“And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. 22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. 24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:20-26).
Jesus said to His disciples, “Have faith in God.”
From great faith will come great works, such as removing a mountain and casting it into the sea (Mark 11:23). Is this a literal mountain that Christ has in mind? Probably not. Unless a literal mountain needs to be removed for some good reason, there is no need to be trying to relocate them.
Nevertheless, there is a powerful principle concerning prayer present. The concept is plainly stated: “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24).
To the mind of a spiritual novice, this promise of Christ seems like an open invitation to begin to ask for anything and everything without discrimination. But obviously God is not going to grant a foolish request. What then is meant?
Notice that “desires” and “petitions” are united, and then linked to faith. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe…”
There is something interesting about our desires—they keep changing. Little children have selfish desires, basically. They want the toys that are placed before them—and those that are not. They want fun and games, but they have no desire to pick up their toys, clean up their rooms, voluntarily eat what is on their plates, or obey the first time they are spoken too.
Teenagers have different desires than little children. Young people long to be popular, to be handsome or pretty, to get a date, to have a car, and to have money in their possession. Their desires are different from their parents.
Parents want to see their children wholesome and happy.
Parents desire their children study hard, be respectful and responsible, and find a goal in life to pursue.
As the years progress the thoughts of the heart change again.
The hopes and dreams of marriage, a family, a nice home and a secure job gives way to a desire
to retire, relax, and perhaps travel to exotic places.
Somewhere along the path of life, if the heart turns to religion, this constant focus on self will be tempered and transformed. The converted heart begins to long for spiritual matters that transcend
time to touch eternity. A new question is asked: “How can I please God? “In the words of Saul of Tarsus,
“Lord, what will you have me to do?”
If God is gracious, the heart begins to seek after that which is pure and holy. There is a new desire
to read the Bible, attend church, support spiritual projects, seek the salvation of souls, perform good deeds for others, and talk often about spiritual matters.
In a state of spiritual maturity, like that of Christ’s, there is freedom and faith to pray for great things, believing that what is asked for will be received. The promise of Christ is realized.
That a mature prayer life, rooted in the will of God is in view is reflected by the qualifying connection of the necessity of having forgiveness in our hearts. Jesus said, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).
A heart of forgiveness is united to an effective prayer life. It is instructive that the Lord inserts the concept of forgiveness at this point. Why did He do this? The answer, in part, is this. In just four days Jesus knew He would be betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, illegally tried, cruelly abused, and without mercy, crucified.
If ever there was to be salvation for the souls of individuals, then Christ had to forgive humanity for what it would do to Him.
The gospel proclaims the good news that the Lord of Glory does forgive so that mercy might be shown, and souls might be saved.
Because the Lord does forgive, He commands those who are the heirs of salvation to forgive as well. Of course, to command forgiveness is easier than to comply. Nevertheless, if any believer is to have a powerful prayer life, then a way must be found to handle the anger and bitterness in the heart due to a personal injury.
Forgiveness begins by remembering that it is the will of God that grace and mercy be shown to others—because they need it. Perhaps one reason why the Lord allows us to be wounded time and again is that we might have the opportunity to forgive those who have offended us in word, and thought, and deed. As justice lifts up her voice calling out for compensation and retribution, forgiveness also cries out until it is heard.
Jesus has not only commanded forgiveness, He modeled it. When the Lord was on the Cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
When Steven was being broken into pieces by the stones hurled at him, he prayed, “Father, lay not this sin to their charge.”
We look at our own response to criticism, and offensive acts and wonder, “How did Jesus and Stephen do it? How can such prayers be offered?”
Let me suggest some concepts that might help in this matter of forgiving others. Only then can there be an effective prayer life with a heart capable of possessing great faith.
Those who have been shown great grace can use the past to temper the present. William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote, “Alas! if my best Friend, who laid down his life for me, were to remember all the instances in which I have neglected him, and to plead them against me in judgment, where should I hide my guilty head in the day of recompense? I will pray, therefore, for blessings on my friends, even though they cease to be so, and upon my enemies, though they continue such.”
Those who have hurt others can use the memory of pain inflicted to endure present hostility. Saul of Tarsus was a man who inflicted great pain upon others for no good reason. After his conversion Saul never forgot how he once persecuted the Church of God. And from that moment on he was more than willing to endure whatever people said or did. 1 Cor 4:12 “being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:”
In the act of forgiveness there is spiritual healing. Bitterness and hatred can consume the heart. Wrong emotions can be as deadly as any capsule of poison taken. “As we practice the work of forgiveness, we discover more and more that forgiveness and healing are one” (Agnes Sanford).
Is our religion genuine? Is our faith rooted in God? Are our prayers characterized by mature desires? Have we forgiven others? The answer to these questions will determine whether or not the spiritual lessons from the fig tree have been learned.
We a Christian remembers God’s amazing grace, it becomes easier to show grace to another great sinner. In fact, the greater the sinner sins, the greater the grace of forgiveness becomes.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
At the age of 82, Newton said,
“My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner — and that Christ is a great Savior!”
John Newton’s tombstone reads:
“John Newton, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy!”
“By the grace of God, I am what I am!” 1 Corinthians 15:10
How does a Christian obtain a forgiving heart? By being forgiven by God’s amazing grace, and then by remembering that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.