"But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord." - James 1:6-7
This passage from scripture says that when we pray for something, we need to really believe that we'll receive what we've asked for, and that if we don't, we should have no expectations whatsoever that God will answer our prayers. In other words, answered prayer is the product, and faith is the currency by which you purchase it. If you don't have faith when you pray, God will not answer your prayers. Of course, God might not answer your prayer anyway. As I pointed out in another article, there are many reasons God might say "No" to a prayer, such as wrong motives (James 4:3), unrepentant sin in your life (Proverbs 28:9, Psalm 34:15-16), someone else is praying for something that cancels your request out and God chose to answer him instead of you, or simply because God knows best and has something better in mind. However, if you don't have faith when you pray, you certainly won't get anything from God. James tells us not to expect anything from The Lord if we pray a faithless prayer.
It's very important that we believe when we pray, not simply so that God will positively respond to our requests, but because a faithless prayer life can lead to a vicious cycle that can end up in a sparse prayer life or even no prayer life at all! Imagine this scenario: Bob prays for X thinking in the back of his mind "God won't do this. This isn't the kind of thing He does for people like me". Later, Bob sees that God did not do X. Bob thinks to himself. "See, I knew God wouldn't do it.". Bob really needs X, so he keeps praying for X sans faith, and each time God says no to X. Each time God says no to Bob's request for X, Bob loses more and more faith, which only increases the odds that he won't receive X. Bob doesn't receive answers to any of his other prayers either because he doesn't believe that God will do what he asks Him to do, and this also leads to disappointment and distrust in God. Eventually, Bob ends up praying for only a minute a day, and some days he forgets to pray at all.
It's a vicious cycle. A prayer in doubt leads to unanswered prayer, and unanswered prayer leads to more doubt, and that doubt leads to more unanswered prayer. If you're to avoid the vicious cycle this hypothetical Bob found himself in, you must pray with faith. Believe that you will receive what you've asked for. Believe!
According to Jesus, the amount of faith you have doesn't even have to be a massive amount. "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20). In ancient Israel, they believed that the mustard seed was the tiniest of all the seeds (cf. Matthew 13:32). So basically, Jesus is saying "Even if your faith is as small as it can get, I'll still respond to your prayers and you'll do extraordinary things." However, a faith the size of a mustard seed isn't, I think, the ideal. We would want our faith to be much larger than that.
Now, with all that I've said, some questions are bound to be raised:
How Can I Believe That God Will Do X?
How can you have confidence that God will respond "Yes" to your prayers? Well, one way is if you already know that what you're praying for is something that God wants to accomplish in your life. The Bible says in 1 John 5:14-15 "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: 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 what we asked of him." In other words, if you know that X is God's will, and you ask for X, then you can have 100% confidence God will give you X.
For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;" (ESV). Let's say you're someone struggling with masturbation addiction and/or porn addiction and you've been praying for freedom from those chains that bind you. According to Matthew 5:28, pornography is in the category of sexual immorality. According to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, God's will is for you to abstain from sexual immorality and to control yourself. According to 1 John 5:14-15, if you pray for something that you know is God's will, you have 100% confidence that you will receive it. So it follows that you pray to be freed from masturbation and/or porn addiction, God will see to it that you obtain this freedom. He may not do it right away, but He will do it. God's only possible responses in this scenario are "yes" and "wait".
Or let's say you're married and your marriage is failing. God's will is that when you get married, you stay married. God said "I hate divorce" in Malachi 2:16, and Jesus said “'Haven't you read?' ... 'that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. ....... I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.'" -Matthew 19:4-6, 9. God's will is that you stay married to your spouse. God's will is that you learn to work it out. God will not be happy if you divorce your spouse. Now, per 1 John 5:14-15, if you pray for something and you know that what you're praying for is God's will you will receive it. God's will is for your marriage to succeed. It follows from these two premises via modus ponens logic that if you pray for your marriage to succeed, God will respond to that prayer.
Often times we can know the will of God by reading the word of God. And if we know the will of God and pray for that, we can have great faith that God will respond to our prayer positively.
What If What I'm Praying For Is Ambiguous In Regards To God's Will?
Of course, we can't always know that what we're praying for is God's will or not. For example, if you're one of the many Christians praying for Nabeel Qureshi to be healed of his stage 4 stomach cancer, we can't know with 100% certainty whether or not God will heal him and whether Nabeel will live. After all, while there have been testimonies of God miraculously curing people of cancer, we also know that sometimes God allows people to die of cancer. Perhaps God has a morally sufficient reason for not prolonging Nabeel's life, (see my explanation of The Butterfly Effect in my article "The Problem Of Evil and Suffering"). The ripple effect of Nabeel's death might result in some greater good at a future point in time. Of course, who knows? Perhaps God will answer our prayers after all and Nabeel will miraculously make it!
How can we have faith that God will do X if X isn't clearly expressed as being God's will in God's word? First of all, realize that faith isn't something that you can produce on your own. You can't produce any spiritual fruit under your own power. Jesus said in John 15; "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (verse 4). Since Jesus is the vine and Christians are the branches (verses 1-2), what this means is that you (the branch) can't produce fruit (i.e spiritual virtues) under your own strength. You must rely on the power of Christ and of The Holy Spirit to produce these fruits in you. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23). Faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
If you lack faith, ask God to increase your faith. Ask Him to make your faith larger and more powerful. Ask Him to sustain it. Ask Him to increase it to the size not of a mustard seed, but of a golf ball, but of a soccer ball, of a planet, of a galaxy, of the size of the whole universe! You can certainly have faith that God will increase your faith. How? Remember 1 John 5:14-15. "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: 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 what we asked of him." Clearly, it is God's will for you to trust him. That's what faith is by the way; it's a synonym for trust. What biblical passages let us know that trusting God is God's will? Well, one passage is one I opened this blog post with. James 1:6-7 is clearly a biblical command. "But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt." Another passage I could point to is the entire chapter of Hebrews 11. This chapter presents a sort of "Faith Hall Of Fame" if you will, going over Old Testament figures and praising them for the great faith they had in God. An argument can be made that a whole chapter wouldn't be devoted to praising people for having faith is having faith wasn't a fulfillment of God's will.
So, you can have faith that God will increase your faith in your prayer life overall because The Bible teaches that it's God's will for you to have faith, and God will answer prayers in accordance with His will.
If you've been struggling in your prayer life, I hope this relatively short blog post has been just what you needed to here. For more, I would advise listening to this sermon by John Hagee called "Power Through Prayer". --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvsRwJ_NMTw