“Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”  Mark 11:21-26

When did you ever see someone curse something and the next day it was dead? Jesus’ disciples witnessed that very thing. In response to Peter’s remark, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered” Jesus said to him, “Have faith in God.” Jesus lived out His earthly existence as a man by the power of the Holy Spirit and through faith.  Jesus was God in human flesh, He was the Son of God or the second person of the holy trinity, He did not have to rely upon the Father or the Holy Spirit for anything. He could have done every miracle by His own power and authority.  However, He came to live the life that all men were meant to live, and that was a life of faith. Hence, His statement to Peter, “Have faith in God.”

The first thing we must understand from the lesson of the withered fig tree is that Jesus was not granting the requests of all those who randomly place faith in the god of their choosing. At first glance it is easy to come to such a conclusion when Jesus uses the word “whoever” when speaking about removing mountains to the sea by faith.  Also His statement, “all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” seems to make the point that faith itself is the instrument of answered prayer.

However, first we must decide to whom He is speaking when He says, “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain…” Does He mean whoever as encompassing every living creature? Does He means the devil? Proverbs 28:9 tells us “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” We know that God does not grant the request of those whose prayer is abominable.

Furthermore, the abominable prayer that the Psalm writer is speaking about is one that turns away from God’s law. The verdict that Jesus pronounced upon the fig tree was for not bearing fruit.  He did cast a judgment as creator and as such He had every right to do so, even though it was not the season for figs. During passion week He brought railing accusations against Israel and especially the religious leaders (Matthew 23) because they did not receive Him as the Messiah. By so doing they were turning away from God’s law and revealed will (Isaiah 53; Psalm 2).

God does not answer the prayers of those who turn away from Him as revealed in Psalm 28. Jesus delights to answer the prayers of those who belong to Him, who come to Him with the faith of a little child. “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Just because life may go the way a person wants, that does not mean that God has answered his prayers. Jesus’ purposes are greater than our own and He does not treat men with partiality in this life.  He does all things to bring the sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4) and transform the saint into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28). When speaking of God the Father, Jesus said, “…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The sun that shines on the unrepentant sinner is a blessing, not because God delights in him, but because He is showing Him common grace.

The second condition that must be met before faith can become operable is God’s will. God does not answer prayers that are not in accord with His good, perfect, and acceptable will.

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3, 4).

In contemporary Christianity in America even the term “Worldliness”, as recorded in James 4 as in other places, seems to have been dropped from the preacher’s vocabulary.  The Bible, however, has much to say about worldliness and none of it is good.  Worldliness is that characteristic by which a man partakes of the philosophy, goals, attitudes, and choices of those who love the things of the world more than they love God.  As stated by the Apostle John, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

The Bible draws a very clear contrast between the man whose love for God is greater than his love for the things of the world.  The person who loves God has died at the cross of Christ from the time he received Him as Lord of his life.  Therefore, the New Testament speaks of such people by the use of the pronouns “we” and “us”. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14, 15).

The admonition is given to the Christian who is defined by a love for God’s will and therefore dies on an ongoing basis to a love for the things of the world in Romans 12. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Only after these 2 great realities are realized by a person should they move forward to hear and appropriate the promise of Jesus as recorded in Mark chapter 11. Reason being that only then will the Christian be more likely to exercise his faith for a God ordained and unselfish reason and thereby please God and bring a blessing upon others.

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Furthermore, Jesus followed up His statement about expecting the answer for which we pray by saying,  “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” There should be no dancing around this text or Jesus’ words at this point.  The prerequisites being met there is no reason why God would not answer prayer, unless at that point there is a lack of faith.    

To prove this point even more, Jesus began by saying, “Have faith in God”, which He followed

There is one last element that can keep a prayer from being answered and it is related to personal holiness.  If there is any unforgiveness in the heart of the person who prays his prayer will not be answered.  For this reason Jesus concluded His instruction on prayer by saying, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

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