was in the process of blessing Israel (to Balak’s horror) when he said it.
“Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!”Numbers 23:10
Balaam acknowledged God’s people as righteous and prayed that when he died, he would be counted among them. Here’s the problem. He wanted to die the death, but he didn’t want to live the life. His prayer was in unbelief because if he had truly believed that God would answer his prayer, he would have lived accordingly. He would have been striving to do the things that God wanted him to do instead of plotting with God’s enemies against Him and His people. Like many people today, Balaam wanted to live for himself but still go to Heaven. He wanted to pray prayers to God but live like the devil. It just doesn’t work that way, though, and Balaam’s prayer was not answered. The Bible records Balaam’s death by the sword in Joshua 13:22 at the hands of the Israelites in a battle with the Moabites.
Example #2: King Saul
Fast forward some two hundred and fifty years later, and we’re at King Saul. The Israelites were tired of being different from the kingdoms around them. They wanted an earthly king to rule and reign. It was a rejection of God as their king, but God still gave them what they wanted in the form of Saul the Benjamite. Saul was tall and handsome, just the picture of a king. Unfortunately, he let his power go to his head and decided not to fully obey God’s direction. The prophet Samuel who had anointed him king and brought messages to him from God told him the bad news. His kingdom would be taken from him. You can read that full story here in my blog Chastisement and an Object Lesson About Iniquity.)
Anyway, it was right at the end of his rule that Saul prayed his prayer to God for guidance. The Philistines, Israel’s great archenemy, were lined up against him. The prophet Samuel was dead, and Saul needed some answers about what to do fast. He prayed his prayer in 1 Samuel 28:6, but he didn’t pray, believing. “And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” We know that Saul did not pray in belief, though, because not one single verse elapsed between the verse where he asked God for help and the verse that told us where he went next to find it: the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7).
Saul knew divination was forbidden by God. In fact, he, himself, had worked to get rid of those who practiced it at one point. Saul had fallen into a trap that many people do today. He didn’t wait and believe on God but just assumed that he could get his prayers answered elsewhere. He went for a do-it-yourself solution instead of trusting in God. His plan backfired when the witch conjured Samuel who prophesied Saul’s death the next day on the battlefield.
Example #3: The Disciples
The third example comes from a very unlikely source: Jesus’ own disciples. When the man with the lunatic son brought him to Jesus for deliverance, it was because His disciples could not cast the demons out in Jesus’ name. When they later asked why, Jesus said to them, “…Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you (Matthew 17:20).”
But how could the disciples not believe? They had been with Jesus and seen His miracles. They knew the power of God and had been given a measure of it to cast out many unclean spirits before that day. A verse in Luke 9 sheds a little light on it. It seems that while the man was bringing his son to Jesus for healing, “…the devil threw him down, and tare him” (Luke 9:43). It’s possible that the manifestations of the demon-possessed boy brought a sense of awe to the disciples about the devil’s power over the boy.
The disciples got their eyes off Jesus and onto the enemy. That happens to many of us today. We start to look at the enemy’s great power over the world and even our own circumstances. Without meaning to, we can begin to despair that anything will ever change. We can fail to pray, believing. Fortunately for Jesus’ disciples’, the mistake was temporary. The disciples would go on to cast out many more demons and serve the Lord faithfully from there.
The Bible tells us to pray, believing that God will answer our prayers. That means that we must be living a life that lines up with what we’re praying. It also means that we can’t look for solutions outside of God even as a “back-up” plan; He must be our only source of help. And finally, we must always keep our eyes on Jesus, never allowing the enemy’s power to make us forget that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
Enjoy articles about prayer? Try 9 Reasons God Doesn’t Hear Our Prayers. Or try 3 Lessons from a Prayer that Changed Everything. Please subscribe in the upper right corner (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel. There, I read my blogs out loud and have a playlist of hymns from my church. Far from boring, they are fast, sassy, and anointed hymns and gospel songs.