The following was given as a devotional at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on January 21. 2001
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, KJ).
We serve an awesome God, one "who gives life to the dead, and calls the things that are not, as though they were" (Romans 4:17, ASV). In these last days, the elect, the sons of God are beginning to see with spiritual eyes, the things that are not as though they were. That's called faith, and it's the topic that has been simmering in my spirit for over a month now as God has been taking me deeper into this fascinating and often misunderstood subject.
When I was a kid, mustard seeds in tiny glass globes that you could wear around your neck on a gold chain were very popular. The inspiration for this jewelry came from a statement of Jesus: "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you" (Matt. 17:20, RSV). Lk. 17:6, renders it a "sycamine tree" that would be plucked up by the root and planted in the sea, if you had faith. Either way, that's powerful imagery, and I remember as a child thinking, "Oh I hope I have that kind of faith," and as I grew older, "I wonder what I'd have to do to have that kind of faith." Thus my journey into works was born. The teachers in the church I grew up in loved to quote Rom. 10:17: KJV, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God," after which they would admonish us to read the Bible, for it was the only reference they had for "the word of God." And while I'm ever so grateful that my diligent Bible reading enhanced my life, nevertheless, I've come to see that the Apostle Paul was NOT talking about studying your Bible in Rom. 10:17. For one thing, there was no Bible in those days and most people couldn't read anyway. Rather, he was talking about the faith that takes root in your spirit when you hear the word of the living God spoken in your heart. Rom. 10:8, uses this same Greek word in the passage, "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth." Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines "word" as used in Rom. 10:17 and Rom. 10:8, this way: "that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word." It is Strong's number 4483 for those of you who keep track of such things.
It was by THIS living word of God that the worlds were framed (Heb. 11:6). I think we all know that God was not reading from His version of the Bible when He spoke the universe into existence, and yet some fundamentalist teachers have elevated the written Bible into the Godhead, and seem almost to worship it. Since Jesus is the WORD made flesh who dwelt among us (Jn. 1:1), and then dwelt within us (Gal. 2:20), it is His voice we must hear in order for faith to grow. This is crucial to living an overcoming life and to getting the true answer for why some prayers are answered while others are not. I know people and so do you who have read the Bible and yet, remain unimpressed, unmoved, and unchanged. They have heard the letter (logos) without the Spirit (rhema) to quicken it to their understanding (II Cor. 3:3).
Our dear friend John Gavazzoni e-mailed us a wonderful story this week, which illustrates some points I want to make in regards to the kind of faith it takes to get our prayers answered. Here is an abbreviated version of the story of a young US Army Infantryman named Spencer January, which occurred during World War II.
Spencer January relates that his division was given the orders to take the town of Ossenberg, near the Rhine River in Germany, where a factory was producing gunpowder and other products for use in the war.
He tells of being pinned down behind a large stone house, along with a handful of wounded, bleeding soldiers who had tried to cross the clearing ahead of them and failed. There were at least 200 yards of open ground, bordered on the far side by more thick woods. Three nests of German machine guns, spaced 50 yards apart, protected by the crest of a small hill to the left, were firing across the open field. The machine guns were so well placed that their weapons couldn't reach them.
He wrote, "To cross that field meant suicide. Yet, we had no choice. The Germans had blockaded every other route into the town. In order to move on and secure a victory, we had to move forward. I slumped against a tree, appalled at the grim situation. I thought of home, of my wife and my 5-month old son. I had kissed him good-bye just after he was born. I thought that I might never see my family again, and the possibility was overwhelming. I dropped to my knees. "God," I pleaded desperately, "You've got to do something. Please do something."
As he was preparing to heed the order to advance, Spencer saw in amazement, that "a white cloud, a long fluffy white cloud, had appeared out of nowhere. It dropped from over the trees and covered the area. The Germans' line of fire was obscured by the thick foggy mist." Using the cloud for cover, the soldiers bolted across the clearing and headed for cover in the thicket on the other side. They all reached safety, including the wounded, whom they dragged along with them.
"This has to be God's doing," Spencer thought, for the instant the last man reached safety, the cloud vanished! The day was again bright and clear.
The enemy apparently thought the soldiers were still hiding behind the house, because they used artillery fire to completely destroy it. Had the allies still been there, they would all have been killed.
Two weeks later, Spencer got a letter from his mother in Dallas, who reported that the local church prayer warrior, Mrs. Tankersly, had related a most interesting event. She said the Lord had awakened her the night before at one o' clock and told her, "Spencer January is in terrible trouble. Get up now and pray for him!"
The letter went on to explain that Mrs. Tankersly had interceded for him in prayer until six o'clock the next morning, when she had to go to her job. The last thing she prayed before getting off her knees was this, "Lord, whatever danger Spencer is in, just cover him with a Cloud!"
