I read Mark 11 last week, and again it troubled me. It’s the day after the Triumphal Entry (we call in Palm Sunday), and Jesus obviously didn’t eat breakfast before He left Mary and Martha’s house (I’ve always assumed that’s where He stayed in Bethany). Here’s how Peter relayed the story to Mark:
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. ~ Mark 11:12-13
I’ve always wondered why Jesus cursed this fig tree when it was just doing what God created fig trees to do. Fig trees must leaf sometimes around the Spring equinox, but no one expected fruit for at least another month. And I’m guessing Jesus had eaten something in the last few days, it’s not like He was going to pass out if He didn’t get a fig. Why did He punish the tree?
I can only come up with one explanation, and Mark reveals it a few verses later.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” ~ Mark 11:20-25
Jesus wanted to use it so His disciples would understand the power and authority they had in Him. And more than that, He wanted us to know.
I truly believe we don’t even reach the tip of the surface of the power we have in Christ. When was the last time you spoke in authority over anything? I also think these few verses dispel a couple prayer myths that have been passed down.
MYTH 1: Prayers shouldn’t be selfish – While I’ll agree our prayers should focus on praising God and lifting others, when Jesus prayed to curse this tree, it was purely for His benefit. He wanted figs, and He got no figs. It’s OK to tell your Creator what you want. Take a moment and be a little selfish with your prayers occasionally. Your Father loves to hear your voice.
MYTH 2: I shouldn’t bother God with little things – Well, you can’t get much smaller than a fig. Jesus was hungry, and when the fig tree didn’t supply, He bothered His Father with it. If you’re ever wondering if your request is too small for God, just ask yourself, is it bigger than a fig?
Now, before you get too excited that the Almighty intends to answer every prayer, we need to look at another bit of scripture. Turn just a couple of pages to Mark 14.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” . . . 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Jesus shows us once again, selfish prayers are okay with Him. In His darkest hour, as He considered the pain and suffering He was about to face, our Savior asked His Father to take it away. But as we know, God willed not to.
As confusing as it is, we know not every prayer gets answered. But here are a few more lessons I think we can take from these two prayers.
LESSON 1: God gets to decide which prayer gets answered and which don’t. He will always work in a way that best benefits His Kingdom.
LESSON 2: It’s okay to pour out your heart to God and ask Him to take a burden from you even when you know that’s not His ultimate will. Jesus knew His fate. He’d read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52-53. He had no doubt He would face piercing and lashes, but even with as much as He longed to do His Father’s will, regardless of the fact He wanted to save you and me, His humanness despaired at the thought of the pain. God wants to hear the cries of your heart, even when you know the answer.
LESSON 3: I had one other question about that fig tree. Why didn’t Jesus ask for figs instead of cursing the fig tree? I wonder if Jesus tried to tell us our prayers and authority can’t normally change the natural course of things God put into place at the beginning of time. In the North, we can’t command a ninety degree day in the middle of the blizzard.
I’m sure there are countless other lessons in these two prayers of Jesus, but those were my observations this week. I hope we’ll start using the authority Jesus gives us and live in such a way that we know His perfect will even before we ask.