Whatever you ask for?

“Whatever you ask for in prayer believe you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:24) has become a favourite scripture for many Christians in recent times because at face value it seems to suggest that believers can ask God for anything they want and if they believe enough that it is theirs it will be theirs. But how many of us have taken the time to understand the context of that verse (Mark 11:12-33)? The context gives an entirely different picture.
Jesus and his disciples were on their way from Bethany to Jerusalem when Jesus saw a fig tree with leaves on it. Being hungry he decided to inspect it for fruit, but there was none. Then in an act that must have surprised the disciples, he cursed the tree saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Ouch, what did the poor tree do? Did it sin?
♦ On arriving in Jerusalem Jesus found people using the temple as a market and chased them out saying “It is written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The next day on their return to Bethany Peter drew Jesus’ attention to the tree and said “Rabbi look! The fig tree you cursed has withered.” Noticing Peter’s surprise Jesus pointed to a nearby mountain and said, “Have faith in God…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.” And then Jesus extended the principle to prayer saying “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Now, does this mean any believer can decide to curse any tree, move any mountain, or ask for anything in prayer and see it happen if they just believe it will happen? Well, to start with, can you imagine what the world would be like if that were the case and we got to that level of faith? I mean, if mountains were moving all over the place every day it would be a difficult if not dangerous place to live in! And some people would be moving your mountain straight back to where you move it from! The same goes for cursing trees. No sooner is a tree cursed than someone with more faith will cure it. Yes, I know the thought is ridiculous, but many believers have this concept of faith; they assume they can ask for anything, and God will do it if they just believe enough!
So what are we not understanding from the context of this story? What people often miss is the fact that Jesus was following the Fathers instructions when he cursed the tree. He did not curse it by an independent decision. How do we know? Well, remember the strange bit; Jesus cursed a tree that had done nothing wrong? Well, why did he do that? Because, the cursing of the tree was symbolic. Jesus found no fruit on it and he found no fruit among the Jews at the temple. He cursed the tree for having no physical fruit and pronounced the temple ‘a den of robbers’ for having no spiritual fruit. Both acts were warnings of God’s coming judgement on Israel.
Now, if Jesus had simply cursed the tree by his own decision without hearing the Father and without knowing it was a symbolic act, then that would seem very odd, even immoral, because the tree had not sinned. So we can safely conclude that Jesus was following the Father’s instructions; he cursed the fruitless tree in anticipation of arriving at a fruitless temple. Jesus was just doing what his Father was doing. So when Jesus says we can curse a tree, move a mountain, or ask for anything and see it happen if we just believe, he is speaking in the context of what God is doing. He is not saying we can have whatever we want or do whatever we want. He is simply telling us to trust God after he speaks. If we hear God say “curse that tree” then we must act on it believing it will happen. The power is available when we hear God speak from above. God’s spoken word is the key.
This draws a distinction between Bible faith and New Age faith. New Age faith is about mind power – if you believe enough that something will happen it does. If you think negatively, negative things happen, if you think positively, positive things happen. If you believe you are rich, you will get rich, and if you believe you are well you will get well. The book ‘The Secret’ is a good example of New Age faith. It tells people that they can have whatever they want if they just think the right things – and they are the ones who decide what they get, God does not decide.
Unfortunately many Christians have begun to think that Bible faith is just like New Age faith, and some preachers are even saying things like, ‘Get your faith to work for you’, or ‘You have what you say, so just say the right things and it will happen,’ or ‘Confess what is positive and positive things will happen.’ And we are left to wonder, did John the Baptist and Stephen die because they weren’t positive enough? What about all the negative things the heroes of faith experienced in Hebrews 11: “By faith … others … were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning;they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb 11:35-38). These are the kinds of things many people with great faith experienced.
The truth is that Bible faith is entirely different from New Age faith. Bible faith is not mind power, it’s not getting what you want, its simply trust in a Person – namely God. Bible faith is trusting the most trustworthy Person in the universe regardless of the results. It may mean you get to walk on water or receive your sight, but it may also mean you get imprisoned or put to death. Bible faith has nothing to do with comfort, material prosperity or worldly success. Bible faith gives all control to God and allows him to run our lives as he pleases. Job put it perfectly, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).
New Age faith is always attached to materialism and worldly success, and whenever Christians confuse New Age faith and Bible faith they start to run after worldly things. But Bible faith is different, its not interested in the worlds riches, its interested in God and his kingdom. And because Bible faith is about God’s kingdom it offers things that are far more valuable. Bible faith provides the most valuable thing we know of; a relationship with God, it also provides a purpose for living, it provides peace and joy even in prison, it makes us content even if we live in a mud hut, it adds humility so we are willing to learn from our mistakes, it gives us love for our enemies so we are not be overcome with hate and bitterness, it gives us purity so we can love our wives when they get fat, and love our husbands when they are jobless, it provides forgiveness of sin so we can live free of guilt, it gives us eternal life so we can die with enthusiasm and know our Maker forever. In short, Bible faith provides what money cannot buy. It does not provide what the world wants, it provides what the world needs – a relationship with the living God. So no, we cannot have whatever we want, but we can have what God wants, and when we hear his voice it is time apply our faith and act on what he says.

Other Illustrations used: Hungry on the bus | Cursing the Baobab | An Ethiopian Tree | Picking up snakes | Praying Football Fans | Hebrew 11 Heroes | Tassels on our garments.

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