Spencer trembled as he read his mother's letter, and concluded, "Yes, the hours Mrs. Tankersly was praying would indeed have corresponded to the time we were approaching the clearing. With a seven-hour time difference, her prayer for a cloud would have been uttered at one o'clock, the exact time Company I was getting ready to cross the clearing."
He concluded, "From that moment on, I intensified my prayer life. For the past 52 years I have gotten up early every morning to pray for others. I am convinced there is no substitute for the power of prayer and its ability to comfort and sustain others, even those facing the valley of the shadow of death." By Spencer January
I passed this inspiring story on to family members and friends. One of our readers in Canada who received it, wrote,
"It is a wonderful story, Jan. Thank you for sending it. It affirms my belief in the power of prayer in this unbelieving age. I have discussed this topic with many people over many years, and I still don't know the answers, but prayer is answered, sometimes. But sometimes it is not. I have always wondered why?
"It seems that the person who prayed for the cloud was able to get through quite easily. It is important to know how she got through to God so quickly so that a manifestation occurred in the material world almost immediately. We all could duplicate that if we knew her method. She may not even have known her method herself. Surely she had strong beliefs, but so do most people who pray and often their prayers seem unanswered. There is something more this woman tapped into, I believe, and she was able to do it consistently. It wasn't that God was on our side in the war; I'm sure many a "miracle" happened for the Germans as well.
"Any thoughts on what her secret was? Because, if you know, you have the keys to everything. Jesus said, "if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, move," etc... But I think the translators missed something. He knew the secret of course, and he passed it on, but I think most of us have missed it. What is the faith of a mustard seed? What does it mean? Not what we have been often led to believe, I think.
I too, long ago, came to believe that not all prayer is answered, and the question is, why? My uncle was dying of cancer in ND. He was Catholic, and a Protestant "healer" wanted to pray over him. Apparently he had had some success with this. The family, rather reluctantly, agreed to let him "do his thing" in the room where Elmer lay dying. It didn't work. Elmer died of colon cancer. I believe the man was sincere, and I don't believe he was a spiritual failure, by any means. What went wrong? My Franciscan friend was once asked to pray for a man in the hospital. There were two men dying in the room. He prayed for healing for the one he was asked to pray for. The other man recovered. The one prayed for died. Why? Lack of faith? No way. There are numerous stories exactly like this. Many variations on the same theme. I have pondered this deeply for years and I have never come up with a working answer. It is not for lack of trying, I assure you.
"So I am delighted you have decided to tackle it. I am certain the Holy Spirit will inspire you to write the words necessary for our understanding. This is a huge undertaking, one of the most challenging you have ever attempted. Because if you reveal the real meaning of "if you have the faith of a mustard seed...," it will have life changing effect for millions. I am certain there is a secret that Jesus taught but which has been lost through endless translations and corruption. I am equally certain that the Holy Spirit will reveal that secret through you. I am very excited about this and I wish you only the most wonderful breakthrough success." End Quote.
I'm grateful for the articulate way this reader, who has become a friend of ours, has put his questions and comments, for I'm sure they reflect what many others want to know. Certainly, for many years, I struggled with this issue of why some prayers get answered while others do not. As usual, the Lord led me to several scriptures (logos) and shined His light on them (rhema) so that I could see.
The answer is so simple that in our frenetic attempts to be spiritual and/or control God when we want something done, we miss it. Here's the first passage I saw, "God works ALL things after the counsel of HIS own will" (Eph. 1:11). That verse makes it totally clear who is in charge. Then, regarding why some die and some live after prayer for healing, He led me to this verse: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment" (Heb. 9:27, KJV). Solomon wrote that there is "a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted," (Ecc. 3:2). God's will provides a time for each one to be born and a time to die. If it is not God's time for you to cross Jordan, you will live. If it is your time, you will pass to the other side. I realize that many people do not believe this, but usually, they fall into the category of ones who have not fully seen the absolute sovereignty of God in all things. Before He quickens our spirits to see it, we think there is something we should do, must do, or ought to do to prolong our lives. Certainly by that statement, I'm not suggesting that we should jump off 10 story buildings, or lay down on the freeway. What I am saying, is that every moment of our lives is planned out and controlled by God, and so in the case of the two men that the Franciscan priest prayed for, one's time had come to cross Jordan and the other's had not. Does prayer have no effect on this? Of course, it can. Remember the story of Hezekiah, King of Judah? When Isaiah told him he would surely die and not live, the king turned his face to the wall and prayed, begging God to spare his life. The text says he wept bitterly (II Kings. 20:1-3). Sure enough, his prayer was answered affirmatively, "And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: "Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the prince of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you; on the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. And I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David's sake." (II Kings. 20:4-6).
