In this article, I’ll be exploring Hebrews 4:12-16 in connection with prayer and the testing of faith.
I’m trying to deepen my belief in and relationship with who I’m praying to, grasp why I should not be afraid of the circumstances that test my faith and why I should be confident in the effects and outcomes of prayer based on who I'm praying to!
I first wrote this for a bible study and discussion, so I hope I’ve been able to convert it well enough for reading purposes! I’ll discuss Hebrews 4:12-16 verse by verse alongside other scriptures and thoughts.
Hebrews 4:12 (NIV; brackets and italics mine)
For the word of God is alive (alert; animated) and active (ready to engage). Sharper (having a piercing effect) than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing (separating) soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges (forms an opinion and conclusion about) the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
This verse talks about the word of God having a dynamic energy. Have you ever responded to the written word as if it has it's own living persona? The word of God is animated, ready to engage, having a piercing effect, separating things that are normally so closely attached you wonder how they can be divided; the word of God is even able to form an opinion about the reader’s thoughts and attitudes of the heart. How is that possible?
James 1:22-25 (NLT, Italics mine) But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
The word of God is full of something beyond mere words. It carries action and power! It calls for a response from us in agreement. How do we do this?
Soul and spirit need to be divided. Why?
The soul comes from our flesh - this is our mind and character - (Ephesians 4:22, ISV; “Regarding your former way of life, you were taught to strip off your old nature, which is being ruined by its deceptive desires").
Our spirit has been made perfect - this is the essential eternal part of us that is made in God’s image and renewed when we give our lives to Christ Jesus - (Ephesians 4:24, ISV; “and to clothe yourselves with the new nature, which was created according to God's image in righteousness and true holiness"; also Hebrews 12:23b, ISV, “…to the spirits of righteous people who have been made perfect").
We can understand from this, the spirit of a person is transcended by God’s Spirit (in order for it to be made perfect), which transcends the natural ‘flesh’ or soul by our agreement. It is through our renewed spirit that we can agree with the word of God. The Holy Spirit is an active and necessary part of this engagement.
Besides the uniqueness of the soul and spirit, did you know the heart has thoughts and attitudes? It’s talking about a thinking, comprehending, foundation-forming compound that functions within the heart. It’s where our beliefs sit.
What is it you believe when you pray? Do you walk away from prayer, still resolved to what you just prayed in faith? Or do you pick up your worries and grievances, your doubt and anger again?
Question: How can prayer remain effective if we do this?
How can we remain steadfast? Confessing with our mouths must come from an intentional heart attitude. If we confess in prayer one thing, but then confess to someone else our original worry, what is the attitude of our heart? Where is our belief really sitting?
When we pray in faith, even if our faith is being sorely tested, we need to align ourselves to the word of God. Our response to it's declared truth must come into agreement. Why is this so important?
While scripture is used as a reference, it doesn't refer to itself as a book, or bible, but refers to itself as the Word of God.
What's the difference? It is often referred to as living truth. It is alive. It is active. Have you ever heard of written words being alive? Have you ever asked yourself what you're referring to when we talk about the bible, or the word of God?
John 1:14 (NLT) says, So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
The word of God refers to a person! The word of God, that we read as the bible is the person of God – alive and active; engaged with you! Read Hebrews 4:12 again with this is mind. All of it.
John 1:1 (NLT) In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Genesis 15:1-2a After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD…”
Abram spoke with the Word of God who described Himself as a shield and a reward. The word came to him in a vision! That’s no printed format. Abram had a conversation with “the word” – that is, God!
Do you believe it, as living breathing truth, alive, and active, ready to engage with you? How does it engage? It engages through the person of God.
Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
This is personal, is it not?
I am laid bare before Him. You are not hidden from God’s sight. We will explain ourselves to Him one day - but that doesn't have to be as scary as it sounds! The following Psalm describes this intimacy beautifully.
Psalm 139:1-5 (NIV) You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
He knows our intimate thoughts and designations; he hedges us, even lays His hand upon us, like a parent reassuring a child, that we would know He is there! He determines that we are never left alone, that we always have His concentration and care!
Hebrews 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Holding firmly to a professed faith means we profess our faith based on who we know Jesus the Son of God to be – a great high priest, the Word who already existed before Creation, and who cares for us so much He keeps His hand on us.
The chapter of Hebrews 8 tells us about Jesus as the great high priest under the new covenant.
Hebrews 8:10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
If we pray – to whom are we praying and to what end are we believing in Him?
Hebrews 4:15 (brackets mine) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize (understand and share the feelings) with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin.
He is a holy, great High Priest. That role is an intercessory role, and His holiness brings us in to connection with the Heavenly Father, whose name (might and power) is above every other name.
Jesus prayed in John 17:11b, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.”
Do you perceive that standing on the person, on the name, on the Word of God in faith when you pray is the most powerful person in heaven and earth, who all things belong to, who watches out for you, engaging with you, giving you direction, belonging, assurance, and protection?
Proverbs 18:10 The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
Do you believe Jesus, the Word of God is one with God the Father and has given us connection to His throne through grace?
Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The throne of grace is, again, not a thing (as the Word of God is not a thing, being simply a book of truths) but a person who can perceive the attitudes of your heart. The throne is the seat of judgment; Jesus is the person of grace. Would you agree we need both for answered prayer?
Our prayers need to be established in the Word of God, reliant on the throne of grace, not in the soul where our faith is being tested, or in the soul place of what we are praying for. When GOD presides over us, we are able to leave things with the throne of grace.
The judging of the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts looked at in Hebrews 4:12, will anchor us, instead of dismantle us, if we understand the One we are praying to, believing in, and placing our hope in. He is the Word of God. Real, active, engaged. He is the truth that we reference in our prayers. He is the framework that supports us through the testing of our faith. We need to put our prayers into that pocket of truth, and believe!
The measure of our prayers relies on who the outcome belongs to, not what the outcome is, because He presides over all things.
James 1:2-5 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
The testing of our faith and the application of the Word of God in prayer has to be dependent on who the Word of God is. That is Jesus. The Person. The Lord and Maker of all. The one who came as the Prince of Peace and left as the King of Kings because He took with Him the victory over all powers of darkness.
This is how you can believe in the power of prayer. Nevertheless, I live - yet not I, but Christ in me.
Philippians 4:6 (AMP) Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.