For the past couple weeks I’ve been reading through the biblical book of Mark before bedtime. A few nights ago, I was reading the story of the fig tree that Jesus and His disciples came upon as they left the town of Bethany on their way to Jerusalem. It was early in the morning, as clarified in Matthew 21:18, and Jesus was hungry…perhaps they hadn’t eaten breakfast.
Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And His disciples heard Him say it. (Mark11:13-14)
How strange, I thought, that Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit out-of-season! Wasn’t that an unreasonable expectation on His part? Matthew mentions in his account that the tree withered “immediately” (21:19), but in Mark we discover that the disciples didn’t notice this fact until they left the outskirts of Jerusalem the next morning. Maybe it was in the darkness of the early dawn the day before that this event occurred and while they had heard what Jesus said to the tree, only the light of the following day revealed the extent of its demise.
Although this act of Jesus is generally thought to be a prophecy about the Temple in Jerusalem – interestingly enough, Mark sandwiches the story about Jesus clearing the Temple of the merchants and money changers in between the cursing of the fig tree and the discovery of its withered state – it is Jesus’ conversation with the disciples later that really spoke to me.
Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:21)
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. (Matthew 21:20)
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
Mark adds a little more detail:
“Have faith in God”, Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 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 him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark11:22-25)
I’ve been wondering the past few days, what does this kind of faith look like? Is it possible to attain such faith? Would I ever be able to believe so completely that I could tell a mountain to throw itself into the sea and it would listen to me? When I pray, am I able to put aside all seeds of doubt and unreservedly believe that God will do what I ask and give me what I request? Am I able to pray without any unforgiveness toward another in my heart? Do I pray believing, but then allow those seeds of doubt and anxiety to creep back in so that I take back what I have prayed?
Oh, how I desire to know that kind of faith! The kind of faith that Jesus spoke about when He rebuked those who tried to keep little children from bothering Him,
“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
For thirty-four years, I experienced the great blessing of working in children’s ministry. During that time, I had the thrill and privilege of sitting down with many children and leading them to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. I never ceased to be enthralled by their simple and inherent ability to trust in God’s forgiveness and His promise of eternal life. Their little minds and hearts are so open and receptive to the love of God. It’s only as we begin to experience the injustices, disappointments, hurts, and betrayals life throws at us, that it becomes increasingly harder to believe in a God of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
As I pray for what often seems impossible, unlikely, undeserved, and beyond my limited understanding and wisdom, I long for God’s enablement to pray with this level of faith. And I look forward, with great anticipation, to His answers!!
Until next Sunday,