Bold prayers can change you–and the world.
Posted in , Mar 13, 2015
The Gospel writer Mark relates an incident that happened one day as Jesus and his closest followers were on their way into the city of Jerusalem. He says that Jesus saw “a fig tree in leaf” and went to it to see if it had any young figs to eat. When he saw that there were none, “he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’” (Mark 11:14, ESV).
The next morning, as he and his disciples made the same trek into the city, “they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” Peter remarked on it to Jesus, as though he or anyone should be surprised.
But Jesus said, “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” (Mark 11:22-24, ESV).
There is so much going on in that passage, and so much to study and think about. But for our purposes here and now, I want to focus on perhaps the most straightforward and easy-to-understand part of the whole story.
When Peter expressed amazement at the withered fig tree, Jesus could have responded any number of ways. He might have said, “I know, I got a little grumpy yesterday when there were no young figs on the tree. My bad.”
He might have answered Peter, “Let that be a lesson to you: Don’t cross me when I’m hungry.”
He might have said, “I hope one of you will write this down later, so people will know how important it is to be fruitful, in season or out of season.”
But, of course, he said none of those things (and I’m not suggesting you take any of those possibilities seriously).
Instead, Jesus turned the whole fig tree incident into a lesson on prayer. In fact, my paraphrase of his exchange with Peter goes something like this:
“Rabbi! Look at that! The fig tree you cursed is all withered.”
“Of course it is, Peter. Sheesh, have some faith in God! A fig tree is nothing; if you had the faith, and the boldness, you could pray for this mountain right here to be thrown into the sea–30-some miles away–and it would happen! The question is not will a fig tree wither at your word or a mountain move at your command; the question is, will you ask for it in prayer and believe that your Father will do it?”
Of course, Jesus may have had an advantage–being the incarnate Son of God–but he clearly and boldly stated that his followers could do anything he did–and more.
He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:12-13, ESV).
Greater than having authority over a fig tree? Apparently so (see Acts 5:1-10).
Greater than healing a paralyzed man? Apparently so (see Acts 3:1-11).
Greater than raising a widow’s son from the dead? Apparently so (see Acts 9:36-41).
Apparently that first generation of Jesus’ followers took his promises seriously. They prayed for boldness (Acts 4:29). They prayed for prisoners to be released (Acts 12:5). They prayed for the sick to be healed (Acts 28:8). They prayed for the dead to be raised (Acts 9:40).
Those were bold prayers. Dangerous, even, as they often got Jesus’ followers into trouble. But they changed the people who prayed them, even as they changed the world. So pray those kinds of prayers. Pray “greater than” prayers. Pray boldly. Pray dangerously.
Adapted from the upcoming book, The Red Letter Prayer Life.