11 The Pharisees arrived and began arguing with Jesus. They tested him by demanding from him a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation demand a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 Leaving them, he got into a boat again and crossed to the other side. (Mark 8:11-13; ISV)
The Pharisees demand a sign and Jesus says no. Why? Doesn’t Jesus want them to believe? Believing isn’t the point, faith is the point. While faith begins with belief it is so much more. Faith also requires action, commitment, and trust. Besides the Pharisees weren’t interested in Jesus, they were looking for reasons to discredit Him. Instead of giving them a sign Jesus actually gives them what they are looking for: another reason to “prove” He wasn’t the Messiah. If Jesus couldn’t provide a sign then obviously He isn’t who He says He is.
Why should we expect God to answer our prayers when we make our prayers the equivalent of demanding signs? Remember prayer is not about getting God to do what we want done, prayer is about aligning our wills with God’s will. When we make prayer about anything else we miss the point of prayer. Sure we can take a few verses and use them to prove that prayer is how we manipulate God to do our bidding, but this can only be done if we ignore the rest of what Jesus taught about prayer.
Take Mark 11:24 for example:
24 That is why I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. (ISV)
Wow! What a promise! The problem is that all I have to do is look at my own life and realize that it isn’t true. I have prayed my share of prayers that weren’t answered, and let’s put away this notion that they were answered but the answer was no. They weren’t answered because I was trying to manipulate God, to show me a sign, or to “bless” me with my hearts desire.
Read what Mark Moore, professor of New Testament at Ozark Christian College, wrote about this passage:
“If we take this passage alone, we could potentially pray for some extravagant and frivolous things (cf. Mk 10:35). A number of other parallel passages place some parameters around our prayers. For example, we should ask:
- In faith (Mt 21:22), and obedience (1 John 3:22).
- With persistence (Lk 11:9; 18:1-6).
- According to the will of Jesus (i.e., “In my name”), (Jn 14:13-16; 15:16; 16:23-26; 1 Jn 5:14-15), remaining in him (Jn 15:7)
- In cooperation/conjunction with other believers (Mt. 18:19)
- With unselfish motives (Jas 4:2-3)
And we are to pray for:
- God to send workers into the harvest (Mt. 9:38).
- The Holy Spirit (Lk 11:13).
- That which is necessary in order to bear fruit (Jn. 15:16).
- Wisdom (Jas 1:5)
So while we don’t believe that we can just ask for any old thing, we mustn’t deny the power of prayer. Ephesians 3:20 says, 'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us...' The very real danger to most Christians is not asking extravagantly, but not asking at all." (The Chronological Life of Christ: From Galilee to Glory; p. 155)
The problem that comes when we think that prayer is about getting God to do our bidding is that we don’t know what is best. One of Jesus’ teachings on prayer dealt with this very point:
9 “There isn't a person among you who would give his son a stone if he asked for bread, is there? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he wouldn't give him a snake, would he? 11 So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who keep on asking him!” (Matthew 7:9-11; ISV)
According to Jesus, just as most human parents do their best to give the good things needed for life to their children, God gives His children good things. Parents, because of the knowledge they have from education and experience, know what is best for their children. They will give them the things they need and with hold the things that might cause them harm.
God, because of His position as Creator, Savior, and Sustainer, knows what is best for us and what will harm us. He will give us those things that will help us become more like His Son Jesus and He will not grant those requests for things that will make us spoiled brats. When we realize that God’s interest isn’t about making us happy right now but rather about making us holy ( for the purpose of enjoying heaven) the focus of our prayers will change. God isn’t in the business of indulging our fantasies, but He is in the business of making us people fit for heaven.
When we demand that God performs a sign for us or fulfills our desires we are not living by faith. Instead we are saying: God, I will believe in You if... Instead of God dictating to us what will happen we are dictating to God and if God allowed Himself to be controlled in this manner He would cease to be God. Prayers aren’t testable, because it is ultimately God’s will and not our will that matters. When the purpose of our prayers is to see what happens or to force God to do something then we cease to pray.
Remember what C. S. Lewis wrote about praying for experimental purposes:
“For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable ‘success’ in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic--a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature...
“I have seen it suggested that a team of people—the more the better—should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.
“The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. ‘Words without thoughts never to heaven go,’ says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.” (The Joyful Christian; pp. 97-99)
Is it an obstacle for people to believe in Him when God doesn’t provide a sign? It sure is, but God has no need to make people believe in Him. According to the Bible one day everybody is going to believe in Him, so this isn’t about belief. This is about God molding and making people who are fit for heaven.
Read this carefully: if you want to remain dead because you refuse to believe the signs God has already revealed that is your choice not God’s problem. You are already lost. Your refusal to believe doesn’t doesn’t move you from saved to unsaved, you simply remain unsaved. So if you demand that God perform a sign before you will believe in Him don’t be surprised if He moves on and allows you to be on the outside looking in.