The great evangelist D.L. Moody once said, “If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit which may be the only hindrance to the boon you ask.” Obviously, Moody knew his Bible. Over and over again in scripture, we find on full display the importance of actually expecting God to answer your prayer. For example, James 1:5-8 says:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (N.K.J.V.)
Notice how God describes the person whose prayer requests are marked by doubt and a lack of faith. He calls that person “a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind,” “double-minded,” and “unstable.” Get the picture?
Anyone who has been to the ocean knows what a sea wave that is driven and tossed by the wind looks like. Such a wave has its course dictated by the wind. The wave rolls whichever way the wind pushes it. Basically, the wave is a victim of its circumstance. If the wind turns violent, so does the wave. If the wind turns calm, so does the wave.
However, scuba-divers will tell you that the deeper you dive into the water, the less effect the wind has on the water. This fact of nature illustrates the secret to a victorious prayer life. It’s faith that allows you to dive deep enough into your wave to break free from that wave’s turbulence. When you pray in faith, expecting God to answer your prayer, a great calm comes over you. The Bible describes this calm as “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). While it’s true that this particular phrase gets used a lot in Christian circles, contextually in scripture it is named as a specific byproduct of prayer.
Even Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of praying in faith-filled expectancy. In Mark 11:22-24, He says:
“Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” (N.K.J.V.)
Admittedly, it’s easy to see how the “prosperity” “name-it-and-claim-it” preachers of today can run wild with this passage. The fact is, though, that the Bible is the best commentary on itself, and there are other passages that place certain governors on which prayer requests God will actually grant. For example, if something lies outside His will, God won’t grant that request no matter how much faith accompanies it. As 1 John 5:14-15 says:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)
Likewise, God doesn’t obligate Himself to grant the prayer requests of rebels who don’t keep His commandments. As 1 John 3:21-22 says:
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)
Still, though, with these types of mitigating factors understood, let’s not make the mistake of watering Jesus’ promise down so much as to make it completely useless. His point is that believing — truly, genuinely, sincerely believing — produces major results in prayer. It’s doubt in the heart that ties God’s hands in so many situations. Why couldn’t Jesus do many mighty works in His hometown of Nazareth when He returned there as an adult to minister? It was purely and simply because of the people’s unbelief (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5). He willed to do many miracles there, but the people just didn’t have the level of belief/faith that would unleash Him to do those miracles.
I don’t know what it is that you’ve been asking God to do, but you’d do well to check your faith/belief level in regards to how much expectancy you are coupling up with your request. Coaches are always asking their players to “buy into” the program of training and instruction those coaches are selling. Well, God asks the same thing of each of us. He wants us to buy into His program of training and instruction. But buying into anyone’s program requires a tangible level of faith/belief that the person really will produce positive results in your life. Here again, the same is true of God. To borrow from D.L. Moody’s quote, it does you no good to pray for bread empty handed. You must, instead, bring a basket with you when you make your request for bread. That is the type of prayer that God honors and the type of request that He freely grants.