Can a word of faith get me what I want?

Watch this study instead of reading it.

We are analyzing the Word of Faith movement, also known as name it and claim it or Prosperity Gospel through three biblical perspectives. The first one was speech. The second one is:

2. Faith

So Jesus answered and said to them, “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.”

Mark 11:22–24

This is a passage that has been hijacked by many prosperity preachers. They have implied or taught explicitly that Jesus gives us a blank check for whatever we want. As we have said many times before on this channel, the best way to understand a passage is not through the lens of the twenty-first century. As my friend Kevin would say, it’s time to put on our first-century glasses. Don’t first ask, “What does this mean to me?” Ask first, “What did this mean to Mark and his first audience?” And only after we understand the answer to that question can we begin to apply it today. Name it and claim it is relatively new, so we know Mark was not teaching a Prosperity Gospel here when he quoted Jesus. 

When we have to spend our time discussing why this passage doesn’t mean what prosperity preachers want it to mean, we miss what it does mean! This passage shows beautiful promises and instructions for faith and prayer God intended us to have. 

It’s actually closely related to our study on the Olivet Discourse. Two chapters after Jesus said this in the book of Mark, Jesus blows the minds of the disciples by predicting the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. To most Jews of the time, the destruction of the temple would mean the severance of their tie, their connection, their communication with God. How would they pray without the temple? He’s prepping the disciples here in Mark 11 that when you pray, your faith should be in God, not the temple. So that when the sacred building is destroyed, you know that your prayer is still sacred. So, if prayer isn’t about getting what I want, then how do you explain these passages?

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.

1 John 5:14–15

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Matthew 7:7–11

What are the key words in these passages? While studying our subject at hand, of course, we notice the words like confidence, have, petitions, given, will, receives, and so on. The careful Bible student also notices these two key phrases: “according to His will” and “good things.” God answers our prayers according to what is good, according to His own perfect and all-knowing will.

Here’s an example. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of some powerful visions God had given him. Apparently, there was a chance Paul could begin boasting about such revelations. So, what did God do?

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

2 Corinthians 12:7–10

Paul asked God three times for something to happen. Since God said no all three times, what conclusions could we come to? Maybe it’s that Paul didn’t have faith when praying. That’s unreasonable. Perhaps Paul used the wrong words while praying. You’re kidding me, right? We must conclude with Paul that removing this thorn in his flesh was not God’s will. God had bigger plans for Paul, and they would be achieved—not through prosperity—but through suffering. 

See, that’s how highlighting those two key phrases helps us understand this passage. Prayer should be “according to His will” and for “good things.” Now, sometimes I don’t know exactly what His will is, and I don’t know what would be good for me in every given moment. Only God, who can see the beginning from the end, can know what is good in every situation. So, like Paul, I pray what I think would be good for God’s glory, and then I see how He answers.

Praying faithfully and expecting God to do great things beyond what you’re able to think or ask—that’s biblical (see Ephesians 3:20–21). Moving mountains is something only God can do. There’s a difference between believing in God’s unique power while praying (which is biblical), and believing you have power over your life by simply believing and declaring something to be true (which robs God of His glory). Prayer is about believing and having a relationship with God. Naming it and claiming it is putting trust in yourself and your words.

Here’s what often happens: Someone believes in name it and claim it. Then, they muster all their faith and name and claim something—often, the louder the more effective. God doesn’t grant their request the way they expect Him to, so their preacher convinces them that there’s an issue with their faith. Then, they’re discouraged and either buy into name it and claim it further (sometimes “sowing” their life savings to prosperity preachers’ pockets) or they give up on this faith stuff altogether. Neither of which actually brings someone closer to God. In fact, it drives them deeper into Satan’s trap.

When you think all you have to do to make this prayer thing work is next time just have a bit more faith, then you’re trusting in yourself, not in God. That was Jesus’ reason for using a mustard seed as the example for faith. Is your faith small right now, perhaps only the size of a mustard seed? Even so, remember you serve a God so powerful that He builds worlds with His words. When truly praying faithfully, you let your requests be made known to God, and you trust Him to be glorified with the outcome. That’s your goal: for God to be glorified. 

And so it is with any level of poverty or prosperity today. Let it be for God’s glory. With prosperity prayers, your goal is all about self. Can prosperity glorify God? In the hands of truly faithful people, it can! The paradox is that even great poverty can bring glory to God’s name. As a side note, no one in the fellowship of God’s people should truly be hungry or homeless. The church is the body of Christ, and we are to care for one another. However, we can see tremendously faithful people glorify God in the Bible, in history, and even in our time today while being below the poverty line, while hungry, and while homeless.

When praying, don’t forget to pray according to His will, and be prepared for His definition of a good gift to be different from yours. When you pray in faith, know God hears you, so long as you’re praying according to His will. So if it doesn’t work out how you prayed, you know that He has something even better in mind, just as Jesus’ prayer in the garden reminds us.

One thing that will help us understand what Jesus means when He tells us to ask for things in faith is seeing how it played out for many people of faith, which leads us to our third biblical perspective.