February 26, 2017
If you could ask for anything right now, what would it be? See, that’s your problem. You don’t think big enough. Michael told me about yet another article from the Babylon Bee. The article was entitled, Heaven Sitting on Massive Stockpile of Gulfstream Jets for Believers to Claim. Apparently, the reporter was somehow able to interview an angel, and reported, “Heavenly authorities issued a press release Monday reminding Christians that the Kingdom of God is still sitting on a massive stockpile of Gulfstream jets just waiting for Christians to claim as their own…ready to be delivered to your front door in exchange for a declaration of victory and faith.” Okay, that’s enough. Let me remind you of three things:
- First, Michael obviously spends too much time on The Babylon Bee.
- Second, The Babylon Bee is a satirical site, making fun of ridiculous Christian teaching.
- Third, many believers are obviously confused about prayer and asking God for things.
Let’s get serious, shall we. Some of you have faced challenges in your life, for which you prayed, and sometimes received the answer you were looking for, and sometimes not. So the question is, did God answer your prayer, or not? For example, you faced a big test – you did your part – studied hard – and prayed. And you passed…or you didn’t. Did God answer the prayer, or did He not? Depends on the grade, doesn’t it, whether you got what you asked for, right?
You needed a job. You prayed for one – and you got one…or you didn’t. Did God hear and answer, or not? Well, it depends on the job, doesn’t it? Is it possible that for some of us, our faith is dependent on the fulfillment of our needs and wants?
You’re in a struggling relationship…with mom or dad, brother or sister, son or daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife. You’ve prayed – wetting the pillow with your tears – trusting that God will change someone’s heart – even your own. Has He?
Someone is in sin – serious sin. Drug addiction, alcohol, extra-marital affair, illicit sex, pornography, lying, stealing, cheating, fits of anger, pride. You’ve prayed – for months, maybe years. Has it worked? Has He answered? Someone is sick – really sick. Cancer, heart disease, mental illness, hospice, pending death. You’ve prayed, even believing God could heal. Did He?
I ask these questions pastorally, fully aware of what we have faced, and are facing as a church. What some of you have faced and are facing. Sickness to death. Unexpected, unfair, tragic, unintelligible, incomprehensible. Marital strife, separation, dissolution. You said till death do us part, you meant it, and thought he did…she did. What to do now. And all along you prayed in ways seemingly consistent with Scripture and God’s will. You haven’t asked for a Gulfstream or to win the lottery. You’ve asked for the healing of physical life, the granting of spiritual life, of relational health. Trusting, hoping, believing. Where is God?
Then we come to the passage today in our continuing study of the gospel of Mark. If it had been two years ago, two months ago, two weeks ago, you would have smiled and said, amen. But it’s today, of all days. What to do now. Read the text with me – Mark 11:22-25.
I could read a passage from the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said:
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
9 “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?
10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?
11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
In our study of Mark, Jesus has entered His final week – the week of His passion/suffering. By the end of the week, He will pray a prayer similar to yours, Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me. God didn’t seem to hear that prayer, either. Or did He? Did He have something else in mind?
On Sunday of that week, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. We call it Palm Sunday. He went to the temple took a look around, and left in the evening for Bethany, a bedroom community of Jerusalem. On Monday, while He was walking back to the city, He cursed a fig tree. Then He went to the temple and cursed it, too. Or cleansed it, clearing the way for Gentile worship. He and His disciples then went back to Bethany that evening. On Tuesday morning, on the way back to Jerusalem – a day which we’ll find to be a long day of battle – Peter will notice the fig tree, the one Jesus cursed the day before. Hey Rabbi, he’ll say to Jesus, the tree You cursed just yesterday is withered from the root up. You killed it, in one day. You see, he’s amazed. This was yet another nature miracle, but this one, a miracle of destruction.
To which Jesus responds, have faith in God. If you do, you can say to this mountain, be cast into sea, and it will. In fact, whatever you believe without doubt in your heart, it will be granted. So, for everything you ask, believe, and you’ll receive. That test? The new job? Health for you or a loved one? Relational health – a right relationship with your husband, your wife, your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister. Believe, and it will be granted you. Really?
Two weeks ago, when I taught on the cursing of the fig tree, I had as my third point, some principles from the cursing – some principles of faith. I even had the last couple of paragraphs written. That morning, I decided we needed to spend a little more time on the text. I dare not skim over it – especially given our challenges – your challenges. So here’s what we’re going to do today. First, I’ll teach the text, looking at some necessary ingredients for answered prayer – from this passage and others. Then, we’ll pray.
