Jesus answered, “I assure you that if you believe and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I have done to this fig tree. And not only this, but you will even be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea,’ and it will. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Matthew 21:21-22 (The Good News Translation)
Jesus is speaking to His disciples, who are dumbfounded by Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree and the speed at which it withered up at His words. This band of imperfect followers, though rarely speechless, had to be living in a constant state of the mind-just-blown.
Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (New Living Translation)
I’ve got to come clean with you today. I’ve been avoiding this text on our Literal 4 Lent adventure. Like the disciples who were daily witnesses to the wonders and signs of their Rabbi, this text has always blown my mind. It seems, at first glance, too good to be true.
If Jesus meant what He said on that day, why in the world are our churches filled with mousy Christians whose prayers seem to fall to the ground rather than receive the holy audience Jesus promises here?
If Jesus was serious, and yet our prayers continually fail to birth Spirit activity, where is the breakdown? Where is the disconnect?
Where are the answers we’ve been waiting for?
Chuck Smith, in his commentary on this scene from Jesus’ ministry, calls this “a very broad promise for prayer.” He goes on to remind us that Jesus’ audience beside the withered fig tree was not the general population, not the crowds, not the 5,000. Jesus’ listeners were His inner circle, His students, His disciples. And we know what Jesus says about what it takes to be His disciple, right?
“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Smith goes on to say that “the purpose of prayer isn’t really to get my will done; the purpose of prayer is to get God’s will done. And that person who is a disciple, the person who has denied himself to take up his cross to follow Jesus Christ, is more concerned in God’s will, than he is his own will. And that man has power in prayer and this promise is for that man. It’s not a general promise to anybody.”
Which leads us to ask ourselves today: Am I that man?
The one who has walked away from self? The one who seeks no higher goal than to see God’s will and work be done here on earth – among the salt of the earth – as in heaven? Have I so totally sold out to the Gospel that my own selfish desires have been crucified on the cross I now haul around on my back?
Do I have a literal faith in the power of God and in the reality of every one of His great promises?
If we can be totally honest with ourselves, we may very well have to say ‘no’ to those questions. If our own comfort and agendas drive our prayer life, we can rest today in the knowledge of what it’s going to take for our prayers to result in God-action. We know what our APP is today if we want to be His disciples.
But what if I’m feeling like I AM that man? What if I do believe that God can do what He says He can do, and that every promise in His Word is absolutely, positively TRUE? What if, in spite of that believing, I still don’t see trees shrivel up and die at my command? What’s up with THAT?
It’s one thing to believe. It’s quite another to pray believing prayers.
It’s one thing to have faith. It’s quite another to faithfully pray, especially for things that we know God desires.
Why would we need to pray those kinds of prayers? Won’t God do His will without our asking? Isn’t He going to do what He’s going to do, with or without my involvement?
If this is you, I feel like Jesus is reaching out to you today because He really wants you to ask. He wants you to pray. He wants you to want to engage in conversation with Him about the holy. About what makes His heart beat. About what makes His heart break.
Prayer, for our God, isn’t a means to an end – a way to get what we want, even if what we truly want is in line with His will.
Prayer is where we connect with His heart and plug into His powerful Spirit.
Prayer is where sparks fly and relationship happens.
Prayer is where minds are blown and the Good News takes on flesh and walks right out the door, into our very own homes.
Into our very own lives.