SURE AND CERTAIN
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”
Prayer is a thing of faith. It enters the realm of the eternal. It speaks to God who is spirit and invisible. So when we read that the ancients were commended for practicing their faith in a sure and certain manner, we are presented with an oxymoron. We more commonly associate sure and certain outcomes with non-faith-related experiences. We, of the enlightened scientific era, have been raised and nurtured to apply certainty only to empirical data. If an outcome can be reproduced reliably and consistently we are sure and certain of its truth.
Remember the pungent smell of the Bunsen burner in High School chemistry class? Mixing this with that over its blue heat produced such-and-such every time. It was sure and certain. The conclusion always confirmed the hypothesis.
Surely the prayer of faith does not fall within the confines of empiricism. There is no formula to ensure the granting of requests made by mortals to the Immortal One. How then can our prayers of faith be sure and certain?
Perhaps a phrase from verse eleven might give us a hint of the wisdom we seek. Abraham and Sarah’s strangely barren situation had been an obstacle to their family-production plans. They had even tried the surrogate-parent option; this had only succeeded in creating the beginnings of a nation that would plague the people of Israel for millennia to come. The writer of the book of Hebrews summarizes their story: Abraham “was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.” What was that again? Abraham considered the promise-maker faithful. He focused on the character of God (His faithfulness) and the Word of God (His promises). There may be a hint here of how we could learn from the ‘ancients’ who practiced a sure and certain faith.
The ancients’ certainty rested in the unchanging character of God. His goodness, integrity, justice, patience, righteousness and loving-kindness (to name a few) are integral to who He is; they cannot be altered. So while we pray a particular request to God, our certainty rests in the realization that His response will be perfectly consistent with these eternal attributes. Can we say as much for ourselves had we the power to answer our own prayers? His wisdom, far beyond ours, and His power, unlimited, will ensure a better-than-humanly-possible scenario ultimately. Admittedly, from our point of view we cannot always see the good, but our certainty is not in our ability to see all; our certainty is in the unmatched character of God.
Secondly, the ancients’ surety rested on the promises of God. Our faith must cling not to notions we ourselves have devised regarding how God must act, but only to promises He has made. There are enough promises to meet every need in our lives; we do not need to fabricate more. (See Annie Johnson Flint’s poem, ‘God Hath Not Promised’).
As we express our faith in our prayers to the Almighty One, let us keep foremost in mind His character and His promises. These will guide and protect our hearts and minds as we pray. Then we will be “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.