Prayer and Faith: The Error of the Word-Faith Movement

By Lanny Carpenter and Jim Jones

 There are a number of Bible teachers today who are preaching a gospel that many Christians are following. This movement is called the “Word-Faith Movement,” but also goes by such names as “Name It & Claim It,” “Health and Wealth,” “Positive Confession,” and “Word of Faith.” Opponents to this movement sometimes refer to it as the “Blab-It & Grab-It”movement. The basic premise is that if you have enough faith, you can pray and ask God for anything, and He will give it to you, including good health and all the wealth you want. They base their theology on the misinterpretation of several Biblical truths: 1) God wants the best for you, 2) God has promised to answer your prayers, and 3) God responds positively to a believer who exhibits faith and belief. It is plain to see that this would be a popular idea! Who doesn’t want to be healthy and wealthy?  But is this movement based on an improper understanding of Scripture?

There are a number of statements in the Bible that are generally true, but not absolute promises.  For example, Jesus said that when two or more agree and ask, it will be done.  Is this an absolute promise?  If so, you and I could agree that we want to see an end to wars, and God will do it!  We could agree that AIDS is a bad thing and should be eradicated, and ask God to do it, and He would be obligated to do so. Obviously this is not what Jesus meant. An example of an absolute promise would be when we are told that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us of our sins (I John 1:9). A person can have absolute certainty that when he comes in true repentance and confesses his sins, God will absolutely forgive him.

So, can we ever be sure that God will answer our prayers?  One thing we know for certain is that we are encouraged to bring our petitions to God.  Jesus said that if we ask, we will receive. He then reminds us that God gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:7-11). We know that God answers prayer, but does He always answer in the affirmative?  Are there times when God’s plan for a person’s life may not include granting a particular petition of the person? Have you ever prayed for something that you later were glad you did not receive? Sometimes what we ask for is not what is “good” for us according to God’s perfect plan.

Then there are the requirements the Bible gives for answered prayer, including having faith (Matthew 21:22), purity of heart (Psalm 66:18-19), praying in Jesus’ name (John 14:13), and praying according to God’s will (I John 5:14).  The Bible also addresses the reasons our prayers are not answered, such as sin (Psalm 66:18), inhumanity (Proverbs 21:13), disobedience (Proverbs 28:9), pride (Luke 18:11-12, 14), doubt (James 1:5-7), and selfishness (James 4:3).  In addition the Scripture clearly identifies things for which we are not to pray, and we know there are things for which it would be futile to pray.  Imagine someone asking God to bless an illegal or immoral activity, promising to tithe if He did so. Is this a prayer God would answer in the affirmative?

Again, the secret to answered prayer is relationship with the Father. A good earthly father does not give to his child everything that is asked for. Until the child grows and matures he will often want things that are not good for him. A wise father will say “no” when necessary, or perhaps “wait” when the child is not yet ready to handle properly what is asked for. But the more maturity the child shows, the more like his father he begins to think, and the more the child desires what is pleasing to the father, the more he will receive positive answers to his petitions. The same is true with God. He desires to give his children good things. The more we mature in the image of Christ, the more we begin to think as our Father thinks, and the more our desires correspond with what God desires, the more we will see positive answers to our prayers.

So how does this relate to the “Word-Faith Movement” or the “Health & Wealth Gospel?”  First, God does bless some of His children with health and/or wealth. Others go through life often struggling with one or both issues. Does this mean that one has more faith than the other, or that God loves one more than another. Of course not! The answer may be as simple as acknowledging God has different plans for different children, and He provides what is best for them to fulfill the purpose to which they are called.

Second, God knows what is needed to keep us dependant on Him. Remember Paul and his thorn in 2 Corinthians 12?  Three times Paul asked for its removal; three times God said “no.” And the reason God gave for not answering Paul’s prayer in the affirmative, “In your weakness I am made strong. My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, this affliction is what kept Paul dependant on God. When Paul recognized that it was for his own good to have the thorn, he immediately submitted his will to the will of the Father and acknowledged, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Third, God will not give what we cannot handle. Do you really believe that every Christian can handle wealth?  Think what Jesus said about riches. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”(Matthew 19:24).  Consider the story of the young man who came to Jesus seeking what he must do to be saved. When Jesus told him to go and sell all he had and give it to the poor and come follow Him, we are told the young man went away sorrowful, “for he had great possessions” ( Matthew 19:16-23). What about the parable of the rich farmer and his barns (Luke 12:16-20).  Did his wealth prove to be what was best for him? We could go on, but you get the point. If every believer were to have great wealth, how many would choose that wealth over God? Jesus said correctly, “For where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

In conclusion, when our prayers are based on relationship, we will stop trying to discover the magic formula that makes God do for us what we want Him to do. Our primary desire is to grow closer to our Father, and to become more like the son or daughter He desires us to be. We are willing to allow Him to decide what is best for us and how best to answers our requests. And when God’s answer is no or wait, rather than grow angry or bitter, we like Paul rejoice that in our weakness He is made strong.

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