Mark 11:22-25 (TNIV)
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Earlier in this passage, Jesus uses the example of a leafy but fruitless fig tree to illustrate the uselessness of a big, beautiful Temple that draws people to itself but no one to God. Now he turns the metaphor of the fig tree into a lesson about discipleship.
To be effective disciples, Jesus says, we must be sure of our faith and confident in our prayers to God. Without God’s help, we cannot cultivate the precious fruit that draws people, not to our good deeds but to the goodness of God. It is the Spirit’s work to transform us from leafy ornamentals into productive trees that can nourish hungry souls and heal broken relationships.
Jesus goes on to name two fleshly characteristics that block our prayers and keep us from producing this nourishing fruit: unbelief and unforgiveness.
Although we may believe in God, our unbelief limits the effectiveness of our prayers. We may pray guardedly, holding back areas of our lives where we don’t trust God to be sovereign—over our finances, our future, our ambitions, our relationships. Perhaps we doubt God’s goodness or trustworthiness because we’ve suffered through a painful circumstance, and God did not rescue us. We deny the Spirit room enough in our hearts to cultivate the fruit that God desires.
Jesus also warns that unforgiveness stands in the way of effective prayer. Why? Because grudges rival the Spirit for control of our lives and relationships. Refusing to forgive always indicates an area of our hearts that has remained dark, hidden from the light of God’s grace and forgiveness. Opening ourselves to God’s mercy softens our anger and gives us both reason and desire to forgive others.
FATHER, when my prayers seem to go unanswered, I typically look to you for the reason why instead of looking at myself. Help me to identify those areas of my life where I struggle with unbelief and unforgiveness. I pray to be fertile ground where your Spirit can cultivate the fruit you desire for my life and my relationships.
Psalm 92:12-15; Mark 9:23-24
Name an issue in your life that keeps you from surrendering your whole heart to God when you pray. What do you need from God to help you resolve this issue?