Mark 11:20-25: Moving mountains.
“20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig-tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig-tree you cursed has withered!’22 ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. 23 ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’ ” NIV
When Jesus cursed the fig-tree, He did so because it was an emblem of the nation of Israel. Israel looked good ‘on the outside’, but inwardly the nation was corrupt. They were not growing the ‘fruit’ of righteousness. The same thing was true of the temple, which lay at the heart of Israel’s religious life. It all looked quite impressive from a distance, but don’t get up too close! It didn’t bear inspection.
When Peter pointed out how quickly the fig-tree had withered at the Word of Christ (21), Jesus seized the ‘teachable moment’ presented by the comment. He turned it into a lesson about effective prayer. He used the occasion to teach about the authority of the disciple and the importance of faith (22-24). God can do anything, and we are to pray to Him in faith (Mark 10:27). But Jesus wasn’t saying that praying in faith is some magic formula whereby you can always have just what you want. Tom Hale, in his Applied Commentary, points out a number of vital principles for answered prayer, garnered from other parts of the Bible. He also adds that although God always answers the prayer offered in faith, He may not answer it in the way we expect. We may ask for one thing, but God in His wisdom might give something better. We can trust Him to answer our prayers as He knows best. Also, we may have to wait for the answer to arrive. God not only knows the best thing to give, but also the best time to give it. Both faith and patience (persistence) are necessary (Luke 18:1-8; Hebrews 6:12). Don’t too easily conclude that your prayer has not been answered. God sometimes ‘answers later in order to answer better’. Ronald Dunn.
In the context, we also note that un-forgiveness will ‘block’ the channel of prayer (25). Jesus is not putting into our hands a ‘blank cheque’ (see also Psalm 66:18 – a very important verse to consider).
I think Tom Hale is so right to say: ‘But God does not look at our lives only during times of prayer. God looks to see what our lives are like all day long. Does our loving and forgiving spirit toward our neighbour last all day long? Do we continue walking in faith all day long? This is what God is looking to see. God will hear our prayers according to our daylong behaviour.’ ‘The Applied New Testament Commentary’, p.260.