20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, "Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!"
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, "Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, 'May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you've received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too."
The next morning, as Jesus and his disciples again head for Jerusalem, they pass the fig tree that Jesus had cursed only the day before. The disciples notice that it is now completely lifeless - it will never have the opportunity to bear fruit again. Jesus takes advantage of their amazement to teach them about the power of prayer. Sincere prayer, uttered in faith, will move mountains.
Faith ... this mountain (Mark 11:22, 23)
Jesus commanded, entreated, or exhorted ("'Have'" = imperative1164) his disciples to "'Have faith in God" (Mark 11:22), with "faith" being defined as: "to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance."1165 As one source puts it: "Faith that rests in God is unwavering trust in His omnipotent power and unfailing goodness."1166Such faith, said Jesus, can move a mountain. While Jesus was speaking figuratively, he was using an actual mountain as an illustration. Which one? While a common answer is the Mount of Olives, at least one viable alternative is the Temple Mount; "Why should not 'this mountain' refer to Israel's most famous mountain, on which is situated the temple establishment, with which Jesus has come into serious conflict?"1167 While there are a number of "rabbinic and Jewish parallels to the saying about moving mountains," these refer to skill or strength, leaving "Jesus' point that faith can move mountains" without parallel.1168 It should be noted that Jesus' declaration was made "on the recognized premise that petitions must be in harmony with God's will (cf. Mark 14:36; Matthew 6:9-10; John 14:13-14; 15:7; 16:23-24; 1 John 5:14-15). This enables faith to receive the answers God gives. God is always ready to respond to obedient believers' prayers, and they can petition Him knowing that no situation or difficulty is impossible for Him."1169 As another source puts it: "Jesus is saying that the greatest possible difficulties can be removed when a person has faith (cf. James 1:6)."1170 The emphasis is not on what we can get but, rather, on what God can do. Many times God fails to work as we, with our limited understanding, would prefer - a very good thing, indeed(!) As C. S. Lewis has noted, prayer is so powerful that God reserves the right to overrule our requests lest we misuse that power.1171 Both the Bible and Church history are replete with examples of "the impossible" becoming possible as God works in and through ordinary people.1172 In the case of Jesus' first disciples in particular, "he was referring to prayers that the disciples would need to endlessly pray as they faced mountains of opposition to their gospel message in the years to come. Their prayers for the advancement of God's kingdom would always be answered positively - in God's timing."1173 Jesus was not making "a guarantee that the disciples could get anything they wanted simply by asking Jesus and believing. God does not grant requests that will hurt people or that will violate his own nature or will. Jesus' statement was not a blank check."1174 Along those lines, one source offers the following helpful insights regarding this often-abused teaching of Jesus:
If the promise of Christ, "Whatever you ask for … it shall be yours" seems almost unbelievable, it should be borne in mind that such praying and asking must, of course, be in harmony with the characteristics of true prayer which Jesus reveals elsewhere; in fact, it must be in line with all of scriptural teaching. Accordingly it must be the expression of:
humble, childlike trust; note "believing that you received it," and cf. Mark 10:15; also Matthew 7:11; 18:3-4; James 1:6.
a sincere heart and mind (Mark 12:40; cf. Matthew 6:5).
a will to persevere (Mark 13:13; cf. Matthew 7:7; Luke 18:1-8).
a love for all concerned (Mark 12:31, 33; cf. Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36).
submission to God's sovereign will (Mark 14:36; Matthew 6:10; 26:39).1175
Have faith ... forgive (Mark 11:22, 25)
Jesus taught that there is a direct causal relationship between God's forgiveness of our sins against him and our forgiveness of other's sins against us. "For a person to pray while bearing a grudge is like a tree sprouting leaves and bearing no fruit (11:13). True faith changes the heart. Real prayer dismantles pride and vengeance, filling the holes with love. Real faith seeks peace."1176 Thus Jesus taught that the two key elements in prayer are faith in God and forgiveness. Faith means "firm persuasion,"1177 and includes trusting God to accomplish the seemingly impossible. This includes moving a mountain of difficulty,1178 as well as moving within our own hearts such that we refuse to harbor grudges against those who have committed a mountain of wrong against us. Mountains can be moved one rock at a time, and hearts can be healed one act of forgiveness at a time. Both faith and forgiveness call for the type of commitment available only to those who persistently, prayerfully seek God's will rather than their own.1179
In an insightful comment, E. Stanley Jones asserted that prayer amounts to surrendering to God's will and then cooperating with that will. The person in a boat who tosses a hook on shore and then pulls on the line does not pull the shore toward him but, rather, pulls the boat toward the shore. In the same way, prayer is not pulling God to one's own will but, rather, catching hold of God's will and pulling oneself toward it.1180 Prayer is God's way of bringing us closer to him, not our way of bringing God closer to us. Getting close to God requires lots of effort on our part: patience, persistence, and faith. As we draw close to God, he will strengthen and direct us, and we will find ourselves seeking his will more and our own will less.
"For our churches to have prayer power, there must be harmony and forgiveness evident in the body of believers. Let go of hurts, abandon grudges, and forgive others."1181