There is nothing in the text to indicate that Hezekiah had more faith than the next guy. It was simply God's will and God's word (the rhema) in action here, as it was in the case of Jesus' many miracles. He was not out there doing good on His own steam, by His own will, but rather by His Father's will and direction. He said of Himself, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise" (Jn. 5:19). I know that there is a whole camp of believers out there who make much over the verse in Mark where it relates the instance when Jesus went to his home town to preach and teach. The folks in Nazareth said of Him, "Isn't this the carpenter?" Knowing small towns as I do, it's not hard for me to imagine that they were thinking, "Who does he think he is? He has no qualifications to teach us. Why, his parents weren't even married when he was conceived." It was on this occasion that Jesus commented, "'A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house,'" but here's the fascinating thing about this account. The text continues with this zinger, "And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them" (Mk. 6: 4-6). Some of the televangelists have created a whole cottage industry on this verse, citing the lack of faith in Nazareth as the reason Jesus could do no mighty work there. They conclude that it is our lack of faith that keeps us from being healthy, wealthy, and wise, and of course, they claim that if you only send them $20.00 for their videos or books or whatever they are selling, you will have your faith built up so that you can overcome Satan, get healed, and prosper.
Yet, clearly there was more than lack of faith at work here. In the case of the ones being raised from the dead, for instance, they had no faith. Lazarus lay stinking in the tomb, and from the conversation Jesus had with his sisters, I conclude that they certainly did not have the faith to believe Jesus could raise him from the dead, although they did lay a little "Jewish mother guilt" on him by saying that if He had been there, He could have healed their brother who wouldn't have had to die (John 11:1-45). Likewise, in the case of the woman known as Tabitha, she had no faith. She was dead. Peter, in the name of the one "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom. 4:17) participated in God's will to bring her back from death to life (Acts 9:36-40).
We are told to "reckon ourselves dead" by the Apostle Paul (Rom. 6:11), and thus, it makes no sense for him or anyone else to also admonish us to have faith. Dead men are not ruled by the lusts of the flesh, nor can they have faith. So what's the answer? It is to know that any faith that is manifested in our lives, does not originate with us, but with the ONE who lives within us. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live BY the faith OF the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, KJV). In this translation, it is clear that it is Christ's faith by which we live, not our own. As with everything else in our Christian life, God has provided all we need to live it. When we lay rules and regulations on ourselves or others in order to receive God's promise in our lives, we nullify the death of Christ (Gal. 2:21), and the promise of God to Abraham (Gal. 3:8).
The graphic at the beginning of this piece is an airline ticket stub from our recent holiday in Hawaii, a gift from my generous sister and her husband. God used the stub to help me explain the mystery of faith. He told me that the stub is to the trip what faith is to miracles. It is the evidence of things not seen. When you board the aircraft, you feed the boarding pass into a machine which processes it and spits out the stub at the other end. You retain the stub to show you which seat you are to take, and sometimes, if there is a lay over on a continuing flight, you use it to reboard the aircraft. However, if I tried to fly to Los Angeles today by presenting this stub, they would quickly send me back to the source, i.e., the ticket agent, to obtain a new ticket for the trip. When we try to control a situation with our prayers based on our natural faith, and our own ideas, the results are the same. We are sent back to the source, our Heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10), to get authorization for the flight, the miracle, the healing, or whatever it is.
Being on the Internet so much, we get many, many prayer requests, but I know that unless God calls me to pray for someone, I'm wasting my breath. That was Mrs. Tankersly's secret. She didn't get through to God. He got through to her. He woke her up and said, "Pray for Spencer January. He's in terrible trouble." She acted according to the word of the Lord in her heart (rhema), and thus, she was praying according to His will for Spencer. The apostle John says, "And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that if he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him" (I Jn. 5:14-15, RSV). Thus, Mrs. Tankersly was listening to the Lord's Word; His will was done; and her petition was granted. And by the way, God does not need our prayers to get things done. As Jesus said to the self righteous Pharisees, so proud of being able to trace their lineage back to Abraham, "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8). That being the case, then why would God wake up Mrs. Tankersly to pray? I think it was to build her faith, to give her experience in hearing the living Word of God (rhema) so that she could be a witness of His power and glory to the rest of the church. Remember Rom. 10:17, "Faith comes by hearing the word of God." Certainly, this woman heard the word of the Lord that night and it produced faith in her life.
