A Lesson from the Fig Tree
20As the disciples walked past the fig tree the next morning, they noticed that it was completely dried up, roots and all. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree. Then Peter said, “Teacher, look! The tree you put a curse on has dried up.”
22Jesus told his disciples:
Have faith in God! 23 If you have faith in God and don't doubt, you can tell this mountain to get up and jump into the sea, and it will. 24Everything you ask for in prayer will be yours, if you only have faith.
25-26 Whenever you stand up to pray, you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.
The cliché that faith can move mountains is part of our culture. Often it is taken to mean that if we believe in ourselves, or if we believe in our dreams, we can accomplish anything regardless of the obstacles in our way. Some Christians take Jesus’ words to mean that if we simply believe that God will answer our prayers, he will do anything we ask. Do we want a new sports car? Just really, really believe and ask God! Health? Prosperity? Salvation for loved ones? If you just flex your spiritual muscles, God will give you whatever you want! Both the believe-in-yourself and the name-it-and-claim-it interpretations are profoundly mistaken.
Jesus taught his disciples that everything they pray for must be asked in his name. This does not mean that we sign our prayers using his name – it means that everything we ask must be in accord with his character, purposes, and will. In other words, praying in Jesus’ name means we place our desires under his. This is exactly, of course, what Jesus does in Gethsemane. He prays for the cup of judgment to pass from him, but nevertheless he affirms that he wants God’s will to be done rather than his own. True prayer places God’s desires over our own.
In the end, our prayer lives should be deeply focused on God’s name, kingdom, and will (notice the focus of the opening petitions in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-10)). If we are truly God-focused, it will affect our human relationships. Notice that Jesus moves from discussing prayer to discussing forgiveness. If we are not forgiving other people, God will not forgive us, nor will he answer our prayers. True faith places our wills underneath God’s will, and true faith allows us to forgive others. When we want God’s will and we are living in harmony with others, God will answer our prayers, since we are asking in line with his purposes for the world.
Lord, forgive us for trying to make prayer a way to get our will accomplished, rather than using it as a way to get your will accomplished. Help us to love you and our neighbour, and to pray in faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.