My imperfect prayers…

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Mark 11:12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it… 20 In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. 24 So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had no fruit. The next morning he and his disciples walked by the tree and it was dead. Peter was astounded. How did Jesus do this? Jesus said, in essence, a fig tree withering was no big deal. In fact, “if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe” (v.23) whatever you ask for will be yours. Even a mountain to be thrown into the sea.

Interesting.

It’s interesting because this saying does not reflect my experience. Fact is, I believe I’ve prayed for many things in faith and have not seen them come to pass. I’ve prayed for wonderful servants of the Lord to be healed. And they died. I’ve prayed with wonderful, loving couples that they conceive a child But they never did. I’ve prayed with people whose relationship was broken that they might be reconciled for the sake of the entire family. They didn’t. I’ve prayed for other things that seemed to be in alignment with the heart of God, prayed with faith because scripture teaches that God is able to do all things. And, as far as I can tell, the requests were not answered. So what gives?

Some people say that prayers are often answered after a good bit of time from the original prayer. Maybe it doesn’t look like a prayer has been answered because the time has not yet come. That’s certainly possible. That said, Jesus’ example of the fig tree was a command answered in a matter of hours, not months or years.

Scholars explain that perhaps Jesus meant we will receive that for which we pray – so long as it is in alignment with the will of God. I understand the line of thinking, but that’s not what Jesus actually says. Jesus doesn’t provide any qualifiers. There are no exclusions or exceptions in the passage. The statement is straight-forward.

Whatever you ask for will be yours.

The passage also troubles me because it seems to put the burden for outcomes on the one praying rather than on God to deliver what is promised here. I’ve seen this idea heap guilt on wonderful Christian intercessors who are faithful in praying for the saints and then feel convicted when their prayers are not answered. If they only had more faith a dear friend would not have died. Surely this is not Jesus’ intent.

Whatever you ask for will be yours.

What I’ve learned through experience is that the power of God is not like a genie in a bottle – if you rub it just the right way and say just the right words your wish will be granted. Sometimes a prayer is granted, sometimes not. Despite what Jesus says here. Yes there are times when sustained prayer doesn’t appear to produce the desired results. But sometimes it does. I have seen incredible, even miraculous, results from simple prayers offered by simple Christians.

Just because our prayers are not ALWAYS granted doesn’t mean our prayers are NEVER granted. And so it is in faith that we pray, believing that God is able to do what we ask. And more. Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know. But if we don’t pray we will never find out.

Heavenly Father give us grace to suspend disbelief long enough to pray, knowing that our prayers are not perfect, that our faith is not perfect, but that you are able to accomplish even more than what we ask. Despite our shortcomings. Amen.

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