A rhetorical question is asked merely for effect where no answer is expected. The statement contains our preconceived notions, posed in the form of a question. Likewise, most of our prayers are rhetorical. Once a preacher called the believers to pray for rain in their territory as the land was battling a severe famine. Many people gathered to pray for the rain, and the preacher walked back and forth among the crowds. Then he went up onto the stage and announced to the gatherings that they were not praying for the rain today but would pray to God to help their unbelief. The preacher knew that none of the people gathered there were expecting God to send rains in their land. The reason why he was confident is that he could not find even a single person with an umbrella that day.
A father of a demon-possessed son came to the disciples of Jesus to see whether they could drive out the demon from his son. When the disciples of Jesus could not cast away the demon, the father raised a rhetorical request to Jesus, to which he had a preconceived answer that Jesus could not heal. The father asked Jesus to try casting out the evil spirit if he could. In response, Jesus did not say any word defending His ability to cast away the demon, but he replied,
Everything is possible for one who believes. Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”Mark 9:23-24
Believers think that the purpose of a fellowship is to enjoy togetherness rather than pray for a cause. Sometimes we do not even expect and seek answers to our prayers but only aim to please someone we respect and respond to their invitation with due respect. There ends every prayer without expecting an answer. An apt example was the believers who prayed the entire night for Peter’s release.
Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”Acts 12:13-16
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
Getting astonished by the answers to our prayers indicates our unbelief. Though believers gathered to pray for Peter’s release, they had already preconceived an answer that King Herod had killed him and now they were seeing his angel. They were unable to accept what God had done.
Prayer should help us know the will of God and we should pray accordingly. While praying to God, if we are not able to discern His plans, we should correct the ways of our prayer. How often do we ignore His answers because of our unbelief? Initially, the disciples were afraid of drowning when they saw the raging waves, and when Jesus stopped the wind and the waves, they were amazed. The disciples actually thought that Jesus was least bothered to save them from their current distress.
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”Mark 4:38
Fear and faith cannot stay together. Likewise, faith and astonishment cannot go along. We should look at God from the perspective of the Creator and the Redeemer. Then there will be no reason to fear or wonder when we see his wondrous works unfold as per His plan.
Causes For Rhetorical Prayers
The rhetorical prayers and statements we make are the outcomes of our unbelief. It gradually fills our hearts based on the material and evidence we rely on to enhance or maintain our faith in God. Most people believe in Jesus based on evidence and come to Him by seeing some supernatural events that have happened in the life of someone they know. They desire such happenings in their lives too and once they experience it, they expect the same to happen again and again. They embrace unbelief and go far away from Jesus when it does not pan out the way they imagine.
Believers invite non-believers to churches and revival meetings to experience His healing and blessings. No one is invited to the church to receive forgiveness for their sins. Those who believe in Jesus based on evidence do not endure in their faith for long. Some people believe that they were born in a family that believed in Jesus. They tend to lean on their clergies or mentors more than Jesus and His word and impart this practice to the next generations. Such practices endure for generations to generations. As they do not have personal experience, they embrace unbelief while facing hardships.
Some others trust Jesus based on the historical research people did, and in the long run, they believe only in the remains of history, such as monuments, and ignore the teachings of the Holy Spirit. Massive buildings appear to them as the sanctuary of God, and they regard the structural building more than God. They believe in the laws and fulfilling them by their deeds, not knowing that Jesus had fulfilled the law by His righteousness (Matthew 5:17-18). They duped themselves by becoming righteous through their work and soon gave up their belief in God.
People depending on their little experience, adopt their ancestors’ faith and rely on self-righteousness to retain their faith in Jesus. They depend on the visible circumstances and are not able to visualize the unseen blessings awaiting on their threshold.
Hagar once ran out of her little provision from Abraham and thought everything had ended. She assumed that her son would die and cried rhetorically. What leads us towards unbelief? Is the lack of money and material causing us to lose our faith? If we close our eyes to material blessing, we would see the provider standing beside us to provide everything more than we ask.
The widow of Zarephath assumed that there were no more provisions for her to live. Hence she replied to Elijah rhetorically, when he asked for a piece of bread. With this thought prevailing in her mind, she could not have understood Elijah until she experienced it.
“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”1 Kings 17:12
Help Our Unbelief
The thoughts we presume based on evidence and situations, would not allow us to understand the unlimited and His everlasting provisions. Far beyond the falsehood magnified by the devil, God has a blissful plan in our lives to bless us beyond any measure. The devil blinds our hearts from seeing the will and plans of God in our lives. We discern the will of God only when we deny false illusions.
The mistake we make is that, despite unbelief, we portray ourselves as believers of God while we believe in the devil. The devil led the father of the devil-possessed son through the inability of the disciples of Jesus. Fortunately, the father disclosed his inability through his rhetorical prayer, which paved the way to be corrected by Jesus. When Jesus told him to believe, he sincerely accepted his unbelief and asked for help.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”Mark 9:23-24
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
We should stop pretending and disclose our unbelief to God. Even if we do not tell Him, God knows our unbelief. God expects us to come to Him as we are but we deceive ourselves by portraying ourselves as believers. Unbelief is not a sin but a weakness and we convert it into sin by not acknowledging it genuinely. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Therefore, let us present Him our lives as a blank paper to write His faith on.
Lord, we do believe; help us overcome our unbelief.