Many are fond of prayer lists, thinking that by praying for every name on them, they'll be sure not to miss anyone, or possibly to remind God of who needs what. At one point, I had a list so long that I was exhausted by the time I finished with it. I'll be so bold as to say, that this is just another religious sounding work of the flesh. When God lays someone on your heart, pray with all your might, but if He does not, wait until He does, if ever. Thus, when I am asked to pray for someone, I say, "When the Spirit puts it on my heart to pray, I will." That's not hard and cold, but wisdom born of pain. I learned it the hard way, and learned it well, that God's will is done in our lives and in our prayers. He sits on the throne and it is His job, not ours, to decide who gets healed and delivered from problems, whatever they may be. Like Jesus the pattern son, our only job is to participate in what we hear the Father saying and doing.
Remember that our natural faith is like the ticket stub. It is NOT the ticket and it is certainly not the trip. When I look at the stub, it reminds me of the trip. I hope you will also begin to think of the Bible as the ticket stub as well. It reminds us of our journey into God, but it is NOT the trip. Please know that my life has been spent in reading the Bible. As a child and even today, my spirit soars when I think of the great heroes of faith. I thrill to read about Moses (Ex., Chapters 6-11), my all time hero, who dared to argue with God, and who, emboldened by the Spirit of power and might, stood up to Pharaoh while God delivered His children from centuries of bondage; Joshua (Josh 4:5-9), who by faith instructed the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to step off into the deep water of the Jordan River at flood stage so that the children of Israel could cross into Canaan on dry land; the boy David who defeated Israel's great enemy, Goliath, by knowing that "the LORD saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD's and he will give you into our hand" (I Sam. 17:47). He went on to be called a man after God's own heart, and Israel's most beloved king; Daniel, saved from the jaws of the lions in their den (Dan. 6:12-24); the Hebrew children, delivered in the fiery furnace with not even the smell of smoke on their clothing (Dan. 3:6-27); Saul of Tarsus, who was knocked off his horse by the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-19), elected by God from before the foundation of the world (II Tim. 1:9-10) to take the Gospel to the gentiles. Without the Apostle Paul's God empowered efforts, the new religion, Christianity, might not have lasted until the end of the first century.
All these heroes of faith knew God as the power beneath their wings. Faith was the engine that drove their boat and God Himself was the fuel. They heard the living word of God (rhema) and acted on it. It was not sacred scrolls, or writing on a page that emblazoned God's name and power through the centuries; it was the heroes of faith who listened and obeyed the voice of almighty God that they heard in their spirits. This is why I say that the Bible is the ticket stub, which reminds us of the trip into God, but it is NOT the trip. I appreciate the importance of knowing the scriptures, which is why I put so many Bible references in my writings. I hope you will take the time to look them up and feast upon them for yourselves. However, it is the living word of God, shining in the dark places of our souls which moves us, changes us, redeems us, restores us, and brings us into perfection, wholeness, and holiness (Eph. 5:25-29; Jude 24).
The story of Spencer January has many fascinating aspects, and like a lot of stories that make their way around Cyberspace, it ends on a high note, but then, sort of slides off into law and duty. Spencer realized that the power of God was at work in his life, but his conclusions about it were like those of a lot of religious folks today. He decided that he needed to get up early every day and pray for folks, not because God instructed him to do so, but because it worked for Mrs. Tankersly. God is new every morning (Lam. 3:23), and He operates individually in our lives according to where we are in Him and where He wants to bring us. So, to bind someone else's experience with God on ourselves in order to get the results we want is like using someone else's toothbrush. It defeats the purpose.
My last observation about getting our prayers answered is this: God answers all prayers, but the result is not always exactly as we asked. This should cause no real concern, because we have this promise in Rom. 8:28: "And we know that ALL THINGS work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." In answer to our Canadian Reader's quest to find the secret Jesus taught, it is revealed in the prayer He taught His disciples to pray: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10). There is no magic formula, no hidden key to success other than the sure knowledge that when it is God's will, it is done for us as we ask (I Jn. 5:14-15). And in terms of faith, there is natural faith, which operated under the law, and spiritual faith, which is a gift of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. A mustard seed is the symbol Jesus used to tell us about spiritual faith. Like this seed, our faith starts small, but as we practice hearing the voice of God, it quickly grows to overshadow every aspect of our lives. It is difficult to grasp spiritual concepts without the use of metaphors and symbols, which is why the Bible is full of them, and why Jesus often spoke in parables to make His points. My metaphor to explain natural faith is this. We get into our little row boat and paddle like mad toward a destination of our choosing. I asked my husband Lenny to give me a mystic's eye view of spiritual faith and he said immediately, "Spiritual faith is being swept away by God in the river of eternal life." To that I would add, when we are swept away, our destination is always in the Father's hands, not our own. Natural faith operates under law and spiritual faith always operates from God's grace. This journal has been a delight to my spirit to write and I ask the Father to enlighten these words to bless your heart and soul as well. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We would enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 1/21/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last edited on 10/30/08.