Study Guide: According to Your Faith

Sunday September 2, 2012 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Continuing in our series on doubt and faith, Greg finally addresses the passages that have caused confusion about faith. He sets aside the mental gimmickry for something much more substantial and beautiful.

Extended Summary:

There are some tricky passages in the Bible that have misled people on what faith means. James 1:6 says that when we ask we should believe and not doubt. Mark 11:24 says that whatever we ask for in prayer, we should believe we have received it, and it will be ours. When we read these passages, we can see that prayer might be a kind of mental gimmick where we need to convince ourselves in order for our prayers to be answered and our faith to be secure.

This type of faith and prayer is misleading, and it is best exemplified by a man that Greg knew while at Princeton. “Bob” was a believer in the believing to receiving crowd when it came to prayer. He also wore terribly thick glasses. One day, he decided to pray for better eyesight and left his glasses at home. For four months, he didn’t wear his glasses and continued to pray. After several serious car crashes and almost flunking out of school, he was finally convinced that there might be something wrong with the way he understood these passages.

It was very common in the Bible to use hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggerating something to make a point, such as “I’ve said this a million times!” When we encounter hyperbole, we must remember that it’s not to be taken literally. Yet, we need to find the point it’s making. These passages are asking us to imagine what we pray for to be true. We should ask and believe in God’s goodness. This doesn’t mean that our prayers will always be answered, however, simply because of how certain we are when we pray and believe.

Jesus exemplified this in Mark 8. He encounters a blind man there, and after spitting on the man’s eyes, he asked the man “Do you see anything?” Now, either Jesus doesn’t believe in what he’s praying for and is a hypocrite, or there is something wrong with how we understand Mark 11. Because, the man couldn’t see correctly and Jesus had to pray again in order for the man’s sight to be fully restored.

Faith is envisioning a concrete reality, and this is what the passages are saying when it comes to faith and prayer. When we pray and have faith, we are envisioning the future where God is working good into everything. When praying for healing for someone, we should envision that person being healed while we pray. This isn’t a mental trick to get our prayers answered; rather, it is envisioning God working in a faithful way. We know that our prayers may not be answered and the healing may not happen, but our faith doesn’t become dependent on how certain we are about our faith and prayers.

The reason why we envision this future is best described by two different marriages. In the first marriage, the husband and wife think good thing about each other during the day. They imagine working together and helping one another. When they get home and are joined together, they have created a ripe environment for love, intimacy and affection. They have prepared themselves for this by imagining the good in their relationship and having faith in that. In the second marriage, the husband and wife think about all the bad things in their relationship, and the ways they have let each other down. When they get home and are joined together, they have created an environment for dissension and conflict.

Jesus wants our faith to be like the first marriage, where we envision the goodness of God and believe it to be true. Then, when we pray and have faith, we are having faith in the husband of the Church, Jesus. And according to that faith, it will be done unto us as Jesus said in Matthew. We trust in Jesus, not our own mental gimmicks, to answer our prayers. And that trust allows for the prayers not to be answered but our faith not to be shaken.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. Have you ever lived a strength tester model of faith in your life?
  3. How do you usually pray? Do you use the envisioning techniques that Greg talks about in this sermon?
  4. In what ways is the illustration of marriage a helpful point for knowing how to have faith and pray?
  5. How do you react when your prayers aren’t answered? Is this the way that you want to react?