Prayer, Context and a Withered Fig Tree

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24 (ESV)

The power of prayer never ceases to astound me.  I cannot tell you the number of people I have seen touched over the years – in amazing ways – by the grace, love and mercy of God.  People healed.  Lives turned around.  Disasters averted.  Jobs filled.  Hearts softened.  Unbelievers believing.  God working through the most miserable, fearful, painful circumstances to show people His glory.  Testimony after testimony of people whose lives have been touched by the greatness of God, a touch that changes people and circumstances and others around them in ways you wouldn’t think possible.

Still, life is cyclical.  Just as the earth passes through seasons, so do we.  There are times of abundance and times of need.  Times of health and times we need healing.  Times of joy and times of sorrow.  Times of strength and times of weakness.

During hard and painful times, we need to cling in faith to verses like Mark 11:24.  We need to keep faith and know that “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, ESV).

However, we must keep these verses in context.  Don’t just isolate one verse and build a theology on it, or string random bits of Scripture together of your favorite verses and ignore the rest.

Take a look at the passage from which Mark 11:24 comes:

20  As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23  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. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 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)

The lesson is far richer, far deeper, than God simply giving us whatever we want (as some may interpret Mark 11:24 as a stand alone verse).  If that were the case, don’t you think the world would have a lot more lottery winners?  Besides, why do any of us need $1,000,000 when we have Jesus?

The passage is in response to Jesus cursing the fig tree:

12  On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. – Mark 11:12-14 (ESV)

As the disciples passed by the dead tree, which yesterday was beautiful and green with leaves but barren of any fruit, Peter was astonished.  This gorgeous tree was dead – absolutely dead – within one day.  The truth of the matter is that it gave the appearance of beauty, and attracted people who could see it from a distance in hope of satisfying their hunger.

But it bore no fruit.  No substance.  All appearance and no usefulness.

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11 (ESV)

This lesson is illustrated in the withered fig tree.  A truly fruitful life is found in faith.  If we “abide” (literally “stay”) faithfully in Christ, He will bear fruit through us.  Fruit does not exist to nourish the tree from which it grows, but those who come to the tree.  God nourishes the tree itself.

Truth is found in God, as is power.  The power to heal.  The power to love.  The power to do whatever it is the Lord wills.  If you put your trust in anything or anyone else, over and above God, you are trying to feed from a fruitless tree.

And you will go hungry.

But, if you follow God, serving Him (and thus serving others), focusing on Him (and thus others), not worrying about our wants but seeking God’s direction and reaching out to Him, letting Him turn our desires to His desires, we will find our every need met, many others blessed, and great joy for our journey through life.

“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” – Philippians 4:20 (ESV)

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