Jesus takes this opportunity, with Peter’s incredulity, to teach on faith and answered prayer. Some suggest Jesus taught this at other times in His ministry, since these sayings appear in other places in Matthew and Luke, but, they say, Mark included it here to teach some principles on faith and prayer. Perhaps, but I would suggest Jesus used the opportunity to teach again what He’d taught elsewhere, given the fact the disciples were so bright, and Mark recorded it faithfully. Peter is amazed at this miracle, so Jesus teaches on faith:
- The Object of Faith-filled Prayer (22)
- The Power of Faith-filled Prayer (23-24)
- The Prerequisite for Faith-filled Prayer (25)
And actually what we see here is three prerequisites for answered prayer – the right object, the right faith, and forgiveness. So let’s start with the right object of our faith. It’s quite simple, but we need to be reminded. You see, there are those running around saying, if you don’t get what you ask for – healing, for example – it’s because of your weak faith. If you just believed more, said the right words, had greater faith, then you’d receive. Now…we are going to see Jesus unabashedly requires faith for answered prayer, but it is the object of our faith that affects answers to prayer – not the strength of our faith. Let me be clear – it is God who answers prayers – even miraculous prayers like killing fig trees or moving mountains – it is not the quantity or even the quality of your faith that moves mountains.
Now I know immediately some of you are thinking of the time Jesus said, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, then you can say this mountain or this mulberry tree, be cast into the sea, and it will. The point of Jesus statement is not the quantity of faith – but the power of the One believed. If you only have a little faith – God has the power to answer. It’s not dependent on great faith. He doesn’t withhold because you haven’t had enough faith. It is our faith in God – the powerful Mover – who hears and answers prayers.
And make no mistake about it – Jesus is clearly saying, God hears and answers prayers. Yes, He is sovereignly in control, and yes He accomplishes His purposes – but He has ordained that the prayers of His people will move His hand. So pray in faith, believing, and see what God – not your faith – but what God will do.
Second, we come to the power of the faith-filled prayer – or, I could say, the prerequisite of faith for answered prayer. We cannot shy away from the truth these verses. A requirement for answered prayer is believing faith. In fact, Jesus starts in verse 23 with His solemn formula – truly I say to you. Mark this down as true.
Whoever says to this mountain, be taken up and cast into the sea, it will. Now stop right there. Remember, they’re on their way from Bethany to Jerusalem and the temple. They’re likely somewhere on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. They can perhaps look west across the Kidron Valley and see the Temple Mount, and they could look east and see the Dead Sea. So, when Jesus says this mountain, He’s probably referring to the Mount of Olives or the Temple Mount. When He refers to the sea – He probably points to the Dead Sea.
Lots of discussion about that with lots of rationale, but in the end, the point is the same. If you do not doubt in your heart, but believe what you say is going to happen, it will be granted you. Now, the point is not, if you have enough faith, you can say to Grandfather Mountain, be removed into Watauga Lake, and it will. There’s some evidence moving mountains was an example of great faith, much like a camel through the eye of a needle spoke of something impossible. So here, Jesus is saying, have faith without doubt, and even the impossible, something as great as moving mountains, will be done.
In fact, verse 24, therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have already received them, and you will. It will be granted you. And so here comes the significant challenge. Some, using this passage, say believing prayer is like a magic elixir – just believe enough and whatever you ask for, you’ll get. God is like a genie in a bottle, ask right, and you’ll receive. A cosmic vending machine, put in prayer, push the button, and out will pop answered prayer. A cosmic bellhop there to do your bidding. Ask, and you’ll get it. So, if someone is sick, for example, or a relationship is broken, or you need a job – just pray believing enough, and the loved one will be healed, the relationship will be mended, and you’ll get the job. There are several challenges to that understanding:
First, I’m going to suggest this makes your faith the effective agent of answered prayer – not faith in God. Believe right, and you can force God’s hand. That’s not true. He’s still God, and still accomplishing His purposes despite our faith-filled, error-filled prayers.
The second problem with this understanding is our experience. We’ve all known, we’ve perhaps been people who have prayed and believed desperately for a miracle, and an answer to our prayers, a miracle, did not happen. Did we just not believe enough? Did we harbor some doubt in our hearts? We beat ourselves up – or actually, others beat us up because we lacked the requisite faith.
But then, we come back to that story I referenced earlier. At the end of this week, Jesus will pray, Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me. And it didn’t – the cup did not pass from Him. Dare I say, Jesus experience was unanswered prayer. Did Jesus not have enough faith in His Father? Or is there something else? Is it possible that no is as much an answer as yes? Is it possible that God accomplishes His glorious purposes in spite of our prayers. Well, you say, of course He didn’t answer Jesus’ prayer – this was the plan of the ages. Of course Jesus had to go to the cross. Well maybe He has a plan He’s fulfilling in your life, too.
Third, and this leads to our third point, there are prerequisites for answered prayer. Certainly one of them is faith. Again, I don’t want to dismiss the necessity of faith. We must believe the object of our faith – God Himself – hears, more, has the ability to hear and answer our prayers. Faith is necessary.
Another implied prerequisite here is forgiveness. We see that in verse 25. Whenever you stand praying – that was the posture of prayer then – they prayed standing. We’d say, whenever you’re kneeling in prayer, forgive if you have anything against anyone. Stop right there – anything against anyone. You say, oh no, you don’t understand, I could never forgive him, her for that. And then we remember how much God has forgiven us. We who have been forgiven much, forgive much. We’re alright with the word much, but if I change that to all, it becomes more challenging – we who have been forgiven all, forgive all. You see, as we forgive, we prove the reality of our changed hearts, that God has forgiven us. We forgive, having been forgiven, proving the reality of transforming, saving faith, and God continues to forgive us.
We remember Jesus said something similar in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. If you’re presenting your sacrifice at the altar, and you remember a brother has something against you, go first be reconciled, then come present your offering. The point is, if you need to forgive or seek forgiveness, do that. Don’t expect God to hear and answer your prayers if you harbor unforgiveness or don’t seek forgiveness. Remember the Lord’s Prayer as He taught us to pray – forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. That’s the way of the Christian life.
And by the way, how many times do we forgive? Seven times? No – we know this – Jesus told Peter, seventy times seven. That doesn’t mean we keep count…488, 489, 490 – you’re done. No – it’s an unlimited amount. We don’t keep record of wrongs.
So clearly in this passage, two prerequisites to answered prayer – even miraculous answered prayer – are faith and forgiveness. Are there more? In other words, is it important we compare Scripture with Scripture, rather than making unqualified statements like, Rolling Stones got it wrong, you can always get what you want –whatever you ask for. There are other qualifications to this statement. Let me suggest two:
The first is found in James 4. James writes, “You ask and do not receive [what – wait a minute, I thought you always received. You don’t] because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” That blows up the whole prosperity theology movement. So much for the Gulfstream and the lottery ticket. We don’t pray selfishly, to get what we want to spend the provision on our own selfish pleasures and pursuits. We pray with proper motives.
Which leads the next thing. Jesus told us all over the Farewell Discourse in John 14-16 to pray in His name. He uses the same language He uses here Mark, but adds the requirement of praying in His name. Consider these:
14:13 – Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. That’s interesting. We pray in Jesus’ name so that the Father will be glorified in answered prayer. Which means, answered prayer has something to do with bringing glory to God.
14:14 – the very next verse – If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
15:7 – If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. That’s another interesting verse – apparently, asking in Jesus’ name has something to do with abiding in Jesus.
One more for good measure, 16:23-24 – In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. So there, we see that answered prayer has something to do with our ultimate joy.
So, we put all that together and arrive at this: Praying in Jesus’ name means to pray for Jesus’ sake, according to His will, for His glorious purposes, and for the glory of the Father, and we will receive, increasing our joy. We remember, for example, when Jesus taught us to pray, we start with, Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. Before we pray for daily bread, we pray for His will. Meaning, we don’t pray selfishly, to consume stuff on our own pleasures. John says it this way in I John 5, “This is the confidence we have before Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
But, what about when we pray for things that, again, seem consistent with His will and purposes? When we pray for others – for their healing, for their good, for their deliverance from persecution, from their deliverance from trials. When we pray for the restoration of relationships and marriages – isn’t that what He wants? So why doesn’t He always answer those prayers? Why don’t we get what we want like this passage seems to promise?
Sometimes, we don’t know what God’s glorious purposes are. For example, I’m brought full circle to Jesus’ prayer at the end of His passion week, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mar 14:36) And it was the Father’s will and good pleasure for His Son to suffer, even die, as a ransom for many. It was why He came.
So suffering was in the will of the Father for His own Son. When we pray, asking God to hear and answer – to give us things consistent with Scripture, consistent with His glorious purposes, we ultimately trust He will answer for Jesus’ sake, in His name – for His glory and our best. You see, that’s the context of the oft quoted Romans 8:28, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Love God, trust Him, and He will work all things for our good, and His purpose.
God loves to hear and answer the prayers of His children. He promises in this text, to do the miraculous, inasmuch as those prayers are according to His glorious purposes. And He ordains the ends as well as the means – that is, He uses the prayers of children to accomplish His purposes. Meaning, prayer actually moves the hand of God.