Mark 11:18–25 ESV
And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
How are we to understand this?
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
If ever there were a proof text for the name-it-and-claim-it crowd, this is it. In fact, entire theological systems and faith movements have been built by a few verses like these and others strung together. However, I think any biblical interpreter worth his or her salt would quickly say, “Not so fast!” My dear friend Dr. Ben Witherington III often puts it this way, “A text taken out of context becomes a pretext for anything you want it to say.”
So what’s going on here? Remember, we are coming to the end of the three-year period of discipleship for the Twelve. They have been schooled in the nature of the sovereignty of God. They have been taught and trained in the ways of the kingdom of God. And let’s remember the bigger context at work. In the last entry, Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleaned house at the temple. In contrast to the religious machinations of the temple in which Israel placed so much confidence, Jesus tells his disciples to, “Have faith in God.”
As they stood there on the Mount of Olives looking at the withered fig tree that would indeed never bear fruit again, they couldn’t but help to have seen the towering temple across the valley in the mighty Jerusalem. Jesus, in essence, told his disciples the whole project had become a house of cards that would soon come crashing down. Don’t have faith in the corrupted system. “Have faith in God.”
This is the big deal’the whole point of discipleship. As they followed Jesus, he showed them what God was like every step of the way. Discipleship is learning by Word and Spirit who God is and what God is like. It is learning to trust the true God. This is manifest through a life of prayer, which is the hidden way the life of faith works. The way of faith depends on the life of prayer as one’s heartbeat depends on one’s breath. Dr. William Lane, one of my teachers through this Gospel of Mark, said it well: “When prayer is the source of faith’s power and the means of its strength, God’s sovereignty is its only restriction.”
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
When a follower of Jesus lives immersed in the Word of God and is animated by the Spirit of God, their prayers—with ever-increasing resonance—ring true to the will of God. God funds his will through the faith-filled prayers of his people. We must learn to think of prayer not in the terms of the power of our faith but the framework of the faithfulness of our God. Prayer is that constant abiding conversation Jesus wants to have with us all the time. It is simpler than we could ever have imagined, yet more consuming than we can conceive. With today’s text, Jesus teaches us what it means to be people who live and love with power. There is one other restriction, though.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
The only blockade to the way of faith inspired by the life of prayer is unforgiveness. To the degree we withhold forgiveness from others, we deny it to ourselves. As has been aptly said, “Unforgiveness is drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person.” A final practical note on forgiveness. Forgiveness is not saying what happened was okay. It doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory after. It’s not about kissing and making up. Forgiveness is the willful decision to cease retaliating in any form against the person who harmed you. (That includes harboring bitterness and anger fantasies, etc.)
Is prayer more about something you say (which is not a bad thing), or is it taking the shape of constant conversation?
Invite the Holy Spirit to search your spirit and ferret out any unforgiveness festering there. Are you ready to let that go? Can you confess unforgiveness as a sin and invite the Holy Spirit to cleanse you of its poison and to empower you to let go of your need to pay them back if only in your mind? It’s just not worth it to hold on to unforgiveness. Don’t waste another minute of your life.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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