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.” Mark 11:20-25 ESV
When Jesus cursed the fig tree after not finding any fruit on it, His disciples took note (see Mark 11:12-14). Upon passing by the tree the following day, Peter draws everyone’s attention to the withered tree. Jesus used the opportunity to instruct them in some key principles of prayer.
1. Jesus begins the fig tree lesson with a reminder that the object of their prayer of faith is God Himself. It is God who answers and moves mountains, not our faith. We just need have the faith to ask! Jesus did not say, “Have faith!” – but rather, “Have faith in God!”
2. He goes on to remind us that we must bring our requests before the Lord. We must ask! Jesus assumes that we will ask specifically – “Lord, move this mountain!” While this may seem obvious, James rebukes us with, “…You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:2 ESV
3. Jesus now instructs His followers that when making our petitions we are not to doubt in our heart that God will answer. This does not mean that we have to self-brainwash ourselves trying to remove all doubt. But the exhortation is to avoid a type of doubt that says, “I know this is a waste of time, but just in case, I’ll make my request.” That type of praying sees the act of prayer as a kind of good luck charm or perfunctory act. God is not honored with such requests.
4. Next Jesus reminds us that instead of doubting, we are to believe in our heart that our prayers will be granted. Even more, He says, we are to believe that we have already received the answer. This is an attitude of expectancy from the Lord based upon His promises, faithfulness, love and generosity towards us. It is rooted in the reality, “… If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31 ESV
5. Lastly, Jesus states that unresolved conflicts and a failure to forgive those who have wronged us will hinder our prayers. The Holy Spirit will remind us as we pray of those who we are to forgive. (see Matthew 5:23-24 and 1 Peter 3:19)
Certainly Jesus had much more to say about the subject of prayer (see Matthew 6 and Luke 11) . But it is important to note that during the last week of His public ministry, He taught His followers about prayer as illustrated by a withered fig tree.
PS A Primer for Kingdom Leaders: 100 Reflections for Improving Your Leadership – A collection of 100 of my most popular blogs – compiled, edited and available for FREE download. See Tom’s Books page